The Rocks in Tom Friedman's Head

by DR. MICHAEL WIDLANSKI April 19, 2012

On Easter/Passover Eve, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman served up "A Middle East Twofer," his newest seasonal Mid-East peace plan combining Friedman's own special home recipe of hypocrisy, lovingly layered with finger-licking idiocy:

"Palestinians need to accompany every boycott, hunger strike or rock they throw at Israel with a map delineating how, for peace, they would accept getting back 95 percent of the West Bank and all Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and would swap the other 5 percent for land inside pre-1967 Israel."

Friedman knows very well that rocks are not a peaceful means to a peaceful end. He was attacked by Palestinian Arab rock throwers who stoned his car on Jerusalem's Salahadin Street in 1988, just before leaving his job as the Jerusalem-based bureau chief of the Times. Friedman did not think of rocks then as peaceful protest.

"If I had a gun I would have blasted the faces of all those sons of bitches," Friedman reportedly yelled, returning from the Arab side of town to the Times office, then at Rivlin Street in the mostly Jewish downtown center. Apparently, he never mentioned the incident-or his strong reaction to it-in his many books or columns.

After Friedman's rocky ride, Yoram Ettinger, then-head of Israel's government press office, told Friedman his experience ought to make him a bit more sympathetic to Israelis whom Friedman called "trigger-happy" and who often get stoned (and killed) by Arab rocks, but generally do not kill all the Arabs in the area at the time.

It is perfectly understandable why Friedman was upset at the time. Getting stoned is no laughing matter, and women are sometimes still stoned to death for alleged indiscretions in certain Muslim countries. In the Middle East, rocks are not a tool for peace, but are usually seen as a form of punishment, even capital punishment.

So Friedman was right to be upset. He was hypocritical not to report it then and is hypocritical to treat Arab rocks as a natural part of "bargaining," where Arab attacks in 1967 are repaid by the Arabs getting all the land back they used to attack Israel. 

Friedman's piece on rocks and peace also lauded Palestinian mass murderer Marwan Barghouti, head of the Tanzim organization within Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Barghouti is serving five life sentences for several murders, but Friedman and some left-wing Israelis, want to forget this too.

Forgetting and forgiving the rocks and mass murder was hypocrisy then and now. Friedman likely felt it was not wise to recall his stoning and antagonize Arab readers. He and other Times reporters often "forgot" or ignored Arab violence or threats against reporters when covering Arafat's PLO in Beirut in the 1970's and 1980's. Friedman and his colleague John Kifner wrote about how the PLO "protected" journalists, rather than the real picture of how it and its Syrian ally harassed and threatened them. Reporters from other newspapers and TV outlets did likewise.

It is good the Times published former NY Mayor Ed Koch's letter criticizing Friedman for treating Arab rock throwing as nonviolence, but this does not begin to scratch the warped way Friedman and The New York Times have dealt with Arab-Islamic extremism and terrorism.

When the U.S. was attacked on 9-11, most of the terrorists were Saudis, but Friedman helped Saudi leaders sell themselves as moderates offering peace to the entire Middle East. He regaled readers with tales of a trip to the Saudi king's horse farm to hear about a "peace plan" whose details later proved less than peaceful.

Meanwhile, the Saudis got a badly needed image re-make, blurring the fact that not just most 9-11 terrorists were Saudis but that Saudi royal money and Saudi exports of Wahhabi Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood enabled the 9-11 terror.

When Friedman rarely and gingerly alludes to Saudi faults or to Arab terrorists, he only does so by first equating them with Israelis, usually Israeli settlers, comparing "the Muslim Wahhabi extremists who are choking Saudi Arabia's future and the Jewish Wahhabi settlers who are doing the same to Israel."

Comparing all "settlers"-mostly law-abiding people in the suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-to Wahhabi fanatics or terrorists is a mockery of analysis. It is like calling rocks a path to peace or treating a mass murderer as a peacemaker.

Such rhetoric by Friedman and his ilk blocks our ability to see the real role of real terror and real extremism in today's Middle East. It is the mark of someone who does not know much about the Middle East or, worse, someone who really does not want his readers or listeners to know much about the Middle East. 

Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of  Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat just published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He was a reporter, writer, correspondent and editor for The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, respectively, and also served as strategic advisor for Israel's Ministry of Public Security. 


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