Tom Friedman Goes Mearsheimer and Walt

Tom Friedman isn’t the worst of the New York Times columnists–not while Paul Krugman is around–but he is the most overrated. If Friedman has ever had an original thought, he has chosen not to share it with his readers. Unfortunately, the thinkers he recycles keep going downhill. Now he has come to the bottom of the barrel, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

In his current column, Friedman blasts Newt Gingrich for his “invented people” riff and Mitt Romney for saying he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a long-time Republican Party Platform plank. These criticisms are par for the course for Friedman, a loyal Democrat. But he goes on to bash, simultaneously, all of Congress, the “Israel lobby,” and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government:

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.

I can’t explain the weird obsession that so many on the Left have with the “Israel lobby.” In some cases, it is transparently driven by anti-Semitism; Mearsheimer and Walt appear to fall into that category. But that diagnosis doesn’t seem to apply to Friedman. Maybe in his case, like so much that one reads in his columns, it is just a reflexive repeating of something he heard someone else say. But one hardly needs a nefarious “Israel lobby” persuading Congressmen–let alone bribing them, as Friedman claimed–to support Israel.

Israel enjoys broad support among the American people, and it is natural to see that support reflected in Congress. This graph from Gallup shows how Americans have answered the question, “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?” from 1988 to 2011:

Support for Israel is strongest among conservatives, but the poll data suggest that it is likely the broadest bipartisan consensus that Americans share on any contentious issue. As for the claim that Congress has been “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” Jennifer Rubin notes the blowback from Capitol Hill.

Friedman’s thinking on this entire subject is hopelessly confused, as shown by his casual smear of Newt Gingrich:

That thought came to mind last week when Newt Gingrich took the Republican competition to grovel for Jewish votes — by outloving Israel — to a new low by suggesting that the Palestinians are an “invented” people and not a real nation entitled to a state.

Stop to consider that for a moment. Gingrich and other Republicans are “grovel[ing] for Jewish votes” by supporting Israel? How much does Friedman know about the demographics of America west of the Hudson? As of 2010, there were 6,190 Jews in Iowa out of a population of more than three million–0.2% of Iowa’s population. How many of those do you suppose are Republican caucus-goers? A few hundred? Then there is New Hampshire, where Jews represent 0.8% of the population; Republican Jews, a smaller proportion still. Or South Carolina, where a little over 11,000 Jews are sprinkled among a population of more than 4.5 million. And finally–I can’t resist this one–ask John Thune what he thinks about Israel. Thune represents South Dakota, home to a grand total of 395 Jews, which rounds to 0.0% of the state’s population.

Friedman is unable to think outside the crude boundaries of stereotype, but it is obvious that the GOP presidential contenders are not “groveling for Jewish votes.” Rather, they are reflecting the strong support of conservatives generally, and Christian conservatives in particular, for Israel.

It isn’t easy to display such comprehensive ignorance of a topic in the space of a 900-word newspaper column, but Tom Friedman has pulled off the trick.

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