I was really disappointed to find this op-ed on JTA today, titled “Tom Friedman must apologize for slandering Israel,” and I have a lot of problems with it.
First off, slander is an offense punishable by law, so it’s a very severe term to use when describing how someone writes or expresses him or herself. If you want slander, listen to Glenn Beck or Pat Buchanan. They say things about abortion and homosexuality/gay marriage that border on the criminal. Here’s what the author of the JTA op-ed says:
In words that blur the line between commentary and defamation, Friedman wrote of the “brutality of Israel’s retaliations” against Hezbollah and Hamas, and how Israel “chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.” He then crossed a line of common decency when he irresponsibly accused Israel of using “Hama rules” in its war against the twin terror groups.
“Hama Rules,” he explained, “are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.”
This is a straightforward blood libel. To accuse Israel of indiscriminately murdering thousands of civilians the way the butcher Assad did in Hama is to equate a democratic state whose actions are open to international media and scrutiny and constant judicial review with a bloodthirsty dictator and tyrant who held on to power without any restraint of law.
The point of Friedman’s column is that “Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy, which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative. Because the risks to Israel’s legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank — in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms — will be staggering.” This is the bit about Hama rules:
What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call “Hama Rules” — which are no rules at all. “Hama Rules” are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.
In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties. As the Lebanese militia leader Bashir Gemayel was fond of saying — before he himself was blown up — “This is not Denmark here. And it is not Norway.”
1. Someone needs to teach Shmuley Boteach, an American Orthodox rabbi/author who does radio and television, about run-on sentences. Either that or JTA needs a new copy editor, because that last paragraph is a mouthful. But seriously Shmuley, ever wonder why Friedman’s books are bestsellers and yours aren’t?
2. The use of the term “blood libel” is confusing and nonsensical. Boteach is a rabbi, so he should know that blood libel is “a sensationalized allegation that a person or group of people engages in ritual murder or human sacrifice, often accompanied by the claim that the blood of the victims is used in various rituals and/or acts of cannibalism” (Wikipedia). Blood libel this is not.
3. While I do not agree with Friedman’s Hama comparison, it doesn’t qualify as defamation by any means. It’s only commentary because he doesn’t go into motive. Nowhere does he actually say that Olmert is the Israeli Assad, or that Israel went into Gaza/Lebanon with the aim of killing innocent civilians. If you didn’t know anything else about Friedman besides what he wrote in this particular column, you might even think he believes that Israel disregarded civilians, but only because it had to protect its own people. But he doesn’t say that, either. He says nothing.
My second big problem is that Boteach whines and complains that Friedman criticizes Israel and not America:
The United States rains hellfire missiles on Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan on a regular basis, blowing them to smithereens along with their wives and children. On May 21, U.S. airstrikes killed Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the No. 3 leader of al-Qaida. His wife and three children were killed with him. Friedman never condemned the attack…
Where is Friedman’s column condemning Roosevelt, Truman and Churchill as monsters who ordered attacks on Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan “without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties”? If Friedman ever writes the column I’ll eat my yarmulke. That triumvirate today are regarded as three of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century.
1. Silly Shmuley. Friedman doesn’t need to condemn Roosevelt, Truman, or Churchill, because hundreds have done it already. There’s no visible rift in America between those who support the United States’ decision 65 years ago to bomb Japan and those who believe it was wrong. As a Generation Y-er, I personally don’t think about it much myself because in this day and age it doesn’t have much relevancy to current discussions. It’s the same for the al-Qaida incident. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is intractable and unique. People on both sides are equally fervent, zealous, passionate, and committed to their cause. It’s an anomaly. No one in the United States, quite frankly, gives any thought to the families of the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of the liberals and democrats just want these wars to end. It’s sad that we don’t care about what happens to the wives and children of terrorists in those countries, but those are just the facts. 9/11 was also unique. It brought the American people together, and no one disagrees with the federal government’s decision to fight the terrorists, However, there is widespread and passionate disagreement among the international community about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two very different countries, two very different situations.
2. What, exactly, does “If Friedman ever writes the column I’ll eat my yarmulke” mean? I know it’s supposed to be one of those “when pigs fly” expressions, but it’s weird and not good writing. Where is the copy editor?
My third (and last) problem is Shmuley himself. Why did JTA give free reign to a guy who contributes to TLC? He’s no politico, U.S. foreign policy expert, or Israel/Middle East expert for that matter. I fail to understand why exactly his commentary and arguments matter. Not that JTA is particularly prestigious for its writers and content, but they could have done better with someone like Amb. Dore Gold.