Thomas Friedman & The Myth of Liberal Israel

What you now see so publicly demonstrated is, and always has been, Zionist Israel’s true culture and character — a state designed for one group alone and built on the conquest and dispossession of others, writes Lawrence Davidson.

Israeli troops in Gaza in August. (IDF, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Lawrence Davidson

Israel is in the process of putting together an aggressively racist rightwing government under the leadership of the unprincipled Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is not the first such repugnant government Israelis have elected. Indeed, at least three prior times in its short history, the Israeli Jewish electorate has chosen ideologically committed fanatics (in those cases, having the additional allure of terrorist pasts), as their leaders: Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin.

Nor were these judgments of the electorate exceptions that were somehow contrary to Israel’s national character. They were all, as is now also the case, logical outcomes of a national point of view — represented by Israel’s Zionist state ideology — which has always been fundamentally racist, and which, on frequent occasions, raises to frenzied heights often in reaction to the legal resistance of its Palestinian victims.

However, diaspora supporters of Israel often disregard these historical facts. That they do so is testimony to the power of the propaganda-generated myth of a liberal, democratic Israel — the idealized Israel that so many just know in their hearts, could be and should be the real Israel. One of those who seems to mistake the ideal for the real is Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, who often writes about Israel.

In a column last month entitled “The Israel We Knew is Gone,” Friedman writes as if the imminent Netanyahu government will be unique: “a rowdy alliance of ultra-Orthodox leaders and ultranationalist politicians, including some outright racist, anti-Arab Jewish extremists once deemed completely outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics.”

Friedman mentions “Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted by an Israeli court in 2007 of incitement to racism and supporting a Jewish terrorist organization” as well as “Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism party, who has long advocated outright Israeli annexation of the West Bank” and defended settler violence against Palestinians.

Thomas Friedman in 2015. (Brookings Institution, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Friedman does not believe that these personages, or the parties they lead, are representative of the Israel he is familiar with. However, their outlooks and aims are little different from a Shamir, Sharon or Begin.

What is different, or as Friedman puts it, “outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics,” is the diplomatically embarrassing, public indiscretion of men such as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, combined with Netanyahu’s willingness to sacrifice the myth of liberal Israel to retain power.

All of this is a shock to Friedman and his preferred vision of the Jewish state. It constitutes a “previously unthinkable reality.” Netanyahu is taking Israel where no Israeli politician “has gone before,” etc. So Friedman concludes that “the Israel we knew is gone.”

Apartheid Is What Is Real

To demonstrate just how superficial Friedman’s analysis is, consider the following. In 2021, three established human rights organizations with reputations for reliable findings, produced fact-based public reports demonstrating that Israel, in both culture and governmental policies, is a practicing apartheid state. (Apartheid, “an institutionalized system of segregation and discrimination on grounds of race,” has been declared a crime against humanity under international law.)

B’tselem, Israel’s own human rights organization, produced its report in January of 2021. Amnesty International followed in February and Human Rights Watch in April. In October of 2022, the United Nations put out a report describing Israel’s behavior in its Occupied Territories as “settler-colonialism.”

Apartheid is not something the Israeli Jews just woke up to one morning. It is their historical choice — one that Thomas Friedman seems to have given little consideration. Thus, when describing the present situation, he does not mention that Zionism’s goal has always been acquisition of all of Palestine with as few Palestinians in residence as possible.

Rather he points to a separate group of Israelis “who have always hated the Arabs,” and their growth due to “a dramatic upsurge in violence — stabbings, shootings, gang warfare and organized crime — by Israeli Arabs … against Israeli Jews, particularly in mixed communities.”

For followers of the rightwing Likud, the religious parties, and the settler movement, this violence is happening not because Israel is an apartheid state, but because Israel has been, in their eyes, too liberal toward the Palestinians.

And now it is time to end that alleged tolerant orientation. One of the more successful of Netanyahu’s political campaign mottos was: “That’s it. We’ve had enough.”

