The New York Times employs a diverse group of anti-Israel writers, such as Soliman Hijjy, who loves Hitler, and Raja Abdulrahim, who blames Israel for Palestinian suicide bombers. Occasionally their over-zealous anti-Zionists get carried away, like Jazmine Hughes and Jamie Lauren Keiles whom the Times fired in November after they signed a letter accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid,” and genocide.”

But the Times‘ most effective anti-Israel scribe is not a raving, knuckle-dragging “river to the sea” enthusiast. Rather, it is Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer prize-winning columnist whose polished anti-Israel rhetoric has done more damage to Israel than that of the Times’ hardcore Israel haters.

As William McGurn observed in comparing Barack Obama’s anti-Israel sentiments to those expressed by Rashida Tlaib, “Obama would never be so crude as to invoke river-to-the-sea language or actually come out and say that Israel is as evil as Hamas … his argument is smooth and sophisticated. That’s what makes it so pernicious.”

Likewise, Friedman’s appeal is his claim to have staked out a consistently moderate and objective approach to Middle East affairs. His soft jihad against Israel is more subtle and acceptable, making it dangerous precisely because it is entertained by rational people and policymakers, especially Democrats.

Friedman loves the PLO/PA

Ever since his college days at Brandeis University, where he was a leader in the so-called “Middle East Peace Group,” Friedman has been an Arafat fan.

Because Friedman has been around for so long, he knows all the players. In the 1980s, as chief of the Beirut bureau of the Times, he cozied up to the PLO. In the 1990s, he cozied up to the Palestinian Authority (PA). His solution to “the Palestinian problem” has been consistent for decades now: strengthen and trust the PA, even though the PA has long demonstrated that it is not trustworthy.

In the weeks following October 7, Friedman has criticized Hamas (though not as much as he criticizes Israel) while continuing to push the PA as the alternative to Hamas. But he hasn’t always objected to Hamas.

Friedman Doesn’t Understand Hamas

After years of denouncing President George W. Bush for neglecting the Palestinians, Friedman welcomed the Obama administration with advice in a column on January 24, 2009, suggesting that its top priority was to “make peace between Palestinians, and build their institutions.”

After nearly a decade of failed nation-building efforts, most Americans had tired of that dead end. But not Friedman, who advised Obama that “a peacemaker has to be both a nation-builder and a negotiator.” Surprisingly, he argued that “Job 2 for the U.S., Israel and the Arab states is to find a way to bring Hamas into a Palestinian national unity government.”

He quoted his favorite “Middle East expert,” Stephen P. Cohen, formerly of the Qatar-funded Brookings Institution, to assert that, “Without Hamas as part of a Palestinian decision, any Israeli-Palestinian peace will be meaningless,” and he urged the new president to “rebuild Fatah, merge it with Hamas, [and] elect an Israeli government that can freeze settlements.”

The fact that in 2009 Friedman believed that Israel should not only tolerate but negotiate peace with Hamas shows that he failed to understand Hamas in 2009.

Ten years later, he still didn’t understand Hamas, as his March 25, 2019 column boldly announced that, “Hamas is not an existential threat to Israel.” Interestingly enough, he regularly claims that a Netanyahu government is an existential threat to Israel.

In a webinar at the Israel Policy Forum on September 13, 2023, just 27 days before the Hamas massacre, Friedman expressed his desire that the Biden administration would shoot down any Saudi-Israel peace deal unless it required Israel to make concessions so extensive that it “blows up the Netanyahu cabinet.” This was a theme he returned to: “I’ve been really focused on just one thing: How do you blow up this cabinet?” and “How do you destroy this cabinet and get a national unity government?”

As for elections, the seasoned expert on the Middle East called for immediate elections in the West Bank, suggesting that, “if Hamas wins, let Hamas win. They will then have the burden of responsibility in negotiating.”

Don’t Invade Gaza?

