Monday, August 09, 2010

Tom Friedman: Blind Or Just Nearsighted On The Middle East?

The New York Time's Tom Friedman's writings on the Middle East have taken a fascinating turn lately. After years of being harshly critical of Israel and shilling for ideas designed to destroy the Jewish State like the Saudi 'peace' ultimatum, he began writing anti-jihad columns that had me worried that he'd been kidnapped and somebody else was churning out columns under his byline.

His latest, entitled 'Steal This Movie' is a rave for a a film by Shlomi Eldar, the Gaza reporter for Israel’s Channel 10 news, and it illustrates perfectly the disconnect and fuzzy thinking a lot of well-meaning people like Friedman have when it comes to Israel and the Middle East:

I just saw a remarkable new documentary directed by Shlomi Eldar, the Gaza reporter for Israel’s Channel 10 news. Titled “Precious Life,” the film tracks the story of Mohammed Abu Mustafa, a 4-month-old Palestinian baby suffering from a rare immune deficiency. Moved by the baby’s plight, Eldar helps the infant and mother go from Gaza to Israel’s Tel Hashomer hospital for lifesaving bone-marrow treatment. The operation costs $55,000. Eldar puts out an appeal on Israel TV and within hours an Israeli Jew whose own son was killed during military service donates all the money.

The documentary takes a dramatic turn, though, when the infant’s Palestinian mother, Raida, who is being disparaged by fellow Gazans for having her son treated in Israel, blurts out that she hopes he’ll grow up to be a suicide bomber to help recover Jerusalem. Raida tells Eldar: “From the smallest infant, even smaller than Mohammed, to the oldest person, we will all sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Jerusalem. We feel we have the right to it. You’re free to be angry, so be angry.”

Eldar is devastated by her declaration and stops making the film. But this is no Israeli propaganda movie. The drama of the Palestinian boy’s rescue at an Israeli hospital is juxtaposed against Israeli retaliations for shelling from Gaza, which kill whole Palestinian families. Dr. Raz Somech, the specialist who treats Mohammed as if he were his own child, is summoned for reserve duty in Gaza in the middle of the film. The race by Israelis and Palestinians to save one life is embedded in the larger routine of the two communities grinding each other up.

“It’s clear to me that the war in Gaza was justified — no country can allow itself to be fired at with Qassam rockets — but I did not see many people pained by the loss of life on the Palestinian side,” Eldar told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “Because we were so angry at Hamas, all the Israeli public wanted was to [expletive] Gaza. ... It wasn’t until after the incident of Dr. Abu al-Aish — the Gaza physician I spoke with on live TV immediately after a shell struck his house and caused the death of his daughters and he was shouting with grief and fear — that I discovered the [Israeli] silent majority that has compassion for people, including Palestinians. I found that many Israeli viewers shared my feelings.” So Eldar finished the documentary about how Mohammed’s life was saved in Israel.

His raw film reflects the Middle East I know — one full of amazing compassion, even among enemies, and breathtaking cruelty, even among neighbors.

I write about this now because there is something foul in the air. It is a trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimize Israel — to turn it into a pariah state, particularly in the wake of the Gaza war. You hear the director Oliver Stone saying crazy things about how Hitler killed more Russians than Jews, but the Jews got all the attention because they dominate the news media and their lobby controls Washington. You hear Britain’s prime minister describing Gaza as a big Israeli “prison camp” and Turkey’s prime minister telling Israel’s president, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill.” You see singers canceling concerts in Tel Aviv. If you just landed from Mars, you might think that Israel is the only country that has killed civilians in war — never Hamas, never Hezbollah, never Turkey, never Iran, never Syria, never America.

Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behavior, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided — after Israel unilaterally left Gaza — to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?

There are a number of clues to the truth here. But Tom Friedman and those with his mindset simply refuse to put two and two together, because they dislike the answer.

He writes about the Middle East he says he knows, 'full of amazing compassion, even among enemies, and breathtaking cruelty, even among neighbors.' Yet, even after seeing the reality right in front of him, he still can't fathom that the compassion and regard for human life is almost entirely on the Israeli side. He knows, or ought to, the efforts the Israelis have made to avoid civilian casualties, even at the risk of endangering their own soldiers. He certainly knows that had Israel lost a single one of the wars launched against it, the Arabs' treatment of Israel's Jewish inhabitants would have made the massacres in Rwanda, Darfur or Cambodia seem merciful by comparison.

