Shouldn't Thomas Friedman Also Suspend Himself?

If Brian Williams had to suspend himself for admitting using untruths to build his image, why not Thomas Friedman? His story follows a similar trajectory.

Tags: Lebanese
Benyamin Korn

OpEds Bert Korn
Bert Korn

 Moshe Phillips co-authored this article.
Is New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman watching the unfolding Brian Williams scandal with mounting trepidation, as he wonders whether the Williams-like skeleton in his own closet will soon be discovered?

Williams, the veteran anchor of the NBC Nightly News, has admitted that he falsified portions of his experience as a war correspondent in Iraq in order to burnish his professional image and credentials. In accounts repeated over many years, Williams claimed that he was not merely a reporter accompanying the troops in Iraq, but was almost killed when the army helicopter in which he was flying came under fire. The story conferred near-heroic status as someone whose experience gave him the moral credentials to pass judgment on the war.

Now we know that the story was false.

Thomas Friedman's story follows a similar trajectory. Friedman was a junior reporter on the Times staff when he was sent to cover the Israel-Lebanon war in 1982. He was catapulted to fame by a series of articles blaming Israel for the Lebanese Christians' killings of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps (in which Israel took no part) which he then parlayed into a best-selling book about his experiences, From Beirut to Jerusalem. 
The major theme of the book, and of the many interviews he gave about his time in Lebanon, was “disillusionment”. He set out, he claimed, as a passionate supporter of Israel ("insufferably so"). He believed "that all the right [was] on one side, and all the wrong on the other, that Israel always behaves in a way that's morally upstanding…I had seen Israel as a sort of utopian society…" But these illusions were shattered "in my experiences as a reporter…I went through a period of disillusionment during my experience of Lebanon and Sabra and Shatilla." 

All of his credibility as a commentator on Israeli-Palestinian affairs rests on the self-image he concocted in Lebanon.
According to Friedman, it was Israel's immoral behavior in Lebanon in 1982 that transformed him from a supporter of the Jewish state to one of its most outspoken critics. He bravely discovered the truth about the Israelis, and that gave him the moral credentials to pass judgement on Israel from then on--which is exactly what he proceeded to do, first as the Times' bureau chief in Jerusalem from 1984-1988, and then as a Times op-ed columnist ever since.
The problem is that Friedman's story, like Brian Williams' story, is a lie.
Friedman did not become a critic of Israel in 1982. He was strongly pro-Palestinian at least eight years earlier, as a leader of a Brandeis University student organization called the "Middle East Peace Group." When the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, gun on his hip, spoke at the United Nations that fall, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin strongly protested and hundreds of thousands of outraged New Yorkers held a "Rally Against Terror." Friedman and his Peace Group colleagues published an open letter in The Brandeis Justice (the student newspaper) on November 12, 1974, to denounce the rally and oppose Prime Minister Rabin's stance.
Friedman and company declared that the anti-terror rally would "only reinforce Jewish anxiety and contribute to Israel's further isolation." They demanded that Prime Minister Rabin "negotiate with all factions of the Palestinians, including the PLO." Keep in mind that this was at a time when the PLO was not even pretending to be moderate or saying it was willing to live in peace with Israel. Earlier that year, PLO terrorists had proudly slaughtered dozens of Israeli schoolchildren in the towns of Ma'alot and Kiryat Shemona.
When Friedman graduated from Brandeis, he left the Middle East Peace Group--but the Middle East Peace Group never left him. His news articles for the Times, and later his op-ed columns, consistently exhibited the same negative tilt against Israel.
Secretary of State James Baker, in his autobiography, described how he and Friedman were tennis partners, and Friedman would give him suggestions on how to pressure Israel. He credited Friedman for the notorious episode in which Baker publicly humiliated Israel by announcing the White House phone number and declaring that the Israelis should call when they get serious about peace. For good reason did the editors of The New Republic, in 1992, characterize Friedman as "the New York Times' State Department spokesman" and as part of "the James Baker Ministry of Information."
Ultimately, all of Friedman's writings on Israel are anchored in the myth of the Disillusioned American Jewish Journalist. All of his credibility as a commentator on Israeli-Palestinian affairs rests on the self-image he concocted in Lebanon.

If Brian Williams' credibility as a journalist has been irreparably damaged as a result of his falsification of his war correspondent experiences, then Thomas Friedman's credibility deserves to be judged according to precisely the same criteria.

(The authors are president and chairman, respectively, of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and candidates on the Religious Zionist slate ( in the World Zionist Congress elections.)