Thomas Friedman was once brave. This New York Times columnist and author established his reputation reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His early work gave objective accounts of the suffering of the Palestinian people, placed blame for the failed peace talks squarely on the Israeli government, and exposed the undue influence that pro-Israel lobbyists wield on policies of the U.S. government.
Then the Israel lobby went to work on him.
In July 2001, the Media Monitor of the Jewish Press put Mr. Friedman on their Enemies List. Groups like CAMERA and AIPAC castigated his reporting as being anti-Semitic. The president of the Zionist Organization of America claimed “Friedman’s language conjures up disturbing stereotypical images of Jews conspiring to manipulate world leaders and events.” He was branded a “self-hating Jew.”
These relentless attacks worked their desired effect.
A “re-educated” Mr. Friedman suddenly embraced the pro-Israel position to go to war with Iraq. Famously, in his column of August 18, 2002, he coached President Bush on how best to begin that war, then subsequently called the invasion of Iraq “one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” And he began denigrating the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination.
Today, Thomas Friedman receives $75,000 per talk to Jewish organizations. He lives in an $9 million mansion in Maryland. His change of message seems not to have hurt his career.
Columnist Frank Rich , too, once offered intelligent criticism about events in the Middle East.
Early on, he wrote about Baruch Goldstein, the Brooklyn-born settler who attacked a mosque during prayers, murdering 29 men and boys. Mr. Rich called him a Jewish terrorist for his “savage mass murder of praying Muslims ” and lamented that a shrine was erected by Israelis, celebrating Goldstein as a hero. For expressing this opinion, Jewish groups pilloried Mr. Rich for being anti-Semitic and disloyal to Israel.
In his May 11, 2002 column, “The Booing of Wolfowitz ,” Mr. Rich defended then Deputy-Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz for acknowledging at a large pro-Israel rally in Washington that “innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well” in the Middle East. Wolfowitz, whose father’s family was killed in the Holocaust, was effectively heckled off stage and called an anti-Semite. Mr. Rich’s forthright essay rebuked such knee-jerk responses of anti-Semitism by American Jewish groups and dared to opine that right-wingers who tolerate no criticism of Israel undermine their own cause.
Predictably, these pro-Israel forces then turned on Mr. Rich and the New York Times . They threatened to boycott the paper, ceasing all advertising, even withholding Jewish death notices. Their response to Mr. Rich was more personal. He suffered a fusillade of attacks, “self-hating Jew” being their favored and highly effective calumny.
Frank Rich has learned the lesson. You will not be reading any more Baruch Goldstein or Paul Wolfowitz columns by him. Nowadays, cowed like Mr. Friedman, he toes the line, and is largely silent on Israeli-Palestinian issues. (See the following entry, “Frank Rich: Moral Hypocrisy? “)
So, am I anti-Semitic? No. I am against the Israel lobby that attempts, through intimidation (and rewards) to corrupt the critical role of the media in America — a role founded on the belief that an informed citizenry, engaged in open and public debate, is essential for our democracy. Thomas Friedman and Frank Rich are only two examples of many reporters who have been pressured to abandon their professional responsibility in covering the Middle East.
Mainstream media has failed us. America will live with the consequences.