The Israeli-American scholar and commentator Daniel Gordis recently denounced an Israeli government cabinet minister as “a dangerous demagogue with medieval views.”
Name-calling is standard fare in Israeli public discourse, especially in the midst of an overheated election race. But whether or not Gordis meant his accusation literally, he will soon find himself face-to-face with someone who actually meets the dictionary definition of a dangerous demagogue with medieval views—medieval views about Jews and Jewish power, that is.
Later this month, Gordis will appear on stage at a prominent Manhattan synagogue alongside an American journalist who has publicly accused Jews of controlling the White House and paying off members of Congress. I’m speaking about Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.
The dictionary definition of a “demagogue” is someone who seeks to gain “power and popularity” through “use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises.”
That’s pretty much what Thomas Friedman has been doing his entire life: trying to gain popularity for himself, and his extremist views, through false claims, empty promises, and whipping up prejudice—against Israel.
It began during his years as a student at Brandeis University. In 1974, Yasser Arafat, gun holster on his hip, made his infamous first appearance at the United Nations. The Jewish community in New York City organized a huge protest rally against him. Friedman and a handful of his fellow radicals on campus signed an open letter denouncing the anti-Arafat rally.
This all happened just a few months after Arafat’s terrorists slaughtered 18 Jews—eight of them young children—in Kiryat Shemona, and then 27 more Jews—21 of them children—in Ma’alot. According to Friedman, Arafat really wasn’t so awful and Israel should negotiate with him.
Friedman told The Brandeis Justice campus newspaper that his professional goal was to work at “the Middle East desk of the State Department.” Presumably that would have given him opportunities to impose his views on Israel.
That didn’t work out, although Friedman did later become a personal friend and tennis partner with Secretary of State James Baker, and —according to Baker’s autobiography— he gave Baker advice on how to ratchet up pressure on Israel.
Instead, Friedman went off to Lebanon as a correspondent for the New York Times, pretending to be an objective reporter. Later, in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, Friedman abandoned all pretense of objectivity and boasted about how he “buried” Israel’s top military brass by blaming them when Lebanese Christian militiamen killed Palestinian Muslims.
Friedman’s litany of demagogic falsehoods hit a new peak in that book. He falsely portrayed himself as a lover of Israel who only became a critic when he witnessed Israeli actions in Lebanon. If Friedman admitted that he had been hostile to Israel since his Brandeis days, then his cover would have certainly been ruined. He needed to pretend that it was Israel which made him hate Israel. Yes, that was the book for which he won a Pulitzer Prize—which tells you something about the value of the Pulitzer Prize (or the ignorance of the judges who assessed his book).
After several years of heaping abuse on Israel as the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, Friedman returned to the United States to become a regular op-ed page columnist. And here’s where the aforementioned “medieval views” came to the fore.
There is nothing more medieval than resurrecting the medieval view of Jews as sinister manipulators who try to control world leaders. In his New York Times column of Feb. 5, 2004, Friedman wrote that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has “had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office…surrounded by Jewish and Christian pro-Israel lobbyists, by a vice president, Dick Cheney, who’s ready to do whatever Mr. Sharon dictates…”
He has issued the same medieval charges again and again over the years.
In his Dec. 13, 2011 column, Friedman asserted that the standing ovations Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received when he addressed Congress were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
And in his Nov. 19, 2013 column, Friedman wrote: “[N]ever have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s.” He claimed there is “a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”
So get ready, Daniel Gordis. At Temple Emanu-El on September 16, you’re going to be face-to-face with a dangerous demagogue with medieval views. Will you confront him over his antisemitic writings? Will you quote chapter and verse, compelling him to either retract or defend his antisemitism? The Jewish community will be watching.
Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s U.S. division; Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War Two Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Herut's website is https://herutna.org/