This article is in response to an op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman published in the New York Times on November 10th, 2012. I would like to express my utmost respect for Mr. Friedman as a renowned journalist and state that all opinions articulated below reply directly to the content of his piece.
The few weeks leading up to presidential elections always seem to stir up enough organized hysteria to drown everything else out, but as soon as they’re over, the rest of the world comes back into focus. The issues never really disappear — they just hide behind a maelstrom of fervent political discourse.
For American Jews, post-election reality continues to divide our attention between U.S. and Israeli interests — we are simultaneously concerned with the wellbeing of two nations, making political prioritization difficult at times. No matter whom we voted for in the 2012 presidential election, the results are in — President Obama will remain in the White House for another four years, and Americans are ready to leave election hype in the dust and return our attention to the issues facing our country.
The incumbent has emerged as the leader that a majority of American Jews (about 70% according to many sources) have chosen to manage domestic and international issues, the latter of which include the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and mounting nuclear threats from Iran.
In an op-ed piece entitled “My President Is Busy,” published in the New York Times on November 10, prominent columnist, author, and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman seems to have President Obama’s priorities all figured out. Friedman tells us that he responds to Israeli concerns over Obama’s foreign policy with the following: Israelis “should be so lucky that the president feels he has the time, energy and political capital to spend wrestling with Bibi [Netanyahu] to forge a peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
In other words, Mr. Obama already has his hands full with domestic problems, so Israel should look elsewhere for help.
While it’s incontrovertibly true that the American people have given Obama “marching orders” to “focus on getting us out of quagmires (Afghanistan) not into them (Syria),” the slew of U.S.-based issues does not excuse quietly showing a “We’re Closed!” sign to anyone concerned with America’s role in Israel’s affairs.
While Friedman thankfully refrains from predicting the arrival of an entirely isolationist policy, he claims that the likely forthcoming tax increases and other persistent domestic issues suggest that Americans will become “much pickier about where we’ll get involved. This means only a radical change by Palestinians or Israelis will get us to fully re-engage.”
It is difficult to fathom a “radical change” on the Israeli side that wouldn’t involve sitting quietly and awaiting cold-blooded annihilation. Israel has always been extremely vocal in its desire for peace, but radical jihadists freely admit that they will not cease murdering innocent civilians until Israel and all its citizens are destroyed.
Yes, the United States has many problems of its own, but proposing that the U.S. will turn its back on one of its closest and most steadfast allies and respond exclusively to a “radical change” is at least facetious, if not entirely absurd. As rockets rain down on Israel’s civilian population centers, it is more apparent than ever that the terrorists may never back down willingly — a joint effort between Israel and the United States is the only path to a future in which Israeli families feel safe in their own homes.
Whether or not President Obama will show sufficient fortitude while engaging with Israel’s enemies remains to be seen, but a preemptive assumption that the issues unique to American soil will usurp his attention entirely cannot stand.
If Friedman is correct, then why focus on Israel? While some would argue that the U.S. is slipping in global relevance, it is still a fact that an astounding number of countries depend on the United States for economic, humanitarian, and military support. Perhaps Mr. Friedman should be reminded that international relations have not yet been stricken off the list of presidential responsibilities — a strong bond with its allies has always been and remains a top priority of the United States.
Friedman argues that the “rising political force in America is not the one with which Bibi has aligned Israel,” and thus, he asserts that “Netanyahu can still get a standing ovation from the Israel lobby, but not at U.C.L.A.” Despite the obvious “out with the old, in with the new” metaphor, it’s not much of a shock that a largely liberal college crowd wouldn’t be particularly eager to support a right-wing Israeli government.
However, Friedman likely underestimates the powerful grassroots support that can be found within multiple UCLA Jewish student groups and Israel advocacy organizations — not everyone may agree with Netanyahu’s politics, but many would stand behind him if Israeli national security is at risk. In addition, many college campuses across the country are facing a deficit in knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East in general, so a hypothetical absence of applause for Netanyahu may originate from a fundamental lack of awareness about the dire circumstances Israel faces.
Friedman introduces his piece by mentioning that Netanyahu “openly backed Mitt Romney,” and subsequently decides that even if President Obama sought to exact revenge on the Israeli Prime Minister for this heinous crime, he wouldn’t have the time. It’s highly unlikely that either President Obama or Mr. Friedman are surprised that Netanyahu supported Romney for the presidency — while both Obama and Romney claim to support Israel, it’s no secret that Romney is on better terms with Netanyahu than Obama, and that Romney takes Iran’s nuclear threat more seriously than the president does.
Netanyahu supported the candidate that he believed was better for Israel — that’s politics. It’s more likely that Obama will use his limited time to discuss mutually beneficial options and find ways to improve his relationship with Israel rather than engage in petty retaliation.
Furthermore, although Friedman directs his comments towards Israelis, he disregards American Jews as a great source of support for the Jewish State. In this uncharacteristic slip-up within an otherwise illustrious and highly-touted journalistic career, he ends the article by reiterating the title (“My president is busy”) and adds some startlingly condescending and didactic counsel for the Jewish State: “don’t count on America to ride to the rescue. It has to start with you.”
By emphasizing that his president is occupied elsewhere, Friedman implicitly creates a distinction between Americans and those who support Israel. In reality, however, this division is nonexistent; the United States will continue to do its utmost to defend Israel from danger and “ride to the rescue” of its allies. Mr. Obama is not just Thomas Friedman’s president — he is the president of every single American, and he is never too busy to do his job.