|When mistakes become libels
Journalists are, after all, only human. They're entitled to make
By Ben Dror Yemini
Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist often described as
one of the most important and influential journalists in the world
stands in the midst of a small tumult. Two weeks ago he published
an extremely critical column dealing with the Bush administration
and the Sharon Government. He cautioned that the Bush foreign policy
might end up in a strategic disaster, the establishment of two
Islamic republics, in Iraq and Palestine. One should be familiar
with Friedman’s opinions on the Islamists, in order to understand
that he really means disaster.
Friedman dealt with the unilateral withdrawal initiative and claimed
that Sharon holds two public figures in detention. The first is
Arafat, ‘who is surrounded by tanks’, the other is George Bush,
who, and here comes the part that makes waves, is surrounded by
Jewish and Pro-Israeli lobbyists and by Vice President, Dick Cheney,
who is always prepared to succumb to any dictate from Sharon’.
These words unleashed a furor, as they brought to mind traditional
anti- Semitic claims about the Jewish dominance in the American
Administration. Ultra right wing white supremacy groups often refer
to their battle against ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government) when,
in fact, they mean the American administration, which is governed
by the Zionists
But Thomas Friedman is not anti-Semitic, and not due to the fact
that he is Jewish (since Jewish anti-Semites already exist). In
fact, he is one of the ‘stars’, of anti-Semitic propaganda. The
newspaper, in which he works, the New York Times, is considered
a part of the media under Jewish and Zionist dominance, despite
the fact that it is a liberal newspaper, ‘leftist’ in the American
viewpoint. And Friedman himself is at times cited as an example
of that Jewish dominance of the global media.
Altogether, since the terror attacks on The United States, Friedman
has published dozens of articles that have been mistakably categorized
as anti- Islamic. (He is for the reinforcement of moderate Islam.)
Friedman is one of the most prominent advocates of Israel as a
Jewish and democratic state, one of the sharpest critics of Arafat,
and a long-standing opponent of the Right of Return. True, he is
not fond of the Jewish settlements and claims that they will lead
to the materialization of the Arafat vision of the termination
of the Jewish state, but this is also the stand of most Israelis.
Fascist circles claim that Friedman is a Zionist and Pro-Israeli.
They are probably right.
And thus, this experienced journalist has failed. It happens to
the best. Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz fell into the trap last April,
when he wrote that ‘the passionate faith (in the Iraqi war – B.
Y.) was spread by a small group of neo-conservatives, most of whom
are Jews. And he, too, was vilified as a promoter of anti-Semitic
propaganda, despite the fact that calling him an anti-Semite is
an insult to the intelligence of a not-very-smart 12-year-old.
If one needs to explain that Shavit is not anti Semitic, I don’t
know what the world is coming to. But he, too, exactly like Friedman,
fell into the trap and his words, like those of Friedman, were
The pro-Israeli site mideasttruth.com put on a poster that makes
a comparison between Friedman’s words to those of Mohammad Mahtir,
who caused an outcry due to his anti-Semitic words. The poster
title says: ‘What is the next thing, Mr. Friedman? The Protocols
of the Elders of Zion’? The poster, naturally, got storming responses.
So who is right? The dilemma is not simple at all. After all, each
generalization that ‘Jews’ dominate the White House or preach for
war immediately turns into substance to be used by anti-Semites.
It is true that Jews are of great influence, but it derives from
numerous historical and sociological reasons. The Jews are also
dominant among the Nobel Prize winners; this doesn’t mean that
the prize committee is dominated by Jews. Many Jewish professors
are among the distributors of anti-Israeli propaganda in American
campuses. And just as there is no Jewish conspiracy for Israel,
there is no anti-Israeli Jewish conspiracy.
I had the privilege to be among those who responded to the affair,
when the editors of the pro-Israeli site asked for my opinion on
the matter. There are times when columnists deserve to be put on
the spot by their own words. Sometimes it is reasonable to say
both that Thomas Friedman is one of the most significant supporters
of Israel, and that the things he had written in a particular article
were not worthy of him as well as being unworthy of publication.
In this article, I admit, I wrote and changed and erased and rewrote.
And, eventually, erased. Because it is exactly a case of ambiguity.
If important journalists as Friedman and Shavit got to be momentary
heroes of both the anti-Semites and those fighting anti-Semitism,
then we, the writers, need a lot of precaution. We make mistakes.
This, unfortunately, is our right and privilege as human beings.
However, as writers with large and discerning audiences, we are
obliged to be extra careful, since these mistakes might sometimes
become substance for plotting.