Racism Erodes All Humanistic Impulses

Netanyahu’s success in mobilizing a multifaceted rightwing that has always been active, if not politically united, finally has Thomas Friedman afraid. He is alarmed that Israel is in the grip of a “general ultranationalist” fervor.

Huge figure of Itamar Ben-Gvir at entrance of a polling station in the city of Nosher, Nov. 1. (Hanay, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Quoting Moshe Halbertal, the Hebrew University Jewish philosopher, “What we are seeing is a shift in the hawkish right from a political identity built on focusing on the ‘enemy outside’ —  the Palestinians —to the ‘enemy inside’ — Israeli Arab.”

Halbertal’s analysis is based on a false dichotomy. Zionism has never made a serious distinction between inside and outside Palestinians. For many Zionists, they all are Arabs who should be pressured to emigrate to neighboring Arab lands.

Zionism has made this attitude inevitable by creating, from the beginning, an expansionist, discriminatory society defined by religion with an inference of race.

The search for compromises based on the “peace process,” or a “two state solution,” now appear as long-running confidence tricks that served to distract the world’s attention from Israel’s real goal. When it comes to “historic Israel,” a maximalist program of occupation and settlement has always been the only acceptable outcome for those Zionists in power.

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There is one other way in which the present circumstances scare Friedman. He tells us that “Netanyahu’s coalition has also attacked the vital independent institutions that underpin Israel’s democracy and are responsible for, among other things, protecting minority rights.”

Institutions such as the lower court system, the media and the Supreme Court have to be disciplined by being “brought under the political control of the right.”

However, this effort to control social institutions is not primarily about Palestinians. It reflects the right wing’s hatred (and just as in the U.S., hatred seems to be the operable word) of the left and center Zionists’ attitudes on questions that impact Israeli Jews: Who is a Jew?, “minority rights” for same sex couples, L.G.B.T.Q. folks, women’s issues, Reform Jews and the like.

Friedman seems unable to grasp the fact that the racism at the heart of Israeli culture and politics has to undermine any humanistic impulses within that society, even those impacting fellow Jews.

Bezalel Smotrich, left, with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a visit to Hesder Yeshiva of Sderot, October 2017. (U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, Friedman is concerned “about the future of Judaism in Israel” and well he might be. Going back to Halbertal, he notes that “the Torah stands for the equality of all people and the notion that we are all created in God’s image. Israelis of all people need to respect minority rights because we, as Jews, know what it is to be a minority. This is a deep Jewish ethos.”

So, why is this essence of Jewish teaching so weak within Zionist Israel? Neither Friedman nor Halbertal grasp the root cause — the historically racist, indeed apartheid nature of Zionist Israel. They don’t get it because they are blinded by the myth of liberal Israel, which is now at risk supposedly because of the resistance of the Palestinians.

He quotes Halbertal as complaining, “When you have these visceral security threats in the street every day, it becomes much easier for these ugly ideologies to anchor themselves.”

Friedman’s assertion that “the Israel we knew is gone” is largely an illusion. In good part, his Israel was never there. Certainly, there was, and for the moment still is, a facade of pseudo-democracy — something like “democracy” in Alabama, U.S.A., in the 1950s.

Things are now evolving further along fascist lines. Bezalel Smotrich, one of Friedman’s bête noire, has proclaimed that human rights and the institutions that support such rights are “existential threats” to Israel. Most Zionists will go along with this assertion, at least as it refers to Palestinians, because it historically fits Israeli sensitivities.

After all, the occupation has been going on in all its immoral glory for half a century without significant objection from most Israeli Jews and their diaspora supporters.

What you now see so publicly demonstrated is, and always has been, Zionist Israel’s true culture and character — a state designed for one group alone and built on the conquest and dispossession of others. To deny this is to deny the history and the logic of Zionist ideology.

