For decades New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman balanced his substantively anti-Israel positions with repeated protestations of love for Israel.
His balancing act ended last week when he employed traditional anti-Semitic slurs to dismiss the authenticity of substantive American support for Israel.
Channeling the longstanding anti-Semitic charge that Jewish money buys support for power-hungry Jews best expressed in the forged 19th century Protocols of the Elders of Zion and in John Mearshimer’s and Stephen Walt’s 2007 book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, Friedman denied the significance of the US Congress’s overwhelming support for Israel.
As he put it, “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
It would be nice if Friedman is forced to pay some sort of price for finally coming out of the closet as a dyed-in-the-wool Israel hater. But he probably won’t. As he made clear in his column, he isn’t writing for the general public, but for a very small, select group of elitist leftists. These are the only people who matter to Friedman. And they matter to him because they share his opinions and his goal of indoctrinating young people to adopt his pathologically hostile views about Israel and his contempt for the American public that supports it.
It doesn’t matter to Friedman that overwhelming survey evidence, amassed over decades, show that the vast majority of the American public and the American Jewish community support Israel. It doesn’t matter to him that the support shown to Netanyahu in Congress last May was a reflection of that support.
As he put it, “The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away.”
Embedded in this statement are two key points. First, Friedman assesses that the prevailing view on US college campuses are his own radical views. And he is convinced that college students share his views.
As he sees it, if college students share his views, then it doesn’t matter that Congress supports Israel today. Through the youth, he and his anti-Israel colleagues will own the future.
THE KEY question then is is Friedman right? Do he and his friends on the Israel bashing Left own the future? Are their efforts to convince young Americans in places like University of Wisconsin to embrace leftist dogmas, including rejection of Israel’s rights working? Is support for Israel diminishing?
A plethora of data indicates that while the picture is mixed, the dominant trends do not favor Friedman’s views. This is true not only in the US but in Israel as well.
For instance, last week the Washington Examiner’s senior political commentator Michael Barone noted a massive deterioration of US President Barack Obama’ support levels among voters under 30 years old. Whereas Obama won this demographic in the 2008 elections by a 2-1 margin, two recent surveys show that if elections were held today, he would receive the support of just over a third of young voters.
Barone hypothesized that young Americans’ disenchantment has to do with their generational individualism bred of their limitless ability to express themselves through technology. This individualism has nothing in common with Obama’s economic and foreign policy collectivism.
As for young American Jews, according to a study published in August 2010 by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, the ratio of young American Jews who feel attached to Israel – while lower than that of older Jews — has remained constant over the past twenty years. Moreover, Brandeis’s researchers told the Forward that “Every generation goes through a normal ‘lifecycle,’…in which attachment to Israel grows as people get older.”
Even more notable than the consistency of support levels over time is the fact that researchers discerned no difference in levels of support for Israel across the political spectrum. As the study reported, “We found that conservatives were no more likely than liberals to feel connected to Israel or regard Israel as central to their Jewish identities. These findings are remarkable given that liberalism is associated with reduced support for Israel in the broader American population.”
So not only have Friedman and his colleagues on the far Left failed to convince the general public to give up support for Israel, they have failed to get young American Jews to give up support for Israel.
THE FAILURE of Friedman’s fellow radicals to convince university students to abandon support for Israel or to water it down to the point of meaninglessness was demonstrated last month by Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union.
In recent years, Berkeley’s Hillel has come under withering criticism from pro-Israel activists on campus and countrywide for its leadership’s willingness to accept anti-Israel groups as members of its community of sponsored organizations.
Hillel-sponsored groups like Kesher Enoshi have welcomed the virulently anti-Israel Jewish Voices for Peace group into the Hillel tent. Hillel groups have participated in Israel Apartheid Week activities and supported university divestment from Israeli-owned firms. So too, Hillel’s leadership has held dances on Memorial Day for Fallen Israeli Soldiers, published fliers demeaning observant Jews and discouraged students from flying Israel’s flag at demonstrations.
Last month, Berkeley’s Jewish students took a step to regain control over their community from the anti-Israel radicals running Hillel. On November 16, Berkeley’s JSU voted to deny membership to J Street U, the college wing of the anti-Israel lobby J Street.
Speaking to the local Jewish paper j.weekly, Jacob Lewis, co-president of the pro-Israel student group Tikvah explained, “J Street is not pro-Israel but an anti-Israel organization that, as part of the mainstream Jewish community, I could not support.”
Hillel’s leadership is up in arms. Rather than respect the decision of the JSU, Hillel’s professional “grown-ups” are urging them to reconsider.
In a letter to Haaretz and to the j. weekly, Berkeley Hillel’s board president Barbara Davis and its executive director Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman wrote, “We respect the right of the Jewish Student Union…to make its own decisions, but we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include J Street U as a member.”
The two then pledged that despite the verdict of Berkeley’s Jewish students, Hillel will continue to find J Street U’s programming.
THE SITUATION on Israeli college campuses is similar. Here too, Israeli students are in revolt against post-Zionist and anti- Zionist academics. Here too, the best efforts of radical professors to convince their students to abandon Zionism seem to be faltering. A poll of young Israelis taken last year by Dahaf for the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation indicated that young Israelis are far more politically conservative than their baby boomer parents and professors. And this disparity is apparent on university campuses.
Last year the Im Tirtzu student group published a report on the state of Political Science studies in Israeli universities. In a follow-on report, it placed a spotlight on the situation at Ben Gurion University’s Politics and Government Department.
Both reports were attacked by the media and by the professoriate as cheap, academically shoddy attempts to harm academic freedom.
Im Tirtzu’s reports were based on an analysis of course syllabi at all university departments and they concluded that there was a clear far left ideological bias inherent in course materials. Pro-Israel and non-hostile books and research were almost entirely absent from the curricula, they alleged.
As for Ben Gurion University’s Politics and Government Department, the Im Tirtzu report claimed that aside from political bias reflected in the course curricula, the department’s faculty is dominated by anti-Zionists. It charged that nine out of 11 permanent faculty members were involved in “radical left-wing” political activities and that six signed a letter supporting refusal to serve in the IDF.
While the media and the professorate pilloried their reports, the group’s charges caused the Council for Higher Education to form a blue ribbon committee last November comprised of seven political scientists – three from Israel and four from abroad — to conduct a study of all of the political science departments in Israeli universities. Last month the committee presented its conclusions to the CHE. And they were devastating.
The committee’s general recommendations involved requiring professors at all universities to make a distinction in their classrooms between facts and their political opinions. It also called for a more theoretical approach to political science with emphasis on research methods rather than activism and ideology. University departments were urged to use more politically balanced curricula.
As to Ben Gurion University, the commission said the Politics and Government Department needs to clean up its act or be shut down. Not only is it giving short shrift to the academic foundations of the discipline in favor of activism, its instructors use the classrooms to indoctrinate students.
So too, due to the department’s academic inadequacy, the committee claimed its master’s program’s “value…is doubtful,” and said that the faculty could not adequately educate doctoral students.
On November 29, the CHE unanimously adopted the committee’s findings and recommendations. It gave Ben Gurion University until April to enact the required changes in its Politics and Government Department or shut its doors.
It will be interesting to see how events progress at Ben Gurion in the coming months, but one thing is clear enough, like Friedman and the Berkeley Hillel, its professors will no longer be able to pretend that they are fair and balanced professionals.
Their bluff was called.
On December 7 Politico’s Ben Smith published a detailed report about how two of the Democratic Party’s core institutions, the Center for American Progress and Media Matters are waging a concerted, continuous campaign to diminish left wing Democratic support for Israel. Media Matters official M.J. Rosenberg acknowledged that given the depth of popular support for Israel in the US, chances are remote that their efforts will pay off in Congress today. He explained that his goal is to shift the Democratic Party’s position on Israel through its younger generation
As he put it, “We’re playing the long game here.”
Happily, to date, they are losing the long game as well as the short game both in Israel and the US. While it is important to remain on guard against radicals like Friedman and Rosenberg and their fellow travelers on campuses, it is also important to recognize that despite their powerful positions, they remain marginal voices in both Israel and the US.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.