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STATE DEPT & N.Y. TIMES: TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT?

By Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn, February 19, 2014


Is it really conceivable that the State Department and the New York Times would collude to exert pressure on Israel? If it seems far-fetched, consider: While it's not unusual for the New York Times to occasionally publish an op-ed critical of Israel, readers who opened their Sunday newspaper on February 2 found no less than three opinion pieces hectoring the Jewish State. The very next day, Secretary of State John Kerry further piled on, by admonishing Israel with arguments that were strikingly similar to the articles in the Times.

The three columns came at Israel from different directions, but all served the same purpose: to try to intimidate Israel into making more concessions. Omar Barghouti, leader of the movement for anti-Israel boycotting, divestment, and sanctions, waxed triumphant about how Israel is supposedly "terrified" of what he is doing. On the same page, Israeli journalist Hirsh Goodman warned that although Israel does not actually practice apartheid, it will still face "international isolation" because its policies supposedly cause some people to think that it is practicing apartheid.

To round out the chorus, columnist Thomas Friedman chimed in with a similar lecture: Israel is on the verge (it must be the largest "verge" in the world -- he's been talking about it for more than 30 years) of becoming "a bi-national state with a hostile minority in its belly." If Israel doesn't give up more territory and fast, it will face "a real strategic and moral challenge" because "the enemy is nested in homes and apartments and no one wears a uniform but everyone has a cellphone camera."

Within hours, these arguments made their way from the pages of the Times to the mouth of the secretary of the state. Speaking in Munich, of all places, John Kerry told reporters that if the status quo between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs continues, then "for Israel, there's an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things."

Israeli officials and American Jewish leaders were understandably upset that Kerry was creating a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. "As the key player in the process, the impact of your comments was to create a reality of its own," Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League wrote to Kerry. "Describing the potential for expanded boycotts of Israel makes it more, not less, likely.that boycotts will ensue."

Thomas Friedman's role in all of this deserves special scrutiny, because he seems to be smack in the middle of such controversies so often.

One of the earliest was in 1990. On June 14, Friedman wrote a major news article in the Times about how Israel's "hard-line" government was undermining Secretary of State James Baker kindhearted attempts to come up with some "new thinking" about peace terms. Friedman wrote: "To drive home that point to the Israelis, the Secretary of State gave them President Bush's White House telephone number. 'I have to tell you that everybody over there should know that the telephone number is 1-202-456-1414 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-202-456-1414 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting,' Mr. Baker said. 'When you're serious about peace, call us.' ''

Readers of the Times had no way to know that Friedman had crossed the line from journalism, that he was in fact Baker's informal adviser. The cat got out of the bag five years later. No doubt much to Friedman's embarrassment, Baker revealed in his 1995 autobiography that the idea to sarcastically recite the White House phone number in order to show up the Israelis "came from Thomas Friedman." It turns out that the reporter and the secretary of state had been tennis partners for many years, and "I occasionally asked Friedman to share his thoughts with me on an off-the-record basis," Baker wrote.

A number of Friedman's other suggestions have likewise managed to end up in the mouths of those on whom he was ostensibly reporting. For a number of years, Friedman has been urging that a NATO force be stationed in between Israel and the Palestinians, as a way of coaxing the Israelis to withdraw from the Judea-Samaria territories. Lo and behold, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas announced, in an interview last week with Friedman and another Times staffer, that he favors stationing a NATO force in the territories.

In 2012, Friedman started boosting David Makovsky, a little-known analyst at a Washington think tank. Friedman helped publicize some maps Makovsky had drawn up which proposed, in detail, how Israel should withdraw from the territories. In one of his Times columns, Friedman even listed the URL so everyone else could see Makovsky's maps. A year later, Makovsky was hired by the State Department as part of the team crafting the path to a Palestinian state. Some of the recent media descriptions of the U.S. position in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, especially on issues such as the Jordan Valley, sound remarkably like what Makovsky and his magical maps have been promoting.

Is it all just a coincidence? Maybe.  Or maybe it's a troubling case of a newspaper, which is supposed to be objective and impartial, getting a little too cozy with some of the policies and proposals of those on whom it is supposed to be reporting.

As far back as his college days at Brandeis University, Friedman told the student newspaper, The Brandeis Justice (February 11, 1975) that his career goal "is to work in the foreign service [i.e. the State Department] at the Middle East desk."  The reporter added: "He is likely to succeed." And perhaps he has.

 

(Mr. Phillips and Mr. Korn are president and chairman, respectively, of the Religious Zionists of America - Philadelphia Chapter / [email protected])

 
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