And the cost? It is to be understood not only in terms of Palestinian rights, but also the very essence of Judaism, both of which are being destroyed simultaneously. All of this should keep Thomas Friedman, and other devotees of the myth of liberal Israel, up at night with recurring nightmares.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

This article is from the author’s blog on his site,

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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22 comments for “Thomas Friedman & The Myth of Liberal Israel

  1. Andrew Nichols
    December 22, 2022 at 13:56

    “The search for compromises based on the “peace process,” or a “two state solution,” now appear as long-running confidence tricks that served to distract the world’s attention from Israel’s real goal. When it comes to “historic Israel,” a maximalist program of occupation and settlement has always been the only acceptable outcome for those Zionists in power.”

    The same evil subterfuge repeated in 2018-2019 with the Minsk Accords as confirmed by Merkel.

  2. JBAshburn
    December 22, 2022 at 09:51

    This argument is a type of a self-righteous “woke’ analysis, and by implication, sullies the history of the conditions under which many Jews fled to Israel around World War II. Most were not Zionists. It also eradicates the Oslo accords, which could have worked, in a different international economic environment. This argument says: since things have gone to hell, they were always going to go to hell, so let’s obliterate the history of those who fought for a secular state in Israel, along with a just solution for Palestinians. The fact that such forces are a rather pathetic minority now, says more of the conditions in the world. (Such as the lack of a visible anti-war movement in the US.)
    Concerning Friedman, don’t take Israel’s condition outside the international environment. Post World War II, there was a potential for a positive “world order”, which was lost. There was a shift to a liberal world order, then a neo-liberal order after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and now we have xenophobic movements emerging, in the collapse of the neo-lib order. And perhaps a new bi-polar world emerging bring us into World War III. (Sorry for this short version.)
    Certainly Friedman is a liberal scoundrel, but because he decries the current rush towards fascism does not mean that he is wrong on that one issue, or relieve the complicity of the Liberal Establishment in creating the current hell.

  3. robert e williamson jr
    December 22, 2022 at 00:53

    The Saudis and the Israelis have their deal going full bore, Iran making treasure selling drones to anyone who has something to trade, and Biden and Putin are at odds over who gets the next dance in Ukraine. China sits and observes, N Korea throws a tantrum, the Japanese are nervous, Nato is nervous, Russia and Ukraine feud and the United States undergoes and event that could normally be equivalent to the overturn of a duly elected new president and anyone here seems to hardly notice.

    A key event none of us want to forget about. We are living in strange times as far as the experiences of the American populace are concerned.

    Anyone who hasn’t might want to check in on the condition of the current tsunami revelations the reflect a state of break down in one of the highest most esteemed government agencies in DC the IRS.

    Be Alert my friends.

    PEACE, thanks CN

  4. Rafael
    December 22, 2022 at 00:48

    I am not at all disagreeing with the thrust of this article, but it needs to be pointed out that neither Human Rights Watch nor Amnesty International is a reliable source. One is closely associated with the American state, the other with the British state. Of course that only makes their reports more damning in this case!

  5. bobzz
    December 21, 2022 at 16:00

    I’m late with the comment, but when it comes to anti-semitism, this is its ironic height: a thoroughgoing Jewish Zionist calls his Hebrew brother who worships Yahweh according to Torah and the Nebim (Nevim, the prophets) a self-hating Jew.

  6. Em
    December 21, 2022 at 10:32

    Until this authors mention of the name, what better historic exemplar of a sheep herder, employed by a narrative defining ‘press-gang’, on behalf of the ship of state of Israel, than a toady, such as Thomas Friedman!

  7. robert e williamson jr
    December 21, 2022 at 01:29

    Negative thoughts are all that come to mind when I consider Mr. Friedman. He appears to me to exist only to prop up the cause if Israel. Seeking justifications for why Israel is viewed by so many in a negative light by when anyone takes issue with his opinion of reality.

    I listened and watched him for a short period of time, a few years maybe, giving him a benefit of my ignorance of the most recent version of the explanation why he should be believed. I though I had to be missing something, the result of miss applied respect on my part.

