Thomas Friedman doth worry too much about Israel

Joseph Massad

Middle East Eye  /  July 28, 2023

In an open letter to Joe Biden, the longtime New York Times columnist pleads with the US president to ‘save’ Israel from itself and preserve Jewish master-race democracy.

Is Israel imploding from within ?

In recent months, the massive divide between a segment of Israeli Jewish society, which insists that Israeli Jews must maintain Jewish supremacy by safeguarding master-race democracy, and a government with equally massive support insisting that Jewish supremacy can only be maintained by master-race semi-autocracy, has come to the fore.

Whereas Britain and the European Union – with their “we love Israel, right or wrong” attitude – have not demonstrated much concern about recent developments, this internecine fight among Israel’s Jewish colonial-settlers about the best way to maintain Jewish supremacy has caused much worry among Israel’s major supporters in the US.

Thomas Friedman, the enthusiastically pro-US imperial wars and pro-Israel New York Times columnist, who recently met with Joe Biden at the White House to discuss these developments, published an open letter to the US president a few days ago urging him to “save” Israel from itself.

Friedman doth worry too much about Israel. He is deeply invested in preserving Jewish master-race democracy and wants the US government to threaten to “reassess” its relationship with Israel due to the judicial reforms.

‘Saving’ Israel

In his article, Friedman refers to the Zionist settler colony with the strange locution “the only Jewish democracy”, as if there exist other Jewish autocracies that distinguish themselves from “democratic” Israel. Despite, or perhaps, because of, his notorious anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab views, Friedman is adored by pro-US Arab governments and Arab neoliberal businessmen, whom he features in his books and regularly addresses in paid speeches in Arab capitals.

His pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian 1989 book From Beirut to Jerusalem: One Man’s Middle Eastern Odyssey, which won him accolades in the anti-Palestinian US mainstream, was dubbed by the late Edward W Said at the time “On the Orientalist Express”.

In his open letter, Friedman urges Biden to “save” this “Jewish democracy” from internal threats, as President Richard Nixon had allegedly done in 1973. Of course, in that year Egypt and Syria invaded their own territories, illegally occupied and colonized by Israel in 1967, to liberate them and end Israeli settler-colonialism. They did not attack “Jewish democracy” – whatever that is. But the pro-Israel Friedman is undeterred. He needs this bit of pro-Israel propaganda to make his comparison between US support to save Israeli settler-colonialism in 1973 with his call on Biden to do the same now.

Friedman is worried that the judicial reforms of the Netanyahu government would “fracture Israel’s military”, the main enforcer of settler-colonialism whose main job has always been the preservation of Jewish supremacy in Israel. He calls on Biden to give Israel a “dose of tough love – not just from your heart but from the heart of US strategic interests as well”.

Friedman is a long-time cheerleader for US imperial interests in the Middle East, which he warns will be undermined if Jewish supremacy in Israel is maintained through autocracy rather than master-race democracy. He pleads almost desperately with Biden to protect these interests. Americans, he says, “are entitled – indeed we are required – to defend” US “strategic interests”.

‘US’ interests

Friedman’s rationale is that Netanyahu’s moves could lead to the annexation of the West Bank, which Netanyahu had threatened to do anyway under a previous less “extreme” government – something Friedman may have forgotten. Such annexation could lead to an exodus of the Palestinian population, Friedman cautions, which would end up in Jordan, “destabilizing” its US and Friedman-friendly regime.

He asserts that Jordan, whose monarch King Abdullah II was visiting the US at the time that Friedman’s article was published, is “the most important buffer state in the region for the US”. Its instability is, therefore, a threat not only to US interests but also to Israeli “security”. That Jordan’s status as a “buffer state” for Israel and the US depends on it not being a democracy, and in fact being an autocracy, in no way troubles Friedman; after all, what matters is the rights of Jews.

Friedman is also concerned that Netanyahu has embarrassed Israel’s new autocratic Arab allies who signed the Abraham Accords that normalized relations with the Jewish settler colony.

More important for Friedman, however, and what he identifies as US interests, is the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which Netanyahu’s actions, the columnist fears, have put in jeopardy.

Finally, though strangely, Friedman speaks of the possible fracture of the US-funded Israeli military as a “disaster” for the US, but also for Israel, given that Israel “has real enemies like Iran and Hezbollah on its doorstep”.

That Iran and Hezbollah are identified solely as enemies of Israel and not of the US may be an oversight, but it is a noteworthy one, especially in view of the recent slight improvements in US-Iranian relations.

‘Ironclad’ commitment

As Friedman and other pro-Israel forces in the US are panicking about the imminent implosion of the Israeli state, events are unfolding quickly in Palestine. The Israeli military and the Jewish colonists continue their colonial rampage and killing of Palestinians on a daily basis, while the Biden administration reaffirms its unconditional support, starting with Biden’s declaration during the recent visit by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog that “America’s commitment to Israel” is “firm and ironclad”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also reiterated that Biden “more than anyone I know, is in his gut committed to Israel’s security, and that will never change”. Such a commitment to the security of this predatory implant in the midst of the Arab World is something all of Washington’s Arab allies are more than comfortable with.

Meanwhile, the quisling Palestinian Authority (PA) has been given a lifeline by the current Israeli government, which committed itself to prevent its collapse, provided it redoubles its repressive efforts against anti-colonial Palestinian resistors, a principal task the PA was established to perform in 1993, and from which it has never flinched – neither under Yasser Arafat nor his successors. The PA readily satisfied Israeli demands by going on a major repressive campaign, arresting dozens of Palestinian resistors.

Egypt and Jordan, two of Washington’s principal allies, at the behest of the Americans and the Israelis, persist in pressuring and threatening Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose leaders were recently invited to Cairo for a meeting with the head of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas has accepted the invitation while Islamic Jihad conditioned its attendance on the PA’s release of its detained members.

Meanwhile, Washington’s ally, the newly re-elected Turkish president-cum-peacemaker, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has invited Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas to visit him separately but consecutively in a not-so-secret bid to mediate, as if mediation is necessary between the leader of a European settler-colony illegally occupying land and its collaborator Palestinian Authority.  

Erdogan also invited Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to mediate between the anti-colonial movement and the collaborating PA.

Huff and puff

Meanwhile, in Washington, private meetings on restructuring the PA – presumably after Abbas’ death – are being held. The plan would be to finally rid it of its parasitical political leadership and expose it more clearly as no more than a repressive US-trained and funded security force designed to protect Israel (and the profits and investments of the West Bank Palestinian business class), attached to a bureaucratic apparatus charged with administering the municipal needs of the population at the behest of Israel.  

And if this is not enough to reassure Friedman and others, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin emphasized to the Israeli Defence minister in a call on 25 July that the “US commitment to Israel’s security is steadfast and unwavering, and affirmed that the Department of Defence is focused on initiatives that deepen military cooperation.” Appalled that Palestinians continue to resist Israel’s colonial occupation, Austin called on “Palestinian leaders to condemn terrorism and take active steps to prevent violence”.
None of these ongoing pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian American actions seems to alleviate the concerns of Friedman and his ilk. Friedman speaks of the “shared values” between Israel and the US, pretending that these shared values are a commitment to “democracy” rather than a commitment to settler-colonialism.

Indeed, his claims are echoed by David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and journalist, who asserts that “a relationship built on shared values cannot be easily restored once it is clear those values are no longer shared”. But the values of settler-colonialism and US imperialism continue to be shared between the two countries without respite.

Netanyahu knows very well that Israel’s more liberal US friends can huff and puff all they want, but none of that will blow away the love US elites have for Israel and its colonists.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, New York; he is the author of, among others, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; Desiring Arabs; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and most recently Islam in Liberalism