Jewish Journal

Tom Friedman and Calling It Like It Is

by  David A. Lehrer

October 20, 2010 | 1:15 pm

Pulitzer Prizes

are hard to earn. Anyone who receives one is forever described as “Pulitzer Prize winner….” It’s a distinct and, almost always, well-deserved honor.  It’s special to receive one, rare to receive two, and almost unheard of to receive three. Tom Friedman of The New York Times is one of the unheard of triple Pulitzer winners. His column in today’s Times,

Just Knock It Off

, demonstrates why.

It reflects his insight, historical view and courage. It is a wonderful piece displaying at the same time concern and sympathy for Israel and its challenges in the Middle East, while urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to show courage and defy his right wing cabinet members to pursue the chance of meaningful peace talks with Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Friedman writes, “Abbas is weak and acts weaker. Netanyahu is strong and acts weak. And it is time for all the outsiders who spoil them to find another hobby.

It’s a column that reflects Friedman’s long experience and immersion in Middle East politics and the complex realities of that region. It’s not the simplistic black and white portrayal of good guys and bad guys that too often passes for discussion of Israel-Palestinian relations.

His column and analysis is brave because he well knows the onslaught that will come from the reflexive hard, pro-Israel far right that will see the piece as further evidence of Friedman’s “duplicity and disloyalty.”

I recall all too well in the Fall of 1996 when I headed the ADL office in LA and we had invited Tom Friedman to be the keynote speaker at the League’s annual dinner dance. At that time Friedman had only won two Pulitzers but, of course, had his twice a week column in the Times. Nevertheless, the League, its national director and I were attacked, locally and nationally, by the Zionist Organization of America’s head, Mort Klein, for “providing a platform” to Friedman (as if someone who has a semi-weekly column on the op/ed page of The New York Times needed a “platform”).

Friedman was described by Klein as one “regularly defames Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” Friedman, the argument went, should be persona non grata at any organization that considered itself pro-Israel (the words of then Prime Minister Netanyahu’s director of communications, who also weighed in by attacking Friedman and the dinner invitation).
Needless to say, despite having fax machines and voice mail gummed up with ignorant and often hostile faxes and messages, the dinner went off splendidly with but a few protestors picketing the Century Plaza Hotel. Friedman was well aware of the kerfuffle and proceeded with his speech as if nothing untoward had happened; just the way he writes his pieces.

That was not the first, nor the last time that his analysis has been attacked and his bona fides questioned. Despite the occasional harassment, he “calls it as he sees it,” and more often than not, as today, he’s right on the money. 

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