A column in The New York Times by Thomas Friedman has set off a firestorm of angry replies from government officials in both the U.S .and Israel.
In his Dec. 13 column, Friedman, among other scathing criticisms aimed at the Jewish state, 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.” Friedman also said many American Jews are extremely worried about the direction to which Israel is heading.
In response, an incensed U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) issued a statement saying, “Thomas Friedman’s defamation against the vast majority of Americans who support the Jewish State of Israel…is scurrilous, destructive and harmful to Israel and her advocates in the U.S. Mr. Friedman is not only wrong, but he’s aiding and abetting a dangerous narrative about the U.S.-Israel relationship and its American supporters. I gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a standing ovation not because of any nefarious lobby, but because it is in America’s vital national security interests to support the Jewish state of Israel and it is right for Congress to give a warm welcome to the leader of such a dear and essential ally. Mr. Friedman owes us all an apology.”
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin also chastised Friedman, saying that in Friedman’s eyes, “the entire U.S. Congress is bought and paid for by a cabal of Jews.” She also cited a Democratic Senate aide who said, “If Friedman did actual reporting rather than opining from his anti-Israel perch at the Times, he would have learned that, in an otherwise polarized Congress, there is genuine, bipartisan support for Israel that reflects America’s heartland.”
In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren said Friedman had “strengthened a dangerous myth.”
“This allegation is profoundly disturbing,” he said. “The term ‘Israel lobby’ implies the existence of a Zionist cabal wielding inordinate economic and political power.”
The Times responded by inviting Netanyahu to submit his own op-ed, but the Prime Minister’s office turned the paper down. The Prime Minister did not believe he could be given a fair shake in the pages of the Times, said his top aide, Ron Dermer, given the paper’s habit of publishing articles and op-eds critical of the Jewish state.
“It would seem as if the surest way to get an Op-Ed published in The New York Times these days, no matter how obscure the writer or the viewpoint, is to attack Israel,” he said.
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, summed it up this way: “There has been a clear imbalance on the editorial and op-ed pages of The New York Times. If the Times aspires to a balanced range of views on those pages, it needs to engage in some reflection.”
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