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President Biden urged to ‘save Israel’ from turning into an ‘illiberal bastion of zealotry’

January 19, 2023 at 1:54 pm

US President Joe Biden on December 08, 2022 [Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency]

New York Times Columnist, Thomas Friedman, has called on US President, Joe Biden, to “save Israel” from turning into an “illiberal bastion of zealotry”. The Pulitzer prize-winning Jewish-American journalist, who has long been seen as one of the most influential pro-Israel liberal voices in the US, made the appeal in his column in the NYT on Tuesday. It is the latest in a series of articles which suggest that Friedman’s love affair with the apartheid state has become extremely strained.

“Israel is on the verge of a historic transformation — from a full-fledged democracy to something less, and from a stabilising force in the region to a destabilising one,” said Friedman asking “can Joe Biden save Israel?” According to Friedman, Biden is the only person that can save Israel from turning into an “illiberal bastion of zealotry”.

Echoing senior Israeli figures who spoke recently of the possibility of a civil war, or what they call a “fratricidal war” between Jews, Friedman argued that “Israel is approaching some serious internal civil strife”. He explained that civil conflicts are rarely about one policy and that they tend to be about power. “For years, the fierce debates in Israel about the Oslo Accords were about policy. But today, this simmering clash is about power — who can tell who how to live in a highly diverse society” said Friedman, before listing the ways in which he believes Israel is becoming an anti-democratic force.

Oslo Accords, the 25th Anniversary - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Oslo Accords, the 25th Anniversary – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

“The Israel Joe Biden knew is vanishing and a new Israel is emerging,” said Friedman. “Many ministers in this government are hostile to American values, and nearly all are hostile to the Democratic Party”. He urged Biden to “wade right in” and reverse Israel’s lurch to the far-right. “I have no illusions that Biden can reverse the most extreme trends emerging in Israel today, but he can nudge things on to a healthier path, and maybe prevent the worst, with some tough love in a way that no other outsider can”.

In his note to the Israeli Prime Minister, which was included in the article, Friedman asked Benjamin Netanyahu if Israel’s control of the West Bank is a matter of temporary Occupation or of an emerging annexation, as members of his coalition advocate.  “You are riding roughshod over American interests and values,” said Friedman in his note to Netanyahu.

Friedman’s latest intervention is one of several articles, including an editorial piece in the NYT which suggest that the paper has adjusted its pro-Israel bias to present a narrative that is a more honest reflection of reality. A piece written by the Editorial Board of the NYT warned that “The Ideal of Democracy in a Jewish State Is in Jeopardy.” Friedman’s articles have also reflected the growing panic in the US over Israel with eye-catching headlines such “The Israel We Knew Is Gone.”

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