Into the fray: The magnate and the mullah, A Friedman fantasy

Tom Friedman’s anti-Adelson diatribe shows how intellectually corrupted the discourse on the Israel-Palestinian issue has become.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (L) and US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. (photo credit: REUTERS)
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (L) and US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Truth be told, Tom Friedman can be a pretty astute and articulate journalist – except when he writes about Israel.
Then his work degenerates from the astute to the inane and from the articulate to the incoherent.
But even by his usual misleading sub-standards, his recent piece, “Sheldon: Iran’s Best Friend” (The New York Times, April 5), was a doozy.
Full Disclosure
In it he makes a puerile attempt to draw a parallel between the danger that the rabid anti-Israel mullah Ali Khamenei and the avid pro-Israel magnate Sheldon Adelson pose for the Jewish state.
Full disclosure: In the past I have applied to Adelson’s Foundation for financial support for my own nonprofit entity – The Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. But sadly, I have not received a bent penny. So I have very little allegiance to Adelson that might induce me to write in his defense against Friedman’s frivolous attack, although malicious souls will doubtless imply that I do. Quite the opposite is true.
I have a completely different rationale for penning this week’s column. My reason for doing so is to use Friedman’s article to show how intellectually corrupted the discourse on the Israel-Palestinian issue has become, and how self-contradictory and disingenuous the increasingly desperate arguments of two-state proponents have become.
These elements are all starkly illustrated in Friedman’s anti-Sheldon rant and vividly underscore just how bankrupt the two-staters’ case has become.
‘Toxic tycoons’?
Accordingly, I do not want to dwell too long on Friedman’s childish chagrin that Adelson is using his self-amassed fortune to advance causes he believes in, and to support politicians he feels would be likely to promote them.
But some brief reference is unavoidable.
Friedman alleges: “Adelson personifies everything that is poisoning our democracy and Israel’s today — swaggering oligarchs, using huge sums of money to try to bend each system to their will.”
But after even the most cursory perusal of his anti-Sheldon diatribe, any fair-minded reader might be excused for concluding that what really bothers Friedman is not the toxicity of the democratic system in the US or Israel, nor the power plutocrats per se have in affecting the outcomes it produces.
Indeed, I have a strong suspicion that if Adelson were funding the same political causes and/or organizations as, say, George Soros, he would not have come in for censure.
The same is probably true regarding Warren Buffett, Haim Saban, S. Daniel Abraham or any one of the almost 170 billionaire benefactors of the US Democratic Party.
In any event, there is not a hint of disapproval from Friedman regarding the influence brought (or bought) to bear on the political process from fat-cats who happen to share his political predilections in general, and on the Israel-Palestinian issue in particular.
I would bet long odds that if Adelson was pouring money into the coffers of the Democratic Party or J Street or the New Israel Fund, that would be just fine and dandy with Tom.
Friedman’s true focus is not ensuring the expression of vox populi, uncorrupted and undistorted by big bucks protecting personal interests or promoting pet projects of munificent magnates.
Hidden agenda poorly concealed
Instead, his real agenda is the preservation of the viability of the two-state paradigm that is rapidly descending into well-deserved political irrelevance. I, for one, have little doubt that Friedman would have few qualms in endorsing subversion of the stand of the democratic majority if it clearly entailed jettisoning the two-state approach.
After all, far more funds have been channeled in to institutionalized instruments of influence that blatantly promote Friedmanesque agendas regarding the Mideast conflict than into those promoting any opposing perspectives. This has elicited little condemnation from him as to their noxious effect on Israeli or US democracy.
Friedman finds nothing objectionable in the massive funding of organizations not only heavily biased toward Democratic Party perspectives on international affairs in general, but toward support for the two-state solution, in particular – such as the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, its Israel counterpart, the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue in Netanya, and the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, also in Washington.
Then of course there is the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, funded by Australian billionaire Frank Lowy, whose flagship project is the perversely paradoxical endeavor to attain “peace without partners” – i.e., to bring about a two-state solution by re-implementation of the failed formula of unilateral withdrawal, irrespective of the outcome of any negotiations with the Palestinians.
Hypocritical double standards
I know of no comparable countervailing institution, with anything remotely approaching the same financial resources, that overtly opposes the two-state formula and the disproven doctrine/dogma of political appeasement and territorial concession on which it is based.
None of this, however, apparently arouses concern in Friedman as to the effect of “swaggering [albeit like-minded] oligarchs, using huge sums of money to try to bend each system to their will.”
Apparently, the litmus test for being a “swaggering oligarch” trying fiendishly to “bend the system to his/her will” is whether he/she is a Republican and/or opposed to the failed two-state formula. If you are a Democrat and/or endorse the two-state principle, then you neither “swagger” nor use your wealth to “bend the system to your will.”
No, if you are a Democrat two-stater you are merely a benign benefactor facilitating the pursuit of progressive, humanistic and democratic values – promoting the establishment of yet another Muslim-majority tyranny.
Hypocritical double standards, anyone?
‘Occupation,’ orthodoxy – and the shape of the earth
The roots of Friedman’s rancor that ignited his tirade against Adelson apparently can be traced to the recent decision by GOP presidential hopeful New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to apologize to Adelson for referring to Judea-Samaria as “occupied territories.”
