Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Freedom Flotilla: Is Tom Friedman the Real Victim?

Against my better judgment, I read Tommy's freedom flotilla column yesterday.
As a friend of both Turkey and Israel, it has been agonizing to watch the disastrous clash between Israeli naval commandos and a flotilla of “humanitarian” activists seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Thanks, Tommy. With all the suffering and death, I hadn't stopped to think about how this was affecting you personally. But you put it in terms I think we all can relate to. I remember when my friend Matt stopped talking to my friend Eddie -- agonizing! You really put all that Muslim whining about "blockades" and "dead" civilians in perspective. (Alternate interpretation: Tommy to Virginia Heffernan: You think you have a lot of friends? Anyone can be friends with people. Tom Friedman is friends with fuckin' countries.)
Personally, I think both Israel and Turkey have gotten out of balance lately, and it is America’s job to help both get back to the center — urgently.
You get that? Tom Friedman is a Serious Centrist and that he blames both sides. No matter how much this column may look like the rantings of a pro-Israeli zealot, it is not.
I’ve long had a soft spot for Turkey. I once even argued that if the European Union wouldn’t admit Turkey, we should invite Turkey to join Nafta. Why? Because historically, Turkey has been good to Israel and I don't give a shit about the Kurds or Armenians.
OK - you caught me. I made that last sentence up. But let's review the math: Ahmadinejad + Genocide Denial = As Ugly as it Gets. Turkey + Genocide Denial = Long Soft Spot.
I have seen Turkey play an important role mediating between Israel and Syria and voting just a month ago in favor of Israel joining the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
Got it. You like Turkey when they're good to Israel.
Therefore, it has been painful to hear the same Prime Minister Erdogan in recent years publicly lash out with ever-greater vehemence at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza. Many see this as Turkey looking to ingratiate itself with the Muslim world after having been rebuffed by the European Union.
On Tuesday, Tommy offered this theory about Turkey's motives on Imus. But it was just his own theory. Twenty-four hours later, its the collected, conventional wisdom that that's what the Turks are up to. Tommy Friedman is a one-man tipping point. How is Turkey's vote last month in favor of Israel joining the OECD a part of Turkey's grand Muslim world ingratiation scheme? Friedman doesn't say. The important thing is that Prime Minister Erdogan's lashing out with ever-greater vehemence at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza has nothing to do with with Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza.
I have no problem with Turkey or humanitarian groups loudly criticizing Israel.
Every time I'm ready to completely write off Thomas L. Friedman, he does something so breathtakingly magnanimous that I'm moved to the brink of tears. Permission granted to criticize Israel!!!

But wait. Apparently there's a set of conditions:
But I have a big problem when people get so agitated by Israel’s actions in Gaza but are unmoved by Syria’s involvement in the murder of the prime minister of Lebanon, by the Iranian regime’s killing of its own citizens demonstrating for the right to have their votes counted, by Muslim suicide bombers murdering nearly 100 Ahmadi Muslims in mosques in Pakistan on Friday and by pro-Hamas gunmen destroying a U.N.-sponsored summer camp in Gaza because it wouldn’t force Islamic fundamentalism down the throats of children.
In order to receive Tommy's blessing to be angry, you have to agree to also be angry about the things Tommy Friedman pretends to be angry about. That's right: Tommy Friedman who proclaimed that the U.S. was right to invade Iraq to send a message after 9/11 even if we got the country wrong and that Israel should try to "educate" Hamas by inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population is lecturing the Muslim world on what they should be angry about. Sometimes I think I actually hate smug paternalistic Tommy more than I hate overtly racist Tommy. Forty-three rooms in that Bethesda mansion and apparently not one mirror.
There is no question that this flotilla was a setup.
Since Tommy established way back in paragraph one that he's a friend to both sides and therefore an impartial referee, there's no question that there's no question that this flotilla was a setup. No further explanation needed.
Israel’s intelligence failed to fully appreciate who was on board, and Israel’s leaders certainly failed to think more creatively about how to avoid the very violent confrontation that the blockade-busters wanted.
More classic Tommy Centrism. "See, both sides have flaws. The Muslims are morally-depraved, blood-thirsty hypocrites and the Israelis make tactical mistakes." Isn't that always the Serious Centrist analysis of Israel's colossal fuck-ups? (See, e.g., Israel-Lebanon 2006).
It is overwhelmingly in Israel’s interest to bring more diplomatic imagination and energy to ending this Gaza siege. How long is this going to go on? Are we going to have a whole new generation grow up in Gaza with Israel counting how many calories they each get? That surely can’t be in Israel’s interest.
Starving the people of Gaza is bad . . . because it's bad for Israel. Not because the Gazans are starving (65% of the population is food insecure).

And the breathtaking conclusion:
This is a critical moment. Two of America’s best friends are out of balance and infuriatingly at each other’s throats. We have got to move quickly to get them both back to the center before this spins out of control.
Only in America can a Serious Middle East Expert bemoan the fact that things are out of balance in the Middle East and never once mention the great imbalancer in the Middle East: The United States' unconditional support of -- and aid to -- to Israel. And only Tommy Friedman could write a column about the freedom flotilla that literally talked more about his own suffering than that of the Palestinians.

Fire Tom Friedman.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. What a hypocrite. Love this blog. You and Glenn Greenwald are the only bloggers that let an admiration for human rights, coupled with simple cold logic, guide your writings. Always a joy to read. Please keep it up. We need many more like you!