Tom Friedman is a status quo man who wants Israel to stick to the pre-October 7 playbook – don’t invade Gaza, don’t wipe out Hamas, don’t “overreact.” He writes in his October 16 column: “If Israel were to announce today that it has decided for now to forgo an invasion of Gaza and will look for more surgical means to eliminate or capture Hamas’s leadership while trying to engineer a trade for the more than 150 Israeli and other hostages whom Hamas is holding, … it would also give Israel and its allies time to think through how to build — with Palestinians — a legitimate alternative to Hamas.”

Where to start? Israel has been employing “surgical means” against terrorists in the Gaza Strip ever since PM Ariel Sharon forcibly removed all Israelis from Gaza in 2005 and allowed Hamas to establish a de facto Palestinian state on its border.

Three and a half decades have passed since the founding of Hamas, but Friedman wants more time to create a better alternative.

He still believes that “if Israel still decides it must enter Gaza to capture and kill Hamas’s leadership, it must only do so if it has in place a legitimate Palestinian leadership to replace Hamas — so Israel is not left governing there forever.”

Palestinians, not Israelis, are responsible for building a Palestinian government.

Still Supporting the Palestinian Authority

Friedman subscribes to the bogus view that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a secular government, overlooking the Islamist terrorist groups it controls (Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Tanzim, for instance) and the financial incentives it offers to terrorists through its so-called “pay-to-slay” program which rewards the families of terrorist killers (whom it calls martyrs) with generous pensions, including its announcement, on October 15, 2023, that it was extending its payment program to 50 Hamas terrorists who were captured by IDF forces on October 7. He erroneously believes that there are substantial differences between Hamas and the PA/PLO, when the only real difference is that each believes it has the best plan for eliminating Israel.

Friedman told Vox News on October 16 that, “There is only one thing worse than Hamas controlling Gaza and that is no one controlling Gaza or Israel controlling Gaza.” He continued, “I say to the Israelites [sic], before you go into it, show me the plan. Otherwise, be careful: Do not enter Gaza before you have a clear and precise idea of how you will get out.”

His final column of the year asserts that Israel’s “only exit from this mutually assured destruction is to bring in some transformed version of the Palestinian Authority – or a P.L.O.-appointed government of Palestinian technocrats – in partnership with moderate Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.”

In Friedman’s mind, Israel will always be responsible for Gaza.

Tearing Down the Israeli Government

Friedman suffers from a virulent case of Netanyahu Derangement Syndrome, perhaps equal to his case of Trump Derangement Syndrome. He often conflates the two, making for a two-in-one target. In a column titled “Is Trump Bibi’s Chump?” on January 28, 2020, Friedman (as always making rhetorical demands of politicians) told his readers that “Trump needs to ask Netanyahu: ‘Will you agree right now that the remaining land will be a Palestinian state if the Palestinians agree to demilitarization and recognize Israel as a Jewish state?'”

It’s Time to Ignore Tom Friedman

Friedman’s December 22 column, “It’s Time for the U.S. to Give Israel Some Tough Love,” is overflowing with his usual bad advice, such as the need for the U.S. “to tell Israel how to declare victory in Gaza and go home.”

Few people are more devoted to the idea of a two-state solution than Thomas Friedman. He wants Israel to unilaterally withdraw from what he calls the “West Bank,” but the lesson of October 7 is that Gaza was a de facto Palestinian state, and it devoted all of its resources to attacking Israel. If Friedman gets his way, the “West Bank” will become another Gaza.

The October 7 Hamas massacre of Israeli civilians opened the eyes of many a Palestinian sympathizer, awakening them to the horrors of their team. But not Thomas Friedman. The three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist still advises that a two-state solution is viable, still urges Israeli restraint, and still doesn’t understand that he has never understood Hamas.

Here’s better advice: it’s time to stop listening to Tom Friedman, stop reading his column and his books, and stop taking his soft jihad against Israel seriously. For half a century, he has played the part of Middle East roving reporter, explaining every situation as though he were commander of all the moving parts and as though he alone knew the game plan. Enough.

This column was published at The Investigative Project on Terrorism

The views expressed in guest columns are not necessarily the views or positions of the CCNS or its members.

© 2024 Citizens Commission on National Security

© 2024 Citizens Commission on National Security