Contemptuously portraying Christie as a cap-in-hand supplicant, Friedman pontificates that “occupied territories” is the term “any knowledgeable American leader would [use],” adding that Christie merely “called something by its true name… in the way the US government always has!” One might have thought Friedman would be aware of the fact that popularity – no matter how great – cannot transform fallacy into fact, nor folly into wisdom, and however pervasive the misuse of the term in the US diplomatic establishment, it is hardly reason to ascribe it substantive, self-evident validity.
It be might salutary to recall that in days bygone, orthodoxy commanded that the earth was flat, and those who dissented were burnt at the stake, much as those who resist the two-state orthodoxy are today – at least figuratively – in the mainstream media and academia where left-wing orthodoxy reigns supreme.
‘Liberated’ more plausible than ‘occupied’
Although I am not overly doctrinaire in insisting on linguistic precision in the Israel- Palestinian discourse, I would be extremely curious to know how Friedman would justify his obdurate insistence as to the aptness of “occupied territories” as the “true name” for Judea-Samaria, other than by invoking politically correct convention. For it seems that neither historical fact nor political truth have any role to play in his choice of terminology.
After all, they were NEVER claimed as the Palestinian homeland until they came under Israeli administration after Jordan, which had forcibly occupied them in 1948, lost them in its failed war of aggression in 1967, aimed at annihilating the Jewish state.
Indeed, up until 1968, the Palestinian themselves, in their National Charter, explicitly eschewed any claims to sovereignty over these territories, designating them part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which continued to demand sovereignty over them until 1988, when it unilaterally and arbitrarily stripped the Arab inhabitants of their Jordanian citizenship.
All things considered, “liberated” might be a far more factually appropriate term with which to designate the areas that Friedman would have us designate “occupied.” But when it comes to Israel, he has seldom seemed committed to the factually correct, preferring to adhere to the fashionable myths and false dictates of the politically correct.
Need to nurture enemy leadership?
Recent events, however, do seem to have dented Friedman’s confidence as to the possibility of attaining a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians. Whereas once this was an option that he asserted with complete assurance was only impeded by Binyamin Netanyahu’s misplaced, myopic intransigence, he now admits to a modicum of skepticism: “I don’t know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will.”
But this, heaven forfend, does not compel him to the logical conclusion that perhaps a change of policy be pondered and alternatives to the two-state solution be considered.
Quite the opposite. He urges Israel to continue to push forward along the very same path, but with even greater vigor: “But I know this: If Israel wants to remain a Jewish, democratic state, it should be doing everything it can to nurture such a partner or acting unilaterally to get out.”
So there you have the Friedmanesque take on Israel’s options: Either (a) nurture a peace partner for the Palestinians who are apparently incapable of nurturing one themselves; or (b) relinquish everything it might conceivably relinquish in negotiations with an appropriate peace partner in exchange for some reciprocal benefit, to an inappropriate peace partner without negotiations and without receiving any reciprocal benefits.
Need to nurture (cont.)
The suggestion that Israel somehow “nurture a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal” is enlightening – because it underscores just how absurdly threadbare the case for two states has become.
It would be intriguing to learn how Friedman conceives of this “nurturing” process” translating into actionable measures.
After all, to be effective such a partner would need to be authoritative. But to be authoritative he would have to be accepted by the Palestinian public. However, nothing would undermine his authority more, and make him less acceptable to the Palestinian public, than having him seen as a Zionist lackey being “nurtured” by Israel.
But this of course, begs the question of what Israel should/could do to “nurture” such a partner. Over recent years, Israel has made a long list of far-reaching, heart-wrenching and unreciprocated concessions – the most recent being the release of scores of convicted murderers guilty of the most brutal acts of terror imaginable.
Yet all of this has been of no avail. No matter how many concessions are made, they induce no reciprocal good will from the Palestinians.
Each concession merely becomes the point of departure for a new demand for the next concession.
So what is Friedman prescribing in his nurturing routine? Making even more perilous concessions that the Israeli population would not accept? In all probability this is what he envisages, for as I suggested above, “I have little doubt that Friedman would have few qualms in endorsing subversion of the stand of the democratic majority if it entailed jettisoning the two-state approach.”
A different Israeli alternative
So in effect what Friedman is proposing is either (a) accomplish the impossible (nurture a Palestinian partner); or (b) adopt what has already failed (unilateral withdrawal) – otherwise it will cease to be a Jewish, democratic state.
I beg to differ. There is a clear alternative to those advanced by Friedman.
In a brutally condensed nutshell this involves relating to the Palestinians as the really are and as they define themselves – an implacable enemy.
Accordingly, Israel should terminate the supply of every service and all merchandise it provides today. In other words, no water, no electricity, no fuel, no postal services, no communications, no port facilities, no tax collection will be supplied by Israel.
Undoubtedly, there will be howls of horror that such a policy will precipitate a “humanitarian crisis.” It will, in all likelihood, cause significant hardship. But such accusations should be countered by the offer of generous relocation grants for any Palestinian, weary of the suffering his leaders have wrought on him/his family, who wishes to seek a better life elsewhere.
That is the Israeli alternative that must be inserted into the agenda as the only realistic Zionist response to Palestinian intransigence.
Martin Sherman ( is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (