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1880An Open Letter To NY Times Columnist, Tom Friedman

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  • Maurice Ostroff
    Dec 21, 2011
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      From Maurice Ostroff


      December 21, 2011

      Dear Mr. Friedman,

      Your oped "Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir" in the NY Times of Dec. 13, brings to mind your oped of Nov. 16, 2010 in which you very wisely opined "When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem.. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together".

      Mr. Gingrich and Palestinian nationhood

      It is ironic, that your latest oped epitomizes the objectionable situation you described in 2010 of facts and fabrications blending together. You start by misquoting Mr. Gingrich, claiming he said the Palestinians are not entitled to a state. In fact he neither said nor suggested that. This is what he said in his interview with the Jewish Channel to which you referred. "Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people.."

      Moreover, had you checked your facts you would have known that contrary to your claim, Mr. Gingrich actually supports a Palestinian state in a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians as he publicly repeated in a recent veterans' forum.

      Of course there is nothing inconsistent in advocating a state for the Palestinians even though believing them to be, not a separate nation, but part of the great Arab nation sharing a common linguistic, cultural, religious, and historical heritage.

      Your statement that Gingrich advocates that Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank, pursue a road to apartheid, evict the West Bank Palestinians and engage in ethnic cleansing is pure speculation. There is nothing at all in what Gingrich said that remotely resembles these completely illogical and misleading conclusions.

      Mr. Gingrich's views on Palestinian nationhood are supported by the historical fact that when the status of the Ottoman Empire's former possessions was determined at the San Remo conference in 1920, Syria and Lebanon were mandated to France while Mesopotamia (Iraq) and the southern portion of the territory (Palestine) were mandated to Britain. Jews, Christians and Arabs who lived in the British mandated territory were regarded as Palestinians, not by virtue of nationhood, but by virtue of living in what was then designated as Palestine.

      Furthermore, Mr. Gingrich's views are supported by the authoritative opinion of many Arab personalities who are intimately involved in, and knowledgeable about, Arab affairs. For example, the high profile critic of the Israel government, Arab former member of Knesset Dr. Azmi Bishara expressed views almost identical to those of Mr. Gingrich. During an interview on Israel's Channel 2 TV he declared "There is no Palestinian nation. It's a colonial invention... ". In his current position as director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha and having authored several books in English, German and Arabic he very likely knows more about Palestinian nationhood than you do. He speaks and reads Arabic.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3n5-yG-6dU .

      The serious lack of knowledge of Middle East affairs demonstrated in your oped should concern all who are influenced by renowned journalists, whose prestige leads readers to accept their uninformed opinions as facts.

      Bibi and the Jewish lobby

      Your statement that PM Netanyahu's standing ovation in Congress was bought and paid for by an Israel lobby is an example of what you described in your 2010 oped as 'Facts, opinions and fabrications blending together'. That Netanyahu received a standing ovation is a fact. That the ovation was bought by a sinister Israel lobby of the type propagated by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt is your opinion blended with the inconvenient but undeniable fact.

      Since the applause was unanimous, your statement that the members of congress who applauded 'were bought and paid' is a terrible slur on the entire US Congress. Have you considered the probability that the applause was a genuine demonstration of approval by intelligent and worthy congressmen and women who think for themselves?

      It is a matter of deep concern that a man of your undoubted influence can exhibit a degree of prejudice that ignores the counter influences of opponents of the Netanyahu government like JStreet with its support by billionaire George Soros and the new Israel fund as well as the high probability that any influence that may be exerted by a pro-Israel lobby is far outweighed by the massive petrodollar-funded Arab lobby.

      We need look no further than a March 1, 2011 NY Times article "Arab Unrest Puts Their Lobbyists in Uneasy Spot" that refers to "one of the most formidable lobbying forces in town: the elite band of former members of Congress, former diplomats and power brokers who have helped Middle Eastern nations navigate diplomatic waters here on delicate issues like arms deals, terrorism, oil and trade restrictions"

      Although one lobbyist admitted "you have to have a strong stomach to work with dictators in Middle Eastern nations with policies that many American find unsavoury", Washington's top lobbyists received tens of millions of dollars from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and other countries in the region. According to federal filings, Middle East rulers pay retainers of $50,000 or more each month to consultants.

      The UAE spent $5.3 million in 2009 for lobbying American officials. Morocco spent more than $3 million, Saudi Arabia about $1.5 million and Turkey nearly $1.7 million.

      I do not for one moment deny your freedom to express your opinions. I urge you however, to please make it easier for your readers to distinguish between your opinions and the facts. In the above examples, the line between them is very blurred and your clarification will be appreciated.

      This letter is being widely circulated as will the response I hope to receive from you

      Maurice Ostroff