I’m worried about Thomas Friedman.
The New York Times columnist is just 62, but he’s already showing serious signs of forgetfulness — almost what one might call amnesia.
In his February 10 column, Friedman declared that Israel is “determined to permanently occupy all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, including where 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians live.”
Yet everyone who resides in the real world knows that Israel occupies only about 60% of that territory — and only about 2% of those 2.5-million Palestinians live in the Israeli controlled areas. And it’s been that way for more than twenty years.
Is Friedman suffering from some kind of memory blackout covering those two decades? Is he genuinely unaware of what transpired during that period?
In 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo II Accord and withdrew Israel’s forces from the cities where 98% of the Palestinian Arabs reside. For the past twenty years, the Palestinians have been occupied by the Palestinian Authority, not Israel.
The PA currently controls about 40% of the territories. The PA has many of the powers of a sovereign state, but not all of them — for example, it is not free to import tanks and planes.
If Thomas Friedman wants to argue that the Palestinians have the strongest historical, legal or religious claim to the other 60% of the territories, then let him make that case. Or, if he wants to persuade us that the PA should be allowed to import tanks and planes, then let him try to persuade us. Those are legitimate debates.
But he can’t claim that Israel is still occupying the Palestinians. Because that is simply a lie.
I know that Friedman has written some outrageous things about Israel over the years. In his February 5, 2004 column, for example, Friedman asserted that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has “had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office…surrounded by Jewish and Christian pro-Israel lobbyists” who were “all conspiring to make sure the president does nothing [regarding Israel].”
The Jews-control-Congress theme has surfaced again and again in Friedman’s columns in recent years. On December 13, 2011, he claimed that the standing ovations Prime Minister Netanyahu received in Congress were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” And on November 19, 2013, he wrote that “many American lawmakers [will] do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”
Friedman launched another brutish attack on Israel in his August 12, 2015 column. He claimed that “Israel plays, when it has to, by what I’ve called ‘Hama rules’ — war without mercy…it will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties…” The reference was to the Syrian city of Hama, where the Syrian government butchered and gassed more than ten thousand civilians in 1982.
Still, nasty conspiracy theories about Jewish influence and wild exaggerations about Israeli behavior are one thing–simply whiting out twenty years from the history books is another.
Slandering Israel is unfair and ugly. But living in an imaginary world–where Israel occupies territory and people that it has not occupied for more than twenty years–well, that is a sign of something else. Which is why I’m worried about Thomas Friedman.
This column first appeared on Israel National News.