By Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who has repeatedly claimed that Israel controls Washington, is warning that if Israel’s prime minister addresses Congress next month, “anti-Semites will claim Israel controls Washington.”
Does Friedman really believe that? Or is he cynically using Jewish fears of antisemitism to stir opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
In an emotion-laden February 4 column, Friedman mustered every argument in his arsenal against the invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. It would be “churlish,” “reckless,” and even “dangerous,” Friedman thundered. He revealed that he has “polled many of [his] non-Jewish friends…and they don’t really like this.”
The notion that non-Jews dislike the invitation is one of the major arguments of Friedman’s column. He cites it again and again, most notably when he declares that if Israel’s prime minister goes ahead with the address, “anti-Semites, who claim Israel controls Washington, will have a field day.
Yet it is Friedman himself who has repeatedly given them that field.
Recall, for example, his New York Times column of February 5, 2004, in which he wrote 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, by a vice president, Dick Cheney, who’s ready to do whatever Mr. Sharon dictates…”
To make sure that nobody missed the implications of a Zionist conspiracy, Friedman added that Sharon, Jewish lobbyists, Cheney, and unnamed “political handlers” were “all conspiring to make sure the president does nothing [regarding Israel].”
Friedman raised the Jews-control-Washington canard again in his December 13, 2011 column in the Times. Furious that Prime Minister Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations–from Democrats and Republicans alike–when he addressed Congress that year, Friedman wrote: “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.”
In his November 19, 2013 column in the Times, Friedman did it again. “[N]ever have I seen more lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s,” Friedman declared. “I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”
So, let’s see: Friedman has America’s president “surrounded” by Zionist conspirators; Congress is “bought and paid for” by Jewish lobbyists; and “many” Members of Congress will “do whatever the Israel lobby asks them.”
Now Friedman warns that if Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses Congress again, that will cause anti-Semites to say that Israel controls Washington!
There are two possible explanations for this remarkable contradiction. The first is that Friedman has simply forgotten what he has written in the past on the subject. That’s implausible. Which leaves only the second explanation–Friedman knows full well what he has written in the past, but he assumes most readers won’t remember, so he can get away with contradicting himself.
But what is at stake is much more than the contradiction between Friedman’s past columns and this one. What he is doing is consciously, and very cynically, playing the Fear of Antisemitism card. He assumes many American Jews are so terrified of what anti-Semites might say, that he can use that fear to intimidate them into opposing the Netanyahu invitation.
Friedman’s assumption is an insult to American Jewry. Perhaps an earlier generation of immigrants or children of immigrants would have been so nervous about their status in America that they would have let such fears cloud their political judgment. But this is 2015. Today’s American Jewish community consists largely of those who marched proudly for Soviet Jewry, who are not ashamed to support Israel, and who are not embarrassed by their Jewish identity. Fear of what some anti-Semite somewhere will say is not going to determine what position they take on the issues of the day.
So who is doing more to foment anti-Semitism? Prime Minister Netanyahu and House Speaker John Boehner? Or New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman?
(The authors are president and chairman, respectively, of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and candidates on the Religious Zionist slate in the World Zionist Congress elections.)