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. 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, not because they are hostile but because they are confused.
You see, in Friedman’s eyes, the entire U.S. Congress is bought and paid for by a cabal of Jews.
Rep. Steven R. Rothman (D-N.J.) is the first elected leader to go on the record. He has released this statement:
Thomas Friedman’s defamation against the vast majority of Americans who support the Jewish State of Israel, in his New York Times opinion piece today, is scurrilous, destructive and harmful to Israel and her advocates in the US. Mr. Friedman is not only wrong, but he’s aiding and abetting a dangerous narrative about the US-Israel relationship and its American supporters.
I gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a standing ovation, not because of any nefarious lobby, but because it is in America’s vital national security interests to support the Jewish State of Israel and it is right for Congress to give a warm welcome to the leader of such a dear and essential ally. Mr. Friedman owes us all an apology.
Others are weighing in as well. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams responds by citing recent Gallup polling that shows support for Israel is at an historic high. He writes:
Of course, that support is suspect to Mr. Friedman, for Gallup also found that it is higher among Republicans than among Democrats and higher among conservatives than among liberals. But what in the world except prejudice can lead Mr. Friedman to make the ugly charge that support for Israel in Congress, need support for Mr. Netanyahu in Congress, is ‘bought and paid for by the Israel lobby?’
Abrams goes on to explain, “Members of Congress in a country that is 2 percent Jewish stand to applaud Prime Minister Netanyahu because they, like their constituents, support Israel and want America to support Israel. Many of those standing and cheering were from districts where there are no Jews or a handful of Jews, and where Evangelical churches form the strongest base of support for the Jewish state.”
On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats alike were fuming. A senior GOP adviser e-mailed me: “Bibi’s standing ovation in Congress was bought and paid for by the American taxpayers who overwhelmingly support Israel. They vote, they pay our salaries and they stand with Israel. Statements to the contrary can be chalked up to frustrated leftists who can’t understand why they stand alone.”
A Senate aide on the other side of the aisle put it this way: “Today, Tom Friedman did a cheap imitation of [Steven] Walt and [John] Mearsheimer as he charged that the ‘Israel lobby’ bought a congressional ovation for Bibi. If Friedman did actual reporting rather than opining from his anti-Israel perch at the Times, he would have learned that, in an otherwise polarized Congress, there is genuine, bipartisan support for Israel that reflects America’s heartland.”
The good news here is that, while Friedman’s views are ingested readily on the Upper East Side, he’s entirely irrelevant where it matters — everywhere else in America.