Tom Friedman’s recent column “Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir” (New York Times, 13 December) makes two points: a. Alleged friends of Israel such as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are blind to the fact that Israel is sinking into the Dark Ages because of the mad-cap policies of Netanyahu and Lieberman; b. The critical voices of Tom Friedman and Gideon Levy are unfairly rebuked as “anti-Israel” when, in truth, those voices are the only ones today that are trying to save Israel from itself, out of foresight and true love. There is also a subliminal message in the title of Friedman’s article: The world’s Axis of Evil is composed of the two Republican frontrunners, of Israel’s Prime Minister, and of Russia’s President-for-Life.
What ignited Friedman’s op-ed was Newt Gingrich’s claim that the Palestinians are an “invented” people. Friedman calls Gingrich’s claim “a new low.” So for Friedman stating the truth constitutes a “low” (for Hillary Clinton it’s simply “unhelpful”). What, exactly, did Gingrich say? That there never was a sovereign country called “Palestine,” and that the Arabs who lived in the South-East of the Ottoman Empire were known as Arabs and not as “Palestinians.” These two facts are undisputable. Now, were the Palestinians “invented”? Yes, they were.
During the Ottoman rule in the Middle East (from 1516 to 1918), there was no “Palestine” but “sanjaks” (i.e. administrative divisions): The Sanjak of Acre, the Sanjak of Nablus, and the Sanjak of Jerusalem. Arabs who lived in those “sanjaks” were a disconnected bunch of tribes who had little in common. There was not “Palestinian” culture, language, religion or national identity separate from that of the wider Arab nation.
The name “Palestine” appeared in the 20th century when Britain established its rule on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire (the British revived the Latin word “Palestina” coined by the Romans to replace the name “Judea” with one remindful of the Philistines –the Jews’ historical foes). All people living in the British Mandate were “Palestinians,” including the Jews. The Jerusalem Post used to be called The Palestine Post, and it is only after Israel’s independence that the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
In February 1919, the first Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met to consider the future of the territories formerly ruled by the Ottoman Empire. The Congress declared: “We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria as it has never been separated from it at any time.” Arab leader Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi told the British Peel Commission in 1937: “There is no such country as Palestine. ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented. There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria. ‘Palestine’ is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it.” The respected Arab scholar Philip Hitti testified before the Anglo-American Committee in 1946 that there never was such thing as “Palestine” in history.
The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) wrote in its September 1947 report that that Palestinian nationalism was a new phenomenon. Indeed, UNSCOP recommended the partition of the British Mandate between a Jewish state and an Arab state (not a “Palestinian state”). PLO Spokesman Ahmad Shuqeiri told the UN Security Council in 1956 that Palestine was nothing more than southern Syria. The head of the Military Operations Department of the PLO, Zuheir Muhsein, declared on March 31, 1977: “There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity... Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.”
Palestinism is a reaction to Zionism. If the Zionist movement had not existed, no one would ever have heard of a Palestinian people. In 1925, for example, the new British High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Herbert Plumer, attended a sport contest at the end of which both God Save the Queen and Hatikvah were played. Arab representatives protested to Plumer about the playing of the Jewish national anthem. Since Plumer was in favor of a strict status quo between Jews and Arabs, he apologized for his faux pas and promised that next time the Arab anthem would be played as well. At that point, the Arab leaders had to admit it: they didn’t have a “Palestinian Arab anthem.” Well, you’d better start working on one, Plumer said.
So Gingrich is right. The fact that stating the truth about the Middle East has become an act of pyromania goes to show that intellectual terrorism does indeed work. But it also goes to show that the “Guardians of Middle East Truth” (such as Tom Friedman, Gideon Levy, Yossi Beilin, and Amira Hass) have double standards.
Thomas Friedman did not express any outrage when Shlomo Sand published his book The Invention of the Jewish People (nor did Hillary Clinton protest that it is “unhelpful” to claim that the Jewish people was invented). Claiming that the Palestinian people was invented is a “low” and is “unhelpful” but claiming the same about the Jews is an act of academic courage.
Friedman wrote that the standing ovations Netanyahu got at the US Congress in May 2011 “were bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” (an accusation for which New Jersey Representative Steve Rothman demanded an apology). Why, then, didn’t Freidman write that the likely boycott Netanyahu would face at the University of Wisconsin is bought by the Saudi lobby? Why does this logics only apply to Israel? If the Jewish lobby is so strong and so wealthy, how come it has not bought yet the support of University campuses in America? Like Walt and Mersheimer, Friedman cannot think of a reason for the pro-Israel stance of the US Congress other than “Jewish money.” But, like them, he would not venture to say that the pro-Arab discourse on American campuses has anything to do with the millions of dollars donated by Saudi Arabia. Only Jewish money is capable of perverting the American mind.
Finally, Friedman’s description of Israel’s alleged descent into fascism is either hypocritical or ignorant (or both). In his article, Friedman only quotes the New Israel Fund, Haaretz, and the Financial Times as his sources of information. With such pluralistic sources, Friedman surely knows what’s happening in Israel: Gideon Levy quotes Thomas Friedman, and Thomas Friedman quotes Gideon Levy. It’s the vicious circle of circular logics.
Friedman quotes the Financial Times to grant credit to his claims, but the Times’ article is full of inaccurate facts and of slanderous accusations. First, there is no law in Israel that allows Israeli communities to exclude Arab families. Second, the “boycott law” does not impose penalties on Israelis advocating a boycott of products from West Bank Jewish settlements. The law merely enables victims of boycotts to fill a civil suit for their economic loss. The law has nothing to do with settlements: a non-kosher butcher from Tel-Aviv, for example, is now able to sue a rabbi calling for the boycott of his store. Third, the purpose of recent proposals to reform the nomination process of Justices is to put an end to the Supreme Court’s cooptation system, which generates ideological uniformity and bars non-liberal Judges from the Court. In Israel, Supreme Court Judges are nominated by a committee in which the Judiciary has a veto. One of the proposals is to let the Knesset approve the nomination of Judges at the Supreme Court (“Political oversight!” cries Friedman). In America, Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the President and approved by Congress –but that’s not “political oversight.”
Friedman ends his article by claiming that more than a few Israelis are asking “who are we?” (he knows, because Gideon, Yossi and Amira told him). I wonder if Tom Friedman ever asks himself who he is. But I have the answer for him: a hypocrite.