David K. Rees

Why Tom Friedman gets it wrong about Israel

On November 14, 2003, less than two weeks after the October massacre in which 1,200 people lost their lives, countless women were raped, many Israelis were burned alive, and  240 people were taken hostage, The New York Time’ Tom Friedman, probably the most powerful journalist in the Western world, wrote  a column about the massacre. In it he made a terrible mistake. I was stunned, but not surprised, He has been making the same mistake for over 20 years.

In his November 14th column  Friedman blames the massacre on  Netanyahu because he failed to implement a two-state solution despite the fact that all major Israeli politicians except those on the extreme right and the extreme left take the same position that Netanyahu does.  Friedman’s sugeation was useless 20 years ago and is even more useless now.

The following facts can be found in Friedman’s book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem.” 1989.

  1.  Friedman was raised in Minnesota. There, he learned Hebrew in addition to his native English. Later, he learned Arabic, a huge advantage for a reporter in the Middle East.
  2.  While Friedman does not say so, he is a bright, articulate man.  When he went to work as a reporter, he was hired by the UPI, which assigned him to its Beirut office.  After a year, he was hired away by The New York Times, where he has been ever since.
  3. When he arrived in Beirut, the big story was the conflict between Hefez Assad, the president of Syria, and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.  Like is son Basher Assad, the present President of Syria, Hefez was an Alawite, a form of Shia Islam. While the  population of Syria was overwhelming Sunni, Alawites controlled the government and the economy. The Shia and the Sunnis have been at odds for at least 1,000 years.
  4. The Muslim Brotherhood’s stronghold was in a city called Hama. Fed up with the Brotherhood, Hefez sent troops to Hama where they completely obliterated the section of Hama from which the Brotherhood came.  It is not clear how many people were killed in he process, but estimates were that it may have been as many as 25,000 Syrians.
  5. Friedman went to Hama after the massacre to  survey the situation. I  assume that he got a story  published, but he certainly did NOT receive a Pulitzer prize for it.
  6.  Then Friedman got extraordinarily lucky. After the 1980 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the countries that surround Israel were no longer a threat, so Israel turned its attention to the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), driving it into Jordan, which, in turn, drove the PLO into Syria. From there, the PLO  went to Lebanon, Friedman’s territory. This resulted in what in Israel is called “the first Lebanon war”.
  7. Israel then did something that was even stupider than it was immoral.  Incorrectly believing that the PLO was inside two refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila, Israeli troops surrounded them, keeping people from fleeing, and let  phalanges, members of a right wing political party, slaughter the people inside the refugee camps. The Red Cross has estimated the number of people killed in the two camps as between 800 and 1,000 people.
  8. Friedman went to the sights of the slaughters and did  a detailed account of them, getting a four page story in the Times out of it.  Later, Friedman interviewed the Israel General who had been the overall commander of the Israeli troops in Lebanon at the time.  Friedman writes, “The next morning I buried [the General] on the front page of the New York Times” and along with him EVERY ILLUSION I EVER HAD ABOUT THE JEWISH STATE.”  (CAPS MINE).
  9.  Friedman has been well rewarded for his coverage of the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Friedman was transferred to be Chief of the Times’ Jerusalem Bureau, a far more prestigious post than being the Chief of the Beirut Bureau. He also won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting of the Lebanon slaughter and became The Great and Powerful Tom Friedman that he is today. Message: if Arabs kill 25,000 Arabs, one gets no reward.  If Jews are responsible for the death of 1,000  Arabs, one gets a Pulitzer prize.
  10.  By 2002, Friedman was back in New York writing his column. On February 6, 200,  Friedman wrote a column which was supposed to be a letter written by then President George Bush to various Arab leaders, including Crown Prince Abdullah, who was defacto the leader of Saudi Arabia.  In his column, Friedman suggested that  the Arab leaders  propose  to the Arab League that it make a peace proposal, including a provision  to establish  two states with the border between the two states being the Green Line with no  exceptions. This proposal would never have been acceptable to Israel. Israel would never give up control of all of  Jerusalem’s Old City, where Jews had lived for 3,000 years, where the first and second temples had once stood, and where even today, thousands of people pray at the western wall of the Temple Mount.
  11. Prince Abdullah read Friedman’s column and invited him to come to Saudi Arabia, which Friedman did.  There, Abdullah asked Friedman whether he had been going through his desk. When Friedman asked why he asked, Prince Abdullah  explained that he had written just  such a proposal, a copy of which was in his desk,                                                                                                                                                                    With the backing of Freidman’s column in the Times,  Abdullah submitted the proposal, including using the 1967 border without exceptions as the border between the the two states to the Arab League, which accepted it.
  12. The people at the Times were overjoyed.  As MSNBC put it:  “What newspaper’s management can resist following up on a plan for Middle East peace that appeared to grow out of its own pages.”                                                                                                                                              Over the years, Friedman has repeatedly endorsed the Arab League peace plan, despite knowing that the proposal was unacceptable to Israel. Worse, Friedman’s proposal of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders has hardened the Arabs’ negotiating position, exactly the opposite of what you want parties to do when you are trying to effect a settlement.

13.  There have been several examples of this intransigence. Mahmoud Abbas insists that the 1967 borders be used as the basis for any negotiations. When Barack Obama was attempting to negotiate a settlement based on land swaps, The Arab League stated that it would only accept minor land swaps.

After the 2016 presidential election, The United Nations was about to vote on a proposal to pass United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which provided that, without exception, everything on the Jordanian side of the 1967 borders constitutes an illegal settlement. Contrary to Biden’ advice, Obama refused to veto UNSCR 2334,which passed, the United States abstaining. Abbas and the UN now claim that UNSCR is part of international law.
14. Friedman’s proposal was ill-conceived in 2002, and is even more ill-conceived today.  In 2002 the secular Arafat was still alive and Bill Clinton had come very close to effecting a two-state solution, There was still hope for peace. Today, Israel’s prime opponent is NOT the Palestinian Authority, which has no missiles, It is is the radical, ultrareligious Muslim terrorists, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Iran, which among them have 150.000 to 200,000 missiles ready to be fired at Israel. None of these terrorists have any interest in a two-state solution. They insist that Israel be destroyed entirely and replaced with a Muslim theocracy. As the October 7th massacre demonstrates,  Friedman’s proposed two-state solution  is a vestige of the distant past and peace seems unlikely in anything like the near future.

About the Author
Before making Aliyah from the United States, I spent over three decades as a lawyer in the United States. My practice involved handling many civil rights cases, including women's- rights cases, in State and Federal courts. I handled numerous constitutional cases for the ACLU and argued one civil rights case in the United States Supreme Court. I chaired the Colorado Supreme Court's Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure and served on the Colorado Supreme Court's Civil Rules and Rules of Evidence Committees. Since much of my practice involved the public interest, I became interested in environmental law and worked closely with environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). I was on the Rocky Mountain Board of EDF. I received an award from the Nebraska Sierra Club as a result of winning a huge environmental case that was referred to me by EDF. I also developed significant knowledge of hazardous and radioactive waste disposal. I was involved in a number of law suits concerning waste disposal, including a highly-political one in the United States Supreme Court which involved the disposal of nuclear waste. As I child I was told by my mother, a German, Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany, that Israel was a place for her and her child. When I first visited Israel many years later, I understood what she meant. My feeling of belonging in Israel caused me to make Aliyah and Israel my home. Though I am retired now, I have continued my interest in activism and the world in which I find myself.
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