Op-Ed: Tom Friedman must apologize for slandering Israel


NEW YORK (JTA) — I don’t often read Tom Friedman in The New York Times. True, he is one of the most lucid writers in America, and his crystal-clear prose helps in understanding some of the world’s most intractable conflicts. He can also be repetitive, tiresome and a little too in love with his own ideas.

As a triple winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Friedman is a man of considerable influence. But he is always lecturing Israel. If only the Jewish state would listen to his recurring advice, manna again would rain from the heavens, the dead would be resurrected and the Arabs would welcome Israel with daises and lilies.

Friedman certainly is entitled to his view. But he is not entitled to slander Israel, and last Sunday he did so with relish.

In words that blur the line between commentary and defamation, Friedman wrote of the “brutality of Israel’s retaliations” against Hezbollah and Hamas, and how Israel “chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.” He then crossed a line of common decency when he irresponsibly accused Israel of using “Hama rules” in its war against the twin terror groups.

“Hama Rules,” he explained, “are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.”

This is a straightforward blood libel. To accuse Israel of indiscriminately murdering thousands of civilians the way the butcher Assad did in Hama is to equate a democratic state whose actions are open to international media and scrutiny and constant judicial review with a bloodthirsty dictator and tyrant who held on to power without any restraint of law.

In his book "From Beirut to Jerusalem," Friedman himself writes that he had heard through friends that Assad’s brother, Rifaat al-Assad, had boasted that the Syrian government had killed 38,000 people in Hama. Is he seriously suggesting that Israel has ever been guilty of anything remotely approaching such wholesale slaughter?

In accusing Israel of the murderous immorality of Syria, Friedman has severely compromised his credibility and objectivity as an honest and fair-minded journalist. He is being dishonest and he knows it.

Israel is at the forefront of world militaries in trying always to diminish the civilian casualties of war. When it came to Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel endured years of provocation as both terrorist groups fired thousands of rockets at hospitals, schools and homes before Israel decided that no nation could long endure with its civilian population living amid such staggering death and fear. Only then did Israel invade.

Even then, while Hezbollah and Hamas launched their rockets from nurseries and infirmaries, Israel behaved with unparalleled restraint, doing everything in its power to warn civilians of coming offensives and then using state-of-the-art munitions with laser-like precision to reduce, as much as humanly possibly, collateral civilian casualties.

How does Friedman propose Israel fight Hezbollah and Hamas, two of the world’s most bloodthirsty terrorist groups, who pride themselves on dismembering innocent civilians?

The United States rains hellfire missiles on Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan on a regular basis, blowing them to smithereens along with their wives and children. On May 21, U.S. airstrikes killed Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the No. 3 leader of al-Qaida. His wife and three children were killed with him. Friedman never condemned the attack.

Perhaps it is because he sensibly understood that terrorists purposely travel with civilians and have contempt for the lives of even their own children. Yazid knew he was a marked man; he could have left his children in safety. But he banked on the belief that the United States would not touch him as long as his kids were around. President Obama rightly understood, however, that in this case it was a choice between his children and American children, that if this terrorist continued to live, Americans would continue to die.

I believe that you will never see Friedman pen a column suggesting that America is an immoral power because it attacks terrorists undeterred by considerations of civilian deaths because he knows that there would be hell to pay, even for the New York Times readership. But like so many Jewish apologists who are ashamed of what the tiny Jewish democracy must do in order to simply survive, he judges Israel by impossibly high, and usually double, standards.

Want to talk about brutal? In Operation Gomorrah  of July 1943, the U.S. Air Force and Britain’s Royal Air Force carpet-bombed Hamburg, killing some 50,000 civilians and practically destroying the entire city. The bombing created a whirling updraft of super-heated air, bringing about a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire that incinerated thousands of civilian noncombatants.

In February 1945, when Hitler and Germany were headed to certain defeat, the U.S. Air Force and the RAF sent 1,300 heavy bombers over Dresden, dropping 3,900 tons of high explosives that destroyed nearly the entire city center and killed approximately 250,000 civilians. Six months later, on Aug. 6 and 9, President Truman ordered the atomic destruction of two Japanese cities, killing 90,000 to 166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki.

Where is Friedman’s column condemning Roosevelt, Truman and Churchill as monsters who ordered attacks on Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan “without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties”? If Friedman ever writes the column I’ll eat my yarmulke. That triumvirate today are regarded as three of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century.

Why would highly moral men have ordered the indiscriminate destruction of so many innocent lives?

It was because they were fighting an evil that had no precedent, and they had to make a terrible choice between the lives of their own countrymen and those of the civilians of enemies sworn to the destruction of Western democracy. They put their own countries and the freedom of the West first.

Israel, possessed of nuclear weapons and one of the most powerful air forces in the world, has never even contemplated carpet bombing any Arab city, irrespective of the horrendous civilian losses it has endured from 60 years of nonstop Arab aggression. It continues to bury a steady steam of civilians and soldiers when, if it truly wished to employ Hama rules, the war in the Middle East would have ended long ago.

Friedman can do better than this, and he owes Israel an apology. He should be man enough to write it.

(Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts "The Shmuley Show" on WABC-770 AM in New York City. His most recent book is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.”)

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