A New York Times columnist has defined antisemitism in a way that implicates one of his most prominent colleagues.
In a recent column, Bret Stephens described how “the common denominator” in a wide range of antisemitic accusations, whether on the extreme right or the extreme left, “is an idea, based in fantasy and conspiracy, about Jewish power.” That’s certainly true.
According to Stephens, some religious antisemites in the past “believed Jews had the power to kill Christ.” And secular antisemites “believed Jews had the power to start wars, manipulate kings and swindle native people of their patrimony.” No doubt about it.
On the far right, antisemites believe Jews are trying “to replace white, working-class America with immigrant labor.” On the far left antisemites “attribute to Israel and its supporters in the United States vast powers that they do not possess.” Again, all true.
There’s just one problem. Stephens’ description doesn’t fit only David Duke or Ilhan Omar. It also fits one of his most prominent colleagues at the Times, longtime foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman.
“Jews have the power to manipulate kings”?
“Israel and its supporters have vast powers”?
Friedman has written exactly that—on multiple occasions.
In his column in the New York Times on February 5, 2004, Friedman declared that Israel "had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office.”
On December 13, 2011, Friedman infamously wrote that the standing ovations which Israel’s prime minister received in Congress were "bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
And Friedman asserted in his column on November 19, 2013, that "many American lawmakers [will] do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations."
The fact that Friedman happens to be Jewish doesn’t get him off the hook. We all know plenty of examples of Jews who—for whatever reason—choose to perpetuate anti-Jewish stereotypes.
It’s equally irrelevant that Friedman himself occasionally complains about antisemitism. Most outrageously, he wrote on February 4, 2015 that if Israel’s prime minister spoke to Congress against the Iran deal, "anti-Semites, who claim Israel controls Washington, will have a field day.” In other words, it’s antisemitic to claim Israel controls Washington—except, apparently, when Friedman is the one making that claim.
We will never truly be able to effectively combat antisemitism until we are willing to speak out when the guilty party is in our own political or ideological camp. If liberals acknowledge antisemitism only when it comes from conservatives, and conservatives acknowledge it only when it comes from liberals, then we will all be mired in little more than a sleazy political power game.
We’ve had a good dose of that one-sided, partisan approach in recent weeks. Political figures on both the right and left have made outrageous remarks comparing certain domestic American policies to Nazism or the Holocaust. Liberal Jewish leaders have angrily denounced only the right-wingers who made those comparisons; conservative Jewish leaders have furiously criticized only the left-wingers who have said such things. That reduces the entire discussion to a cheap attempt to score points, not a serious effort to stop antisemitism.
The same is true when it comes to Thomas Friedman. The fact that he is an influential journalist is no reason to be afraid of speaking the truth about him. The fact that one may agree with positions Friedman has taken on other issues is no reason to treat him as if he is immune from criticism.
According to Bret Stephens, “the fantasy about Jewish power may seem outlandish, but it’s far more pervasive than many think.” He’s right—and it’s so pervasive that, according to Stephens’ own definition, it’s right up there in the list of New York Times columnists.
Stephen M. Flatow is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.” He is an oleh chadash.