Friedman Raises “Pro-Israel” Question Again; Abrams Smears Him

It’s been three and a half years since I noted in a blog post that major Jewish media figures — namely, Tom Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg — questioned the appropriateness of the “pro-Israel” moniker that reporters routinely attach to the major Jewish institutions, such as AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, etc. that make up the Jewish wing of the Israel Lobby in Washington. J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, had just launched, and it appeared that a major debate was opening up within the Jewish community about whether the reflexive obeisance paid by these groups to the policies of the settler-backed, right-wing government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu served Israel’s long-term interests in retaining its status as both democratic and Jewish.

At the time, I quoted from Goldberg’s op-ed in the New York Times which I think is particularly to the point and quite relevant to the debate today:

So why won’t American leaders push Israel [toward dismantling the settlements] publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: the leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself. …

The people of Aipac and the Conference of Presidents are well meaning, and their work in strengthening the overall relationship between America and Israel has ensured them a place in the world to come. But what’s needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel.

Now, three and half years later, Friedman has returned to this very same question, deploring the Republican candidates’ — notably Gingrich’s and Romney’s — shameless pandering to Netanyahu and the lobby. Regarding Newt’s assertion that Palestinians are an “invented people,” he writes:

If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean — as far as Newt is concerned — that Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being “pro-Israel”? [This is precisely what Walt and Mearsheimer argued in their book, The Israel Lobby, on pages 345-46.]

He then goes on to reflect on Congress’ equally shameless pandering when Netanyahu spoke at the Republican leaders’ invitation to the Joint Session of Congress last spring.

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.

Friedman’s column has infuriated Elliott Abrams (as well as other neo-conservatives, no doubt) who responded first thing this morning with a post, entitled “Mr. Friedman’s Diatribe Against Israel,” on his own blog at the Council on Foreign Relations website in which claimed that the op-ed had “exposed the depth of his hostility” towards “the government of Israel and its American supporters” and called on Friedman to withdraw his statement about the Congressional ovations having been “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

His argument is that enthusiasm for Netanyahu’s politics extends far beyond the organized Jewish community and includes all kinds of other Christian Americans, particularly the “Evangelical churches [that] form the strongest base of support for the Jewish state.” For evidence he cites a succession of polls, over the past decades, including one by Gallup last February, showing that the U.S. public has long had much greater sympathy toward Israel than the Palestinians or Arabs. This is an emerging meme in neo-con and Lobby discourse in defense of Washington’s virtually unconditional support for the Israeli government.

And then Abrams writes something truly bizarre and, I think, quite dishonest. Having made his point about Christian support for Israel, he states

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.

I’ve searched Friedman’s column several times and have yet to find the phrase “Jewish Lobby”. And, of course, the implication that he makes from this phrase which Friedman never wrote — “we all know what that means” — is much nastier than anything in the op-ed. If, after all, Friedman had used “Jewish Lobby,” he could be depicted as an anti-Semite (or a self-hater), but he didn’t use that phrase. He used the phrase “Israel lobby”, which, as stressed by Walt and Mearsheimer, includes some Jews and well as some non-Jews, including and especially Christian Zionists (an unfortunate number of whom are classically anti-Semitic in their views of Jews, but, as Irving Kristol pointed out 30 years ago, “it’s their theology, but it’s our Israel.”).

And while Abrams is right that polls of U.S. public opinion have long shown greater sympathy for Israel than the Palestinians, they have also shown time after time that majorities — and quite large majorities at that — prefer the U.S. to act as an honest broker between the two parties rather than to side with one or the other. In a comprehensive survey put out by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2010, for example, two-thirds of all respondents, including nearly half of all Republicans, took that position. An August, 2011, poll by Shibley Telhami and the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that 61 percent of U.S. respondents said they believed the U.S. should not take either side. Abrams, of course, knows this very well, but it wouldn’t help his argument to say so.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.


One Comment

  1. Interesting that Abrams would cite the Christian ZIonists as representing US public opinion, and more interesting that the Christian ZIonists are themselves the real Anti-Semites, who only support Israel to bring about their conception of “End Times” when Christians … and not Jews … go to heaven.

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