Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and senior New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said he regrets the way he expressed himself regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warm reception by both houses of Congress in May.
In a New York Times column on Dec. 13 titled "Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir," Friedman censured Newt Gingrich for his recent remark that the Palestinians are an "invented" people, a statement, Friedman said, which was nothing more than an unabashed attempt to pander for Jewish votes. Friedman then carried his argument further, issuing several paragraphs later what Ron Kampeas at the Jewish Telegraph Agency called a "throwaway line" as he revisited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress this past May. "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," Friedman wrote.
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The remark raised hackles across the Jewish world. Renowned talk show host and columnist Dennis Prager, for instance, wrote that if a non-Jew had written those words, he would have been condemned for anti-Semitism. "If a non-Jew had written this, he would have been severely condemned for writing something outright anti-Semitic. The notion that Jews manipulate the levers of power in Western societies for their own nefarious ends is probably the most enduring of all the West's Jew-hating myths."
After Friedman's column was published, The New York Times offered Netanyahu the opportunity to write an opinion piece in response, but Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer declined the offer on Netanyahu's behalf, saying Friedman's remark was just a single instance of the paper's anti-Israel position.
"In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby," Friedman told The Jewish Week on Tuesday. "A term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to. It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent."
Friedman's assertion that U.S. support for Israel was purchased rather than the result of persuasion had been seized upon by bloggers and politicians. Rep. Steven R. Rothman, Democrat of New Jersey, said in a statement, "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 U.S. Mr. Friedman is not only wrong, but he’s aiding and abetting a dangerous narrative about the U.S.-Israel relationship and its American supporters."
Rothman went on to explain why he himself stood up for Netanyahu. "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."
Other writers, however, applauded Friedman for having the courage to speak plainly about an issue, they say, that has long been wielding undue influence over U.S. politics - the lack of healthy debate over the issue of Israel, warts and all.
Friedman's editorial, and his so-called "throwaway line" about the undue influence of the Israel lobby in the U.S., is simply a referendum on a problem, Glenn Greenwald, a best-selling author who blogs for Salon, says. "Even long-time stalwart Israel supporters like Tom Friedman now describe how U.S. officials are 'hostage' to the 'powerful pro-Israel lobby' that can force them to place Israel’s interests over their own country’s."
Meanwhile, Friedman is coming under fire from the American Left as well. In the recently published "The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work," by Pulse Media editor and feature writer Belen Fernandez, Thomas Friedman's writings over the years are analyzed and taken to task. The author accuses Thomas Friedman of imperialist hubris, Orientalism and a "special relationship with Israel that ignores Israel's "apartheid" policies and "murderous blockade of Gaza."
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