The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #3: Thomas Friedman

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A few months later, on May 19, 2011, President Obama shocked Israel and the pro-Israel community by calling for a total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank—something both Israeli and U.S. military experts had long regarded as suicidal.

Five days later, in a speech to the U.S. Congress, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, while he was ready to accept a Palestinian state beside Israel, it could only be under conditions that guaranteed Israel’s security and basic rights. The speech drew repeated rounds of bipartisan applause.

It was toward the end of that year, in a December 13 column, that Thomas Friedman pulled a shocker of his own.

Starting by deriding the “Republican competition to grovel for Jewish votes,” Friedman went on to write:

I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.

That was the point where Friedman—after years of Israel-hammering laced with a special contempt—crossed the line into classic antisemitism. He offered, of course, no evidence—he could not have found any—that the “Israel lobby” had “bought” all those legislators. As Elliot Abrams commented in response:

I would hope that in the cold light of morning Mr. Friedman would re-read what he wrote and withdraw the remark. Members of Congress in a country that is two percent Jewish stand to applaud Prime Minister Netanyahu because they, like their constituents, support Israel and want America to support Israel. Many of those standing and cheering were from districts where there are no Jews or a handful of Jews, and where Evangelical churches form the strongest base of support for the Jewish state. Now perhaps Mr. Friedman means those churches when he refers so nastily to the “Jewish Lobby,” but I doubt it. I think we all know what he means, and that is why he should withdraw the ugly remark fast….

Friedman’s statement drew other criticisms as well, and Friedman, in response, managed to come up with:

In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like “engineered” by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to.

Which was, of course, no real retraction, since it left in place the basic allegation that U.S. legislators could not think for themselves and were under the spell of Jewish power. And there was more to come.