Daily Israel Report

Tom Friedman Begs, Warns Israelis: Give Obama Just 2 More Months

Times journalist tries to convince Israeli TV audience to support a housing freeze and say 'what the heck, Mr. President, this one's for you!'
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 10/26/2010, 12:30 PM / Last Update: 10/26/2010, 12:23 PM

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Israel's Channel 2 television devoted its weekend “Meet the Press” edition to an interview with senior New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman, who is considered close to President Barack Obama. It was not clear whether the interview was held at the initiative of the Israeli channel or of Mr. Friedman. The journalist used the opportunity to pressure his Israeli audience to accept Obama's demand that Israel extend a ten month freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria that recently expired. The freeze was supposed to coax the Palestinian Authority into holding peace talks with Israel, but failed to do so. 

In the introduction to the interview, anchor Dana Weiss said Friedman had “positioned himself as the world's top journalist,” and quoted from some of his most acerbically anti-Israeli columns, in which he told Israel to “call us when you're serious” about peace and compared Israel's leaders to drunken drivers and madmen.  

The PA is “decent and improving” and its security forces have “vastly improved,” Friedman told Weiss, and it is in Israel's “overwhelming interest to test whether it really has a partner for peace.”

“I don't want Israel to look back and have people say about Israel what it said about the Palestinians, that it never missed an opportunity top miss an opportunity,” he said.

Weiss pointed out that Friedman had called Israel a “spoiled child” in his most recent column. Drawing an unusual parallel between Iran's relations with its proxy Lebanon and US-Israeli relations, Friedman explained that he was concerned that the US was about to reward Israel for “stupid” behavior, in the same way that Iran rewarded Lebanon with arms after its “stupid” behavior in the Second Lebanon War.

"There is something that I think Israelis do not fully appreciate. We are not your grandfathers' America anymore,” he went on. The US is in the middle of a terrible financial crisis, he said, and “we care about every dollar we spend.” A lot of Americans are “fed up” with Israel, and do not care about the Middle East conflict anymore. “When they see their President working hard to try and tee up an opportunity for Israel and all we are asking is – 'just test, go all the way, just test whether you have a real partner, and you say 'no, first pay me, let Pollard out of jail, have [PA chief] Abu Mazen sing [Israeli anthem] Hatikvah in perfect Yiddish,  and then we'll think about testing. It rubs a lot of people the wrong way.” 

Weiss asked Friedman if he thought the US was about to make Israel pay for its behavior after the November midterm elections. Friedman did not answer directly, but warned that young American Jews do not care about Israel like they used to. The young Jews do not understand , he said, “why is it such a difficult thing for Israel to say to the United States and to the American president, 'Mr. President – you know, we really don't think a settlement freeze will make a difference, but you do. We gave you ten months, we don't think the Palestinians did enough with that, but you think another two months... another two months is all you're asking – what the heck, Mr. President, this one's for you!' Is that so hard?”

By this point in the interview Friedman was practically begging his audience to agree with him, sounding an imploring tone and using his hands in gestures that signified he was only asking for a small favor.

He then moved on quickly to an apparent threat, however, and explained that if Israel does not do what the US wants it to do as regards the “peace process,” it could find itself under severe global pressure if and when it strikes Iran in self defense:

“God forbid, sometime in the next year or two, Israel may find itself in a situation where it has to take on Iran in some military way, and if that happens... if there was a serious peace process going [on at the time ], I think the world would weigh that action in a different way, certainly than if there isn't.”