Yet, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, he persists in making the fatal error of trying to look at this through Western, Judeo-Christian norms.

The majority of 'Palestinians' regard the Arab-Israeli conflict as a tribal struggle, and one that can only end with the defeat and massacre of the Jews of Israel. It's winner take all. That's exactly how they were programmed to look at it by Yassir Arafat for several generations and more recently, by Mahmoud Abbas and by Hamas. The 'Palestinians' define themselves entirely out of their opposition to the Jews, their revanchist dreams and a shared feeling on victimization.

It is the clearest example of a national psychosis since Hitler's Germany.

Of course Raida has no gratitude to the hated Jews for saving her son's life. She merely regards them as gullible and weak for doing so.And it's natural given her mindset that she wants her son to become a shaheed and take as many Jewish women and children with him as possible. To our Western sensibilities this seems monstrous, but to the Palestinians,and indeed to a significant part of the Arab world it is not only encouraged by Islam but is heroism worthy of emulation.

This is hardly a unique instance. Aside from deliberately targeting for death as many Jewish children as they can get their hands on, the Palestinians have, on many occasions shown a shocking disregard for the well-being of their own children, to the point that most Westerners would consider it child abuse.

It was the Original Gangster Yassir Arafat himself who best captured this sentiment when he spoke to Palestinian women right before the second intifada and enjoined them to 'have ten children. Keep one for yourself and give the others to me.'

The smartest thing Tom Friedman has to say in his column, albeit inadvertently was the sentiment that 'nothing [positive] Israel does matters.' To Israel's foes both in the Arab world and the West that is literally true. It doesn't matter what Israel does because Israel's existence is the problem, not Israel's good or bad behavior.

The Arab-Israeli conflict will end not with a piece of paper being signed, some land changing hands and yet another part of the Middle East becoming judenrein, free of Jews. It will end when the Arabs are defeated badly enough militarily that war is no longer an option and they grudgingly accept the status quo. That is exactly what led to the armistice Israel now has with Egypt and Jordan in spite of the fact neither Arab country has much in the way of warm and friendly feelings towards Israel.

When the Arab nations give up the idea of Israel being merely the latest version of the old Crusader kingdoms and start programming their people for progress rather than hatred and war, then a lasting peace will be possible.

The problem with Friedman's view -and that of those like him - is that they persist in looking at the War on Jihad through the distorted lens of their Western values and insisting that war be fought accordingly.

For both Israel and the West, this is a suicidal path.

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Indepependent Patriot said...

Thomas Friedman, as with many celebrities, is so taken with his own brilliance that he could never fathom what an idiot he is in real life.

Anonymous said...

Friedman is pat of a club with a shared narrative that he can't or will not challenge. Staying on the A-List for Washington dinner parties is no challenge as long as you toe the proper line

B.Poster said...

I think he's blind on the Middle East and not merely near sighted. Actually US policy makers in general have at least two significant "blind spots." One of these is the Israeli/Arab conflict and the other involves the threat posed by Russia.

I think the problem is these leaders try to assign "Western" values to the Arabs and to the Russians. These people do not adhere to "Western" principles and should not be dealt with as though they do. For example, obsessing over whether or not we should water board terrorists is not viewed by these people as a sign of compassion it is viewed as a sign of weakness. Failure on the part of the Israelis not to execute these people is viewed as weakness as well. These people only respect strength.

Btw, its cute and frustrating how the "left" constantly accuses the "right" of failing to understand Islamic culture and trying to apply "Western" values to these people when in actuality it is the "left" who fails to understand the cultures of our enemies and attempts to ascribe "Western" values to them. This is a huge problem because most of our leaders are now people of the "left."

GW said...

I often wonder what has happened to Friedman over the years. His book From Bierut To Jerusalem was, as I recollect, quite insightful. And in 2002, when it came to whether the U.S. should invade Iraq, I thought Friedman's voice the most realistic on the topic. Then NYT went behind a firewall. When it came out, I did not recognize the new TF.