Israel deserves better than this prophet of doom
As the lighthearted expression goes, the future is one of the hardest things to predict. That did not stop columnist Thomas L. Friedman from offering grim prophecies about Israel and the new Israeli government coalition in a piece last week in The New York Times. There’s nothing lighthearted about the future he foresees for Israel, and his bleak predictions are presented as unalterable facts.
Friedman begins by steering the reader to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu will soon preside over a parade of right-wing horribles whose very existence dooms not just the new coalition, but Israel itself.
Once Friedman’s Halloween-like portrayal of Netanyahu’s team is lodged in the reader’s brain, he then suggests that Israel’s “rowdy” new government is just a trial run for what we can expect in the US in 2024. In other words, America … be afraid, be very afraid, because what happens in Israel doesn’t stay in Israel. Inevitably, Friedman frets, right-wing madness will spread to liberal US shores.
Apparently, these days, members of the Israeli government must pass muster not just with Israeli voters but also with members of Congress, gatekeepers in the Biden administration, and newspaper columnists like Friedman — when in fact Israel, like the US, gets to choose its own leaders through free and fair elections.
A lot of people on both sides of the political aisle in the US don’t love every single member of Congress, or every single Biden Cabinet member, but they aren’t surrendering their passports and ripping up the Constitution. Friedman then makes not just a jump but a giant leap of logic to suggest that if Jews on American campuses share his distaste for even two members of the new Israeli government, they will turn their backs on Israel once and for all.
Jews on college campuses have enough trouble these days, suffering cancel culture if they speak up in favor of the Jewish state in classes or fail to defend the Palestinians in or out of the lecture hall. Progressive politics isn’t cafeteria-style, where you get to pick and choose which issues you support. If you back Israel over the Palestinians, you are consigning yourself to a level of shunning that calls to mind the Salem witch trials. Friedman’s remarks just add fuel to that fire.
He then claims that Arab countries entered the Abraham Accords only because “they wanted to trade with Israel.” First, as Seinfeld would say, there’s nothing wrong with that. And second, the Arab nations made peace with Israel because they’re tired of pointless, expensive hostilities and because they recognize a common enemy in Iran. Friedman ought to have more respect for the courageous Arab governments that normalized their relations with Israel, and for those who may have quietly supported it from behind closed doors. One hopes more will do so as time goes on, despite Friedman’s apparent belief that those Arab countries are only in it for the money.
He is also concerned that members of Congress will be “fleeing” from reporters asking about support for Israel. While Israel has many stalwart friends in the US Capitol on both sides of the aisle, some Congress members have seldom been models of courage when it comes to speaking up for the Jewish state. Nothing new there.
There’s nothing lighthearted about the future he foresees for Israel, and his bleak predictions are presented as unalterable facts.
Jason D. Greenblatt
Friedman quotes Moshe Halbertal, a Hebrew University Jewish philosopher, and argues that Israeli hawkishness toward the Palestinians has morphed into Israelis now viewing every Israeli Arab as a potential terrorist. There is no basis for that accusation, and Friedman offers no evidence for it.
Israel, like every sovereign nation, has the right to keep its citizens safe: all its citizens. Indeed, that is perhaps a leader’s most important job in office. This is why voters brought Netanyahu back to power, because they know that he stands for security and not weakness in the Middle East, still the world’s most dangerous neighborhood.
Friedman has a deep distaste for Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, and appears to be using Ben-Gvir’s statements as a way to attack Israel’s new government in its entirety. I too am uncomfortable with some of Ben-Gvir’s past comments and actions. I hope he has matured and moderated his views, as he claims. But even if I am uncomfortable with Ben-Gvir’s statements and actions, that doesn’t mean I surrender my love and staunch support for the state of Israel. I don’t agree with some of Joe Biden’s policies, and I abhor comments made by the “Squad,” but I remain an American patriot.
Similarly, I abhor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s anti-American comments, his payments to Palestinians to reward them for harming and murdering Israelis, and his comments about the Holocaust — yet I would still work with Palestinians and their leaders to try to improve their lives and seek peace between them and Israel. We don’t burn everything down just because we disagree, however strongly, with the views of some of those in power.
Friedman doesn’t have to love Netanyahu or any or all of his team, but he should allow the future to play out before coming to such dark and drastic conclusions. It’s not fair to Israel’s voters, to Israel’s new administration, or to Israel’s young and impressionable supporters in the US. The right approach is for the White House, Congress and Thomas L. Friedman to let Netanyahu govern, and comment as he governs, rather than issue blanket condemnation in advance. I believe Benjamin Netanyahu is the right man for the job at this complicated and dangerous time, and that the Israel we know will continue to thrive, prosper and be a light on the world. Time will tell who is correct.
• Jason D. Greenblatt was White House Middle East envoy in the Trump administration and is the author of “In the Path of Abraham.” Follow him @GreenblattJD.