By Thomas L. Friedman, December 13, 2011
I have a simple motto when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I love both Israelis and Palestinians, but God save me from some of their American friends — those who want to love them to death, literally.
That thought came to mind last week when Newt Gingrich took the Republican competition to grovel for Jewish votes — by outloving Israel — to a new low by suggesting that the Palestinians are an “invented” people and not a real nation entitled to a state.
This was supposed to show that Newt loves Israel more than Mitt Romney, who only told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom that he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because “I don’t seek to take actions independent of what our allies think is best, and if Israel’s leaders thought that a move of that nature would be helpful to their efforts, then that’s something I’ll be inclined to do. … I don’t think America should play the role of the leader of the peace process. Instead, we should stand by our ally.”
That’s right. America’s role is to just applaud whatever Israel does, serve as its A.T.M. and shut up. We have no interests of our own. And this guy’s running for president?
As for Newt, well, let’s see: If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean — as far as Newt is concerned — that Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being “pro-Israel”?
I’d never claim to speak for American Jews, but I’m certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today. My guess is we’re the minority when it comes to secular American Jews. We still care. Many other Jews are just drifting away.
I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile but because they are confused.
It confuses them to read that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia last Wednesday, was quoted as saying that the recent Russian elections were “absolutely fair, free and democratic.” Yes, those elections — the ones that brought thousands of Russian democrats into the streets to protest the fraud. Israel’s foreign minister sided with Putin.
It confuses them to read that right-wing Jewish settlers attacked an Israeli army base on Tuesday in the West Bank, stoning Israeli soldiers in retaliation for the army removing “illegal” settlements that Jewish extremists establish wherever they want.
It confuses them to read, as the New Israel Fund reports on its Web site, that “more than 10 years ago, the ultra-Orthodox community asked Israel’s public bus company, Egged, to provide segregated buses in their neighborhoods. By early 2009, more than 55 such lines were operating around Israel. Typically, women are required to enter through the bus back doors and sit in the back of the bus, as well as ‘dress modestly.’ ”
It confuses them to read a Financial Times article from Israel on Monday, that said: “In recent weeks, the country has been consumed by an anguished debate over a series of new laws and proposals that many fear are designed to stifle dissent, weaken minority rights, restrict freedom of speech and emasculate the judiciary. They include a law that in effect allows Israeli communities to exclude Arab families; another that imposes penalties on Israelis advocating a boycott of products made in West Bank Jewish settlements; and proposals that would subject the supreme court to greater political oversight.”
And it confuses them to read Gideon Levy, a powerful liberal voice, writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily, this week that “anyone who says this is a matter of a few inconsequential laws is leading others astray. … What we are witnessing is w-a-r. This fall a culture war, no less, broke out in Israel, and it is being waged on many more, and deeper, fronts than are apparent. It is not only the government, as important as that is, that hangs in the balance, but also the very character of the state.”
So while Newt is cynically asking who are the Palestinians, he doesn’t even know that more than a few Israelis are asking, “Who are we?”
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on December 14, 2011, on page A35 of the New York edition with the headline: Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir.