Reading a Tom Friedman column on Bibi and Barack is to take a step into a virtual reality show, where the director, Tom Friedman, says there will be no connection to any real facts or any real history. Rather the director, Tom Friedman, will superimpose a virtual reality of wishful thinking and pet prejudices that will serve as a new substitute reality.
In the new Tom-Friedman-directed reality, the Arabs are surging towards peace and democracy in a Barack-Obama-driven world. Arab oil prices are stable and low out of gratitude to Sheriff Barack, who drilled Osama Bin-Laden, and is about to drill for oil off-shore, perhaps in one Gulf (Mexican) or the other (Persian). And, yes, he is also about to “drill” Bibi Netanyahu, the villain who has come to town.
Tom the Director has the tough and decisive sheriff read a few lines to the world’s new outlaw — Bibi Netanyahu: “Yo, Bibi, you better get out of them thar West Bank settlements by sunset, or you’re gonna be pushing up daisies, pilgrim.”
According to Tom the Director’s script: Bibi, the black-hatted villain surrenders and leaves or gets shot down at high noon on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Arabs in the audience cheer and everyone rolls in oil and a surging economy.
Yup. You-betcha. That’s Tom’s World — flat and wishful. Barack Obama is John Wayne as the Sheriff. Tom Friedman is director John Ford, and Benjamin Netanyahu is the evil and villainous rancher-rustler-“dirty Injun” who gets “run off the reservation.”
As a virtual reality show this only nets a small audience, because most of us recall where this kind of script has gone before. But Director-Screen Writer Tom Friedman has apparently not learned or perhaps forgotten the plot line from the real world.
In the real world, Sheriff Barack Obama’s attempt in 2009-2010 to impose terms on Israel caused the worst setback in 20 years of Arab-Israeli negotiations. Obama demanded and got an Israeli settlement freeze that goaded the “moderate” PLO “leadership” of Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Marshal Abu-Mazen in some scripts) to refuse even to talk to Israel about anything. This was quite an achievement for Sheriff Barack and Director Tom. Let’s remember that other sheriffs have also had their own virtual scripts, too. Deputy Sheriff Condoleezza Rice demanded that Israel allow Hamas to take over Gaza in the 2006 “elections,” and this led to a new terror state in Gaza. But Deputy Condi cannot equal Sheriff Barack.
Sheriff Barack also tried to talk sweet to the Islamist government of Turkey, the ayatollahs of Iran and what Deputy Hillary called the “reformers” of Syria. We have all seen the success of that virtual reality script. Sheriff Barack made his first foreign speech in Turkey that was once the hope of a truly modernized Muslim community. Now, it has returned to the dark side of Islamism. Sheriff Barack even sent an ambassador to Syria where they tried to build a nuclear reactor with the help of Iran and North Korea. Iran is continuing its own nuclear weapons program.
Most of us who have seriously studied and lived in Arab countries know that Israel is a familiar excuse — but not a real cause — for any of the problems or turmoil inside the Arab countries. There is widespread Arab yearning for better government and for an end tofasaad (corruption, in Arabic). There is also a tremendous yearning for better jobs and opportunities for real careers, especially among the educated youth, and there is a search for a more normal role for women.
None of this has anything to do with Israel, and it has nothing to do with Israeli “settlements,” which (sorry about this, Tom) are completely legal (take a look at the League of Nations resolutions, San Remo documents, etc).
The only way to bring a chance for more peace and development in the Middle East is “to get real,” not to be surreal. This seat-of-the-pants analysis is not real analysis.
Israel is real. It is also a successful democratic state, though not a perfect one. In some respects, it is much more successful and democratic even than Britain, France, and the United States. For example, it has a lower unemployment rate, and it successfully absorbed more immigrants than any other country in the world.
Tom Friedman and the other surreal pundits should stop trying to bully Israel or to re-draw Israel in the image of its neighbors. Rather they should encourage Israel’s neighbors to face their own problems the way Israel has faced its problems.
Israeli prime ministers are not villains. Whenever a classroom had to be built or a water carrier or sewer needed fixing in Israel, Bibi Netanyahu, Golda Meir or David Ben-Gurion did not ride into the United Nations or the White House and claim that all the problems were caused by the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Iranians etc. Rather, they tried to fix the problem.
So, the first step for the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Iranians and Tom Friedman is: get real.
As Israel’s prime minister comes to town, Tom Friedman and his ilk should not be organizing an Obama-Osama greeting card.
*Dr. Michael Widlanski, who has studied and worked in several Arab countries, teaches Arab politics and communication at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post, serving as a special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO Archives captured in Jerusalem. He is currently completing a book on Arab-Islamic terro