NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman
NY Times columnist Thomas FriedmanReuters

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman in a Tuesday op-ed compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing Netanyahu's leadership style as "madness" that is risking the future of Israel.

In the piece, titled “Putin and Netanyahu Show Why Bad Things Happen to Bad Leaders,” Friedman claims it is “shocking” to him that Putin and Netanyahu have in common that both “completely misread the world in which they were operating.”

“In fact, they misread it so badly that it looks as if each is not playing chess or checkers but rather Russian roulette — all by themselves,” Friedman writes.

He goes on to mention how Putin misread the situation in Ukraine and was not able to take over Kyiv in a few days and became stuck in a war against Ukraine and the West with seemingly no end in sight, leading to Russia becoming “an energy colony of China and a beggar for Iran’s drones.”

He compares this situation to Netanyahu and his coalition, describing how they allegedly “thought they could pull off a quick judicial coup, disguised as a legal ‘reform.’”

Friedman claims that Netanyahu seeks to “exploit the narrowest of election victories” to govern as a dictator “without having to worry about the only source of restraint on politicians in Israel’s system: its independent judiciary and Supreme Court.”

He also alleges that during the government’s first cabinet meeting in December, judicial reform was not mentioned among Netanyahu’s priorities.

“He didn’t mention upending the courts, apparently hoping to slip it past the public,” Friedman writes. “Wrong. A vast majority of the Israeli public got it immediately and responded with the largest public backlash to any proposed legislation in the country’s history.”

Friedman denounces Netanyahu for getting the “base of his own party wrong” on judicial reform, even “some of his most ardent conservative American Jewish supporters,” naming Miriam Adelson who “decried the way in which the prime minister was trying to ‘dash’ through such a significant change… writing in Israel Hayom.

“Both Netanyahu and Putin are blaming outside agitators and foreign funding for their problems,” Friedman goes on to say, claiming “it’s right out of the dictators’ handbook.”

The op-ed then blames Netanyahu for being “in power for so many years” which Friedman says leads to “trails of alleged corruption that leave[s] [him] feeling it’s rule or die.”

He continues to compare him to Putin’s existential situation as Russia’s strongman, claiming that the prime minster’s “rule-or-die fears” were behind him forming the coalition with “ two ex-convicts and a rogue’s gallery of Jewish supremacists” and that Netanyahu did so out of “desperation” because he had been “abandoned by so many decent members of Likud.”

He also asserts, without providing evidence, that the military as a whole has abandoned Netanyahu and that “the Israel Defense Forces are not going to just salute an Israeli dictator,” providing some of the most extreme quotes from senior leaders of the judicial reform opposition to make his point.

Friedman also claims, quoting but a single Israeli tech entrepreneur, Assaf Rappaport, that the Israeli start-up community “can’t survive” a “threat to Israel’s independent judiciary” which would allegedly cause foreign investors to flee Israel’s tech sector in droves as the country’s start-ups pack their suitcases and move to Delaware.

The op-ed concludes that Putin can “afford a long war of attrition in Ukraine, where he never has to admit he was mistaken” but blasts Netanyahu for leading an “extremist coalition” that Friedman writes is intent on “ignoring the wishes and values” of its closest ally the United States and more specifically, of American Jews.

Friedman describes Netanyahu’s leadership as “madness,” claiming that while Russia will survive Putin’s leadership, “Israel may not” survive Netanyahu.