    Speaking of respect, with regard to Mr. Hanna, I believe in respecting the view of the other based on the merits. The others holy scripture gets what respect I feel it deserves in return, there in the problem starts. My belief system, under no circumstances , is directed or influenced by the religious history of the other. My respect for those beliefs of the other wanes when I sense self adoration and disrespect from the other whose beliefs are being used to deny or excuse misbehavior of their numbers.

    I watched until I couldn’t stand it any longer. High hatted gibberish, slick talk pushed by an arrogant condescending individual in love with his own voice plying his passive – aggressive style to defend the indefensible.

    Someone who always seeming to take issue with any valid opposition to his posits. Posits that are based on ignoring reality.

    Mr. Friedman as far as I’m concerned does other Jews a great disservice by assuming he is relevant and that is my strong held opinion. I know he isn’t relevant to me, other than he reflects the Israeli psyop tactic of propaganda by misinformation.

    Thanks CN

  8. Eric
    December 21, 2022 at 00:33

    Friedman as a liberal is Fraudman.

  9. December 20, 2022 at 14:11

    Never, in my wildest dreams did I ever confuse the theft of land with liberalism. And never have I been surprised at violent responses to land theft. Friedmann is an idiot.

  10. Robert Sinuhe
    December 20, 2022 at 13:56

    The very core of the problem of which this writer writes is that chosen people will always consider themselves above others and the laws that govern those others.

  11. Dennis Hanna
    December 20, 2022 at 13:09

    Who you want to be in the beginning you be in the end?

    Book 5 of the Torah
    Attributed to a Moses
    So-called: Deuteronomy 20:10-17
    King James Version (KJV)

    10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
    11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. As
    12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
    13 And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
    14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.
    15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.
    16 But of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
    17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee:

    [ Traditionally understood as the words of a one Moses delivered before the conquest of Canaan, which is or was modern day Palestine. ]

    The First Zionist Congress was held in Basel (Basle), Switzerland, from August 29 to August 31, 1897.

    Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine. For the attainment of this purpose, the Congress considers the following means serviceable:
    1 The promotion of the settlement of Jewish agriculturists, artisans, and tradesmen in Palestine.
    2 The federation of all Jews into local or general groups, according to the laws of the various countries.
    3 The strengthening of the Jewish feeling and consciousness.
    4 Preparatory steps for the attainment of those governmental grants which are necessary to the achievement of the Zionist purpose.
    5 Create an Israel State consisting of the so -called “Biblical” Israel from East bank of the Nile River, including Cairo, to the West Bank it the Euphrates River, South to the Red Sea and North to at least all of Lebanon, if not a large part of Turkey and limitless borders as promised by the Hebrew God.

    [ please note, no word is mentioned about non-Jews or indigenous people. ]

    Genesis 15:18-21; Exodus 23:31; Numbers 34:1-15; and Deuteronomy 19:8, which claims limitless borders, “And if the Lord thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, and give thee all the land which he promised to give unto thy fathers; (K.J.V.)
    —?Formula adopted by the First Zionist Congress

    Balfour Declaration of 1917.

    “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

    ( The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government in 1917 during World War I announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a small minority Jewish population. )

    [ please note, the first draft of “a” letter was solicited from the World Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, the second draft of “a” letter was from Lord Rothschild, the third draft of “a” letter was from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour. All three original drafts began with the words, “His Majesty’s Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people …”Only the fourth and fifth drafts and final “Declaration” began with the words, “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people …”
    Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner was responsible for the change from “… Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people …” to “… establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people …”
    Simply, the original intention was and the unstated actions of the British ruling elites and the British government always was for Palestine to be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.
    In other words, the creation of a State for Jews, or a Jewish State. ]
    dennis hanna

    • Robert Sinuhe
      December 20, 2022 at 19:58

      Balderdash! You have spent a lot of words and essentially have said nothing. You have quoted what I would imagine is something of the Bible which your people have written and because of it has given you special privileges that other people don’t have. A Jewish state is an anachronism.

  12. ray Peterson
    December 20, 2022 at 11:53

    Hanukkah is holy and good for Jews; but
    hypocrisy crying to heaven for Israelis.

