Open Letter to NY Times columnist Tom Friedman
Is Tom Friedman free of misquoting and bias?
A Take-A-Pen article in last August (Andre Moses:"Thomas Friedman saw a movie") reflected to Friedman's article "Steel this movie", about a documentary he saw. This leading publicist of The New York Times and maybe of the whole liberal journalism in the United States, wrote that that documentary had been a revelation; it taught him something profound about Gaza, about the Israelis and about an important obstacle to peace: blind Palestinian hatred.
Our article expressed our hope that his own revelation would finally shake Friedman's previous obsession with blaming Israel for obstructing peace, and that it could have a lasting impact on Friedman's and the liberal US media's sometimes biased views and actions. Unfortunately, this hope has not materialized; Friedman forgot his own revelation and fell back to his obsession.
This time the soft-spoken doyen of pro-Israel public diplomacy, Maurice Ostroff had to call to task Friedman in a masterly Open Letter.
An Open Letter to Tom Friedman
February 18, 2011
From Maurice Ostroff
Dear Mr. Friedman,
You're an enigma. (From the Greek aenyme – to speak in riddles). You are deservedly a widely read columnist, the author among others of that stimulating book "Hot, Flat, and Crowded:.." and the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes. You served as Times' Jerusalem Bureau Chief and your two daughters were born in Israel.
The riddle is why a person of your superior intellect and experience allows undisguised animosity to Israel to cloud your otherwise sound judgment. I refer for example to your article in June last year in which you accused Israel of winning the Lebanon and Gaza wars by what you called “Hama Rules” after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, President Hafez el-Assad put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising killing more than 10,000 of his own people. It is surprising that you omitted the fact that the Syrians employed chemical warfare, that Amnesty International estimated that the number of dead was estimated to be up to 35,000 and that you are not sensitive to the absurdity and odiousness of the comparison that you make.
The allegations in your February 12, NY Times op-ed that the Israeli government frantically told the US president that he must not abandon Pharaoh, and that the White House was thoroughly disgusted with its Israeli interlocutors is equally offensive. Your insulting allegations can be regarded only as libelous fictions unless and until you substantiate them. And in this connection I quote your own words from your NY Times article of November 16, 2010 in which you wrote "When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together".
Contrary to your version of the Israeli reaction to the Egyptian revolt, PM Netanyahu's approach was straightforward and beyond reproach. He said that the peace between Israel and Egypt has endured for over three decades and that Israel's goal is to ensure that these relations continue. "Of course", he said, "at this time, we must show maximum responsibility, restraint and sagacity and, to this end, I have instructed my fellow ministers to refrain from commenting on this issue. Naturally, we are also holding consultations in the appropriate government forums," and he added that he had spoken with US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. (Jerusalem Post, January 30)
It is obvious that you don't judge others as you do Israel. You criticize Israel for supposedly siding with Mubarak, yet you find no fault with open support of Mubarak in the Washington Times. For example on January 31, Tony Blankley author of "American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century" wrote that support of President Hosni Mubarak is likely to serve both US geopolitical interests and its ability to shape that regime in the interest of the Egyptian people and that ill-considered support for a revolution that is more likely to result in a government adverse to US and the Egyptian people's interests. He added that if America undercuts its ally of 30 years, the US would be seen as feckless - and this would undermine the value of its support for allies current and future.
Nor are you perturbed by the personal telephone call on January 29, by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia who told President Obama not to humiliate Mr. Mubarak and warned that he would step in to bankroll Egypt if the US withdrew its aid program, worth $1.5 billion annually.
But most disconcerting is your attempt to downplay the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood and your refusal to treat the issue rationally. That the threat is real was demonstrated for example in October last year when the renowned Christianne Amanpour, well known for her documentaries on Islam, hosted a panel discussion during which Anjem Choudary, a former British solicitor and Muslim cleric, stated unambiguously that eventually you'll see global Islamic rule including in the United States. He said "We do believe as Muslims the East and the West will be governed by the Sharia,.. Indeed we believe that one day the flag of Islam will fly over the White House".
After all, it is not Israel alone that feels threatened. An editorial in the Washington Times of February 10 had this to say. "There’s been debate about the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most likely of the radical successors to Mr. Mubarak and an organization the State Department accepts as “a fact of life” in Egypt. On Sunday, President Obama conceded, 'There are strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S. There’s no doubt about it.' More to the point, there’s little about their ideology that doesn’t threaten America".
"This week, Palestinian Media Watch published a translation of a lengthy treatise from 1996-2002 by Mustafa Mashhur, leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, titled “Jihad is the Way.” It contains a simple summation of their political program: “Allah is our goal, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our constitution, the Jihad is our way, and the Death for Allah is our most exalted wish.”
"The Muslim Brotherhood believes jihad is an obligation for all Muslims “for the purpose of realizing the great task of establishing an Islamic state and strengthening the religion and spreading it around the world.” This fight to impose hardline Islamic law is “not limited to the specific region of the Islamic countries” but extends to the entire world. “The banner of Jihad has already been raised in some of its parts,” Mr. Mashhur writes, “and it shall continue to be raised, with the help of Allah, until every inch of the land of Islam will be liberated, the State of Islam will be established.”
For those still unclear about the concept - or for hair-splitters like Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, who waxes philosophically about jihad as a peaceful act of religious purification - Mr. Mashhur explains, “The symbol of the Brotherhood is the book of Allah [the Koran] between two swords. The swords symbolize Jihad and the force that protects the truth represented in Allah’s book.” One man’s purification is another man’s religious war".
Since, in the wake of the Egyptian revolt, the Muslim Brotherhood is widely discussed by opinion makers who have absolutely no knowledge of Arabic, it is indeed fortunate that the aforementioned work " Jihad is the way" has been translated into English by Itamar Marcus and analyst Nan Jacques Zilberdik. This document should be read by every commentator who wishes to base his/her opinions on facts rather than preconceived opinions.
The Suez Canal is a major lifeline for the economies of Europe and the United States and it is fair to ask whether you have considered the concerns not only of Israel but of all oil dependent nations about the possibility of the Suez Canal coming under control of an extremist group. Even while looking forward to a true democracy replacing Mubarak, no responsible politician (or journalist who assumes the prerogative to give advice) can responsibly avoid considering and preparing for this eventuality.
Of course the optimum situation would result from following Sharansky's advice which reflects the Israeli view most accurately namely “If the free world helps the people on the streets, and turns into the allies of these people instead of being the allies of the dictators, then there is a unique chance to build a new pact between the free world and the Arab world.”
Last June you wrote an article strongly criticizing CNN for firing their editor Octavia Nasr for publishing her sympathies on the death of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who she called one of Hezbollah’s giants whom she respected a lot. While I understand your empathy for Nasr, I am disturbed by your omission of any mention of Fadlallah's role in the 1983 attacks on Marine barracks in Beirut which killed 241 US Marines, his statements in favor of suicide bombings, his description of the Mercaz HaRav massacre as heroic and the fact that President Clinton froze his assets because of his suspected involvement with terrorists.
Nevertheless I agree entirely with your statement "A journalist should lose his or her job for misreporting, for misquoting, for fabricating, for plagiarizing, for systemic bias but not for a message like this one" and with great respect, I suggest that when you look unto the mirror while shaving tomorrow morning, you ask yourself whether you are completely free of misquoting and bias.
This is letter is being widely circulated as will a response that I hope to receive from you.