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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.