  13. Mark Thomason
    December 20, 2022 at 11:17

    The old phrase taught back when was, “A land without a people for a people without a land.”

    Of course, the land did have a people, but they meant to remove them. They did. Now they break them up into fragments as if they are different, rather than acknowledge that together they outnumber the invaders by 2:1 or more (about 14:6).

    This is exactly what the European settlers thought about the original inhabitants of North America, and exactly what they did to them. American “reservations” and “Indian Territory” equal refugee camps and Palestinian Authority. In both cases, they were tools for stages of population removal.

    The only thing lacking so far has been the diseased blankets given to Native Americans.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      December 20, 2022 at 14:03

      Thank you. I have always despised that phrase (I believe it originated with Golda Meir). To claim that the land had no people was a lie. But then again, the Zionists do not consider the Palestinians to be human beings. John Kiriakou, on a visit to Israel recently, was told this by someone in the Israeli government. The government person said, “That’s the problem with you Americans. You consider Palestinians to be human beings. We do not.” Kiriakou’s article appeared here on Consortium News a while back.

    • JohnA
      December 21, 2022 at 06:09

      They don’t need diseased blankets, they use bullets instead with impunity. Anyone complaining is simply anti-semitic.

  14. Vera Gottlieb
    December 20, 2022 at 11:13

    A racist people with a huge chip on their shoulders.

  15. Carl Zaisser
    December 20, 2022 at 11:07

    Always an apartheid state, since its Basic Laws in 1948: Uri Davis, “Apartheid Israel”.

  16. December 20, 2022 at 10:45

    The sad reality is that the issues raised are not limited to the last century but rather, have been present for millennia, every time a Judaen or Israeli state has evolved. This is a historical observation and not reflective of antisemitism, or of the attitudes of individual Jews, nor is it a recriminatory accusation. Just an easily ascertainable fact. Judaism is intensely nationalistic when not in diaspora, and assimilation has always been viewed with terror as well as disdain. Thus, Jews who live in non-Jewish countries tend to differ drastically in perspectives and attitudes from those in Jewish states.

  17. forceOfHabit
    December 20, 2022 at 10:37

    Much as the USA is oblivious to the harm it does its own society by subjecting too many of its youth to the moral atrocity of war in foreign countries, Israel is oblivious to the harm it does its own society by pursuing its Zionist dream through its apartheid reality.

    Israel could become a home and a haven for the Jews without excluding the Arabs or the Palestinians, but this is not the path they have chosen, and I suspect they will come to regret it too late.

  18. Packard
    December 20, 2022 at 09:07

    Months before he was overthrown, the late Shah of Iran was asked by a European journalist why he could just not be more like the King of the Netherlands?

    The Shaw’s acerbic response to the woman’s impertinent question was, “When my people start to act like Dutch citizens, I’ll begin to be more like the King of the Netherlands.”

    Moral: Iranians are not at all like the Dutch, but neither are Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, or Syrians at all like Canadians, Swiss, or Norwegians. Every country’s leaders must react to the people it has and those it is surrounded by. If the current Prime Minister of Israel does not act like Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, it is likely because his borders are not threatened by mobs of overweight, cross dressing, porn watching, and dope smoking Americans.*

    *Not that there is anything wrong with mobs of overweight, cross dressing, porn watching, and dope smoking Americans, of course.

  19. mgr
    December 20, 2022 at 04:21

    It clarifies the real entity who denies the right of others to exist. Seems a common characteristic of “exceptional countries.” Not to mention how it highlights the perverse power of marketing and how unscrupulous leaders stoke and use fear to manipulate their public. Nonetheless, the power of marketing cannot save one’s soul. And allowing one’s conscience to be destroyed only seems to be expedient for a while. Above all it seems to prove that without efforts to overcome one’s hate one will inevitably become those who one hates. Apparently, the US is not the only “liberal democracy” and culture that cultivates and elevates psychopaths. What a surprise that the US and Israel are joined at the hip. Again, the old adage “whom the gods would destroy they first make mad” is proven.

Comments are closed.