Tom Friedman can’t praise Egyptians without insulting Palestinians

Thomas Friedman has made millions of dollars by writing poorly constructed metaphors and urging war on the Middle East.  It’s good work, if you can stomach it.  Now, however, he would like to jump on the feel-good revolutionary wave centered in Tehrir Square and praise Egyptians for protesting for the ouster of Mubarak.  That’s fine, as far as is goes, but isn’t there ALSO some way he marginalize the Palestinians in the process?  There is!  Oh, good.

Generally speaking, Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times is relatively harmless.  And I will give him this: he’s very savvy at jumping on the newest bandwagon, whether it’s “globalization-friendly environmentalism” or revolutionary fervor, you can bet that he’ll be there to profit on it.  Today’s entry can be filed in the latter category, and as far as it goes isn’t bad — until the ever-present tenancy to render Israel’s occupation of Palestine invisible rears its ugly head.

You almost never hear the word “Israel,” and the pictures of “martyrs” plastered around the square are something rarely seen in the Arab world — Egyptians who died fighting for their own freedom not against Israel.  [emphasis added.]

The American media has collectively approved the narrative that Egyptians are fighting for their freedom from a tyrant, which is correct.  But for Friedman, it’s simply impossible that Palestinians fighting against the occupation of their country are fighting for their own freedom as well.  For Friedman, they are fighting against Israel.  That country’s action’s are almost never closely examined and criticized in the American media.  Israel reacts, not instigates.  Israel is the victim, never the aggressor.

One of Friedman’s recent columns — Before Egypt, After Egypt — offers some criticism of Netanyahu and describes the dangers of Israel becoming an “apartheid state.”  Again, that’s fine, but the entire column is predicated on the idea that Egyptians are “anti-Israel” by definition.  Friedman doesn’t use the word “occupation” once when describing future potential problems between Egypt and Israel.

This kind of bias isn’t restricted only to Friedman’s Op-Ed pieces.  Ethan Bronner, reporting from Jerusalem, recently wrote:

There has long been concern that popular sentiment in Egypt is anti-Israel.

Again, that article, which portends to describe the future relationship between Israel, Palestine, Egypt, and America doesn’t use the word “occupation.”  Worse, in describing the recent history of the region, Bronner writes:

Events of the past five years — the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s influence in Iraq and the shift by Turkey toward Iran and Syria — have turned many Israelis rightward, fearing that the more time passes the more the region is against them.

There’s a passing mention of the collective massacre of Gaza — referred to as “the Gaza war” — and of Israeli commandos killing of nine on the Mavi Marmara. Not included is mention of Isreal’s bombing of Lebanon in 2006, or the war crimes Israel was disproportionately guilty of during its siege on Gaza.  Once again Israel is cast as the victim, never the aggressor.

The point here is not to blame Israel for all the woes of the Middle East.  The point is that the American public is so vastly uneducated about the Middle East in general — and the Israel/Palestinian conflict specifically — that these kinds of errors of omission and framing do serious damage to our ability to understand what’s happening in the region.  And, frankly, if you read several stories about Israel and never once come across the word “occupation,” you’re not getting the full story.