New York Times columnist Tom Friedman told The Jewish Week Tuesday that the wording of a memorable phrase in his Dec. 13 column (“Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir”) may have been inexact when he wrote that the standing ovation Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received in Congress this year “was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”
That argument was about the need to distinguish between American and Israeli interests at times, and to note that many American Jews “are deeply worried about where Israel is going today.”
Most of the criticism of the column from Jewish leaders focused on the reference to Netanyahu’s congressional ovation being “bought and paid for by the Israeli lobby.”
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, wrote in his blog that Friedman “crossed a line” with the Israel lobby statement, which he called “inaccurate and shockingly insidious,” conjuring up “the ugliest anti-Semitic stereotypes.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Friedman has often written of his support for the State of Israel, despite his sometimes sharp criticism of Jerusalem’s policies. His was a lonely voice of support for Israel in the mainstream press during the Israeli army’s military campaigns against Hamas and Hezbollah.