Thomas Friedman in The New York Times argues for approval of the Iran nuclear deal, and on the way to this conclusion he hauls readers through a morass of false narratives and murky ethics, all of them invoked on behalf of Israel.
The column, however, does more than reveal the contortions of Israeli propaganda. It also points up a defect in the Times op-ed pages: The section allows writers to assert almost any claim without having to supply evidence to the readers, and although the newspaper says that it fact-checks even its editors, plenty of misinformation appears in the op-ed pages.
Thus we have Friedman’s latest, “If I Were an Israeli Looking at the Iran Deal,” which lays out a series of bald statements about Iran, Mideast history and the Israeli military that point to one overriding premise: Israel is a lonely moral force in the midst of lunatic regimes.
Friedman asserts, among other things, that Iran “regularly cheated” in order to expand its nuclear capability and aided Lebanon in “an unprovoked war” against Israel in 2006. Israel, however, “tries to avoid hitting civilian targets,” follows “Western mores” and pursues “war without mercy” only “when it has to.”
We are told, in other words, that Iran is an existential threat to Israel, bent on its destruction. Oddly, just as Friedman’s column was appearing in the Times, the newspaper also published a rebuttal to his claim in a story titled “Reporting From Iran Jewish Paper Sees No Plot to Destroy Israel.”
Here we learn that many Iranians support a two-state solution in Palestine-Israel and that Jewish Iranians are “basically well-protected second-class citizens—a broadly prosperous, largely middle-class community whose members have no hesitation about walking down the streets of Tehran wearing yarmulkes.”
If readers took the time to check out some of Friedman’s specific claims, they would find that the “unprovoked war” of 2006 was something else again. Israel was actually planning to attack Lebanon and seized on one incident (among many skirmishes on both sides) to unleash its arsenal on the country.
They would discover that Iran has not “regularly cheated its way” in its nuclear program. Instead, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter notes, “The evidence adduced to prove that Iran secretly worked on nuclear weapons represents an even more serious falsification of intelligence than we saw in the run-up to the war in Iraq.”
As for Friedman’s claim that the “Israeli army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets,” many readers already know that rights groups have cast grave doubts on this particular bit of propaganda. Most recently, we have heard from Breaking the Silence and Amnesty International, as both groups have exposed the criminal policies and actions that left so many civilians dead last summer in Gaza.
This sloppy approach to the facts is appalling, but even worse in this particular piece is the moral quagmire he creates in justifying Israel’s war crimes. Israel is forced to kill civilians, he says, because it faces enemies that stop at nothing. Therefore, Israel will “play by local rules” because “for all its Western mores it will not be out-crazied.”
Friedman would have it both ways: Israel is a moral society and Israel is the toughest, meanest guy on the block. If Hezbollah or Hamas fire rockets, he writes, Israel “will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties.” The threat that concerns him here is the damage to Israel’s reputation, not the deaths of innocent Arabs.
He finds Iran’s alleged nuclear cheating particularly egregious because the country had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. This observation, however, does not prevent him from threatening Iran with Israel’s nukes: “[Israel] not only possesses 100 to 200 nuclear weapons,” he writes, “it can deliver them to Iran by plane, submarine and long-range rocket.”
Israel, on the other hand, has never signed the NPT and has never allowed inspectors into its nuclear plant, but this is no matter to Friedman. Iran, which has signed the treaty and allows inspections of its facilities, finds this state of affairs used against it in his bizarre moral universe.
Friedman presents Iran as one of the “crazies” that force Israel to break from its “Western mores,” but he can maintain this stance only by ignoring a little-discussed fact: Iran has forbidden the production and use of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical warfare and nuclear arms.
Even when Iraq attacked Iranians with poison gas during the eight-year war, Iran refused to retaliate in kind. Two supreme leaders have pronounced a fatwa against such weapons, including nuclear arms, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Iran’s nuclear program, they declared, can only be pursued for peaceful purposes, and under the Iranian system, their word is the law of the land.
No wonder we hear not a word of this from Friedman (or the Times): Iran’s fatwa contrasts starkly with the Israeli stance on its own nuclear program.
In Friedman’s piece, facts that would expose his fraudulent narratives are excluded, in spite of the newspaper’s claim to fact-check even opinion pieces and editorials. Readers are denied even the minimal links that appear in most news stories.
Friedman’s columns appear twice a week in the Times. He has won awards for reporting and commentary, and he is a member of the Pulitzer Prize board. Such is the state of mainstream American journalism today.