Thomas Friedman Is a Dinosaur, and a New World Is Here

“Ultimately, Friedman’s latest op-ed isn’t really a criticism of Israel’s actions—it’s a plea that Israel please, please make sure people don’t think badly of its actions.”

Yasmin Nair

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman at the International New York Times Global Forum in Singapore on Oct. 25, 2013 Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah via Getty Images

I am not a scholar of Thomas Friedman’s work. Many years ago, I risked losing my television set because I nearly hurled my telephone at it while he was on some show in his interminable and pompous way, reducing global politics to a vapid conversation with some hapless cab driver in Istanbul who needed to let the white tourist feel like he was connecting with him, all for a halfway decent tip. 

This was back when we got our news from television and radio, and phones were hefty, clunky things that made a satisfying crash as they pierced glass. (They also made for an excellent, angry way to end a conversation: That thud of the receiver can never be rivaled by a silent poke on an icon, alas.) I needed my television to survive, so I just changed the channel.

I stopped trying to follow him when I realized I had neither the time nor the inclination to keep track of his many inane observations and I spent more time reading and engaging with far more interesting work in left and radical circles. But he has, of late, begun to crop up even in what I thought were my highly customized feeds, with his bogus opinions on Israel’s genocidal war on Palestinians in Gaza. 

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Friedman’s latest offering is Israel Is Losing Its Greatest Asset: Acceptance,” published by the New York Times. All over my timelines, people are swooning, swooning, I tell you, about how incredible it is that even Thomas Friedman thinks Israel isn’t doing that well on the global stage. His words are supposedly a real rebuke to President Joe Biden. When you’ve lost Friedman,” crow many, usually in so many words, you’ve surely lost the election,” and so on.

I won’t waste too much time explaining why Friedman’s op-ed, his seven millionth over the course of 450 years, is bilgewater — but I will point out that he did not hesitate to compare denizens of the Middle East to insects and the United States to a stately if grizzly lion. (Hello, Orientalism, you never go away!) Subtlety has never been his strong suit, but this was beyond the pale even for him. His overlords no doubt gleefully rubbed their hands as the piece went viral, and Friedman issued a typical non-apology which said, in essence, Something-something-deep-listening-haha-hahahahaha.”

I will also point out that this latest op-ed repeats all the canards and lies disseminated by the New York Times, otherwise known as the propaganda wing of the Israel