This story originally appeared in mondoweiss on November 6, 2022. It is shared here with permission.
This site is unparalleled in our caustic critique of how the influential New York Times opinion journalist Thomas Friedman covers (or ignores) Israel/Palestine. But are last column is a pleasant surprise. The headline is, “The Israel We Knew Is Gone.” He goes on to sue the next Israeli government, using much harsher language than we expected him to do, doing his own reporting to back up his tough stance — rather than relying on the timid news articles in his own. newspaper.
Friedman’s powerfully worded column is not only valuable. He might have encouraged Time editors to allow their own reporters in Israel/Palestine to tell more truths.
Here is some of what he passed on to his readers. He said Benjamin Netanyahu’s winning electoral coalition “included downright racist, anti-Arab-Jewish extremists who were once deemed completely outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics.” He quoted Israeli journalist Amos Harel’s explanation that the right-wing victory was motivated in part by “hatred of Arabs and the desire to keep them out of positions of power.” The New York TimesIts own post-election reports tended to be less explicit, continuing the newspaper’s long tradition of downplaying Israel’s violent, messianic racists.
Friedman’s defection is especially significant because he has spent decades protecting Israel’s image. In the late 1980s, when the first Palestinian intifada broke out and sparked a crackdown on Israel, he promoted the oft-repeated line: “Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood.” His intention was clear; Israeli repression could no longer be hidden – especially after Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered his soldiers to “break the arms and legs” of Palestinian resistance fighters. Israel’s image was tarnished. But living among ‘dangerous neighbours’ meant using – unfortunately – harsh methods.
In today’s column, Friedman also credited some of his own coverage of the increasing danger to Palestinians who are citizens of Israel within the 1967 borders. He noted that such Palestinians make up 21 percent of Israel’s population, and he quoted Moshe Halbertal, a Jewish philosopher at Hebrew University, who warned that:
What we are seeing is a shift in the aggressive right from a political identity based on the focus on the ‘enemy from the outside’ – the Palestinians – to the ‘enemy within’ – Israeli Arabs.
Here’s another area where Time reporters were able to follow Friedman. The newspaper has historically ignored the Palestinian citizens of Israel. So Ayman Odeh, one of the community’s most influential leaders, an impressive man who supports nonviolent resistance and tells everyone that his hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is, has never profiled. And the Time also missed the news that Israel’s Summer Olympics team – a delegation of 90 – was not there last year a single Palestinian.
Why did Friedman write this column? Perhaps he hopes he can influence Netanyahu to try to form a coalition that excludes the extreme racists? But Friedman is sure that the far-right alliance is Netanyahu’s best chance to disrupt the corruption cases against him and keep him out of prison.
In recent years we have noticed that Friedman’s new strategy has been to simply hide when bad news comes out from Israel. In 2020 for example he didn’t write anything while the Trump administration and a previous Netanyahu administration were on the brink of annexing large swaths of the Palestinian West Bank, a move that would also have damaged Israel’s image in the US.
But this week’s election was too important and too dangerous for him to hide from. His closing paragraph is worth repeating:
I have been reporting from Israel for this newspaper for nearly 40 years, traveling often with my dear friend Nahum Barnea, one of the most respected, down-to-earth, level-headed, careful journalists in the country. When I hear him say on the phone minutes ago that ‘we now have a different kind of Israel’, I know we are really entering a dark tunnel.
Editor’s Note: the New York Times never profiled Ayman Odeh, but does have a Op-Ed by him in September 2019.