Ron Radosh

Thomas Friedman, the Demonization of Israel, and the Assault Against Josh Block

For good reason, the alarm bells have been rung about Thomas Friedman’s rather vile and anti-Semitic column in the New York Times. By now, the most objectionable paragraph has been cited in many places. For those who have not as yet read it, here it is:

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. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile but because they are confused.

With that screed, Friedman reveals himself to be part of the Walt-Mearsheimer pack, arguing that the pro-Israeli bipartisan sentiment comes not from the American people’s support of Israel, but from the power of the mythical Israeli lobby to buy off all of Congress.

The best critique has been offered at Commentary’s Contentions blog by Jonathan S. Tobin, who points out that:

Rather, they were the result of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans–Jew and non-Jew alike–think of Israel as a friend and ally. They, and their representatives in Congress, believe the Jewish state’s security is, contrary to Friedman’s formulation, a vital U.S. interest in the Middle East. It is true, as Friedman says, the applause may not have been a personal endorsement for Netanyahu, but that’s because it was also a stiff rebuke to President Obama’s attempt to ambush the Israeli prior to his visit with his speech about the 1967 lines, whose purpose was to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

Tobin also takes up the other parts of Friedman’s egregious argument, and points out how it is in essence an anti-Semitic argument. He writes:

The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism which masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture.

Friedman’s vicious column reflects something new in liberal political culture in America, and that is a growing animosity towards and calumny of those who are still liberals and are firm supporters of Israel. A case in point is the eruption of false canards in the past few weeks made against Josh Block, the former communications director of AIPAC, who now heads his own shop in D.C. with Lanny Davis.

The attacks started with a column on the leftist website Salon, where Justin Elliott argued that Block had accumulated anti-Israel statements from liberal writers and given them out to a neoconservative journalist group. The story is told well in The Week by David Frum, who notes that the real story is how “two of the best-funded, most prominent, and most important liberal institutions in Washington, D.C.,” part of “mainstream, liberal America,” the Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America, both have members who are accusing Israel’s defenders of being guilty of “dual loyalty,” the old charge of anti-Semites.

Frum links to a Washington Post report that the two think tanks are considering severing ties with Block, precisely because he has exposed real anti-Semitic attacks coming from liberal Democrats. Block is a self-proclaimed centrist Democrat, and an unabashed defender of Israel and its ties with the United States. As Greg Sargent of the Post reported, Block’s fate “will be a big deal to people in left-leaning foreign policy circles in Washington.” If he is forced out of his affiliation, it means that to defend Israel is now no longer kosher in intellectual and liberal policy-making circles in Washington, D.C.

As Frum aptly puts it, the real issue is “a referendum on whether it is more unacceptable inside today’s liberal Washington to use the language of anti-Semitism — or to protest the language of anti-Semitism.”

What one has to do is to put together the attacks against Block with Friedman’s unprecedented column, in which our nation’s leading foreign policy pundit reaches his lowest point yet. Steven Rothman, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, made this point to Jennifer Rubin, a PJM and Commentary alumnus now with the Washington Post:

Thomas Friedman’s defamation against the vast majority of Americans who support the Jewish State of Israel, in his New York Times opinion piece today, is scurrilous, destructive and harmful to Israel and her advocates in the US. Mr. Friedman is not only wrong, but he’s aiding and abetting a dangerous narrative about the US-Israel relationship and its American supporters.

I gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a standing ovation, not because of any nefarious lobby, but because it is in America’s vital national security interests to support the Jewish State of Israel and it is right for Congress to give a warm welcome to the leader of such a dear and essential ally. Mr. Friedman owes us all an apology.

Rep. Rothman’s statement makes it clear why that liberal member of Congress, a Jewish Democrat, supports Israel. It also reveals that Congress is at present firm in its understanding that Israel is not only America’s best ally, but that our relationship with it is primary for our national security.

What is dangerous, therefore, is the new current of anti-Israel agitation coming from the intellectual liberal community, made up of self-proclaimed “progressive” Democrats who are trying to move Congress to adopt their own animosity towards the Jewish state as Democratic policy.

As an unnamed Democratic aide on the Hill told Rubin, there is “genuine, bipartisan support for Israel that reflects America’s heartland.” It is the new liberal/left intellectuals in the liberal think tanks that are now leading the charge against Israel. Clearly, Thomas Friedman has become the most important outfront member of this group. It is they, however, who are out of touch with the American people. One must ask them, do they really want Republicans to be the only political party in our country standing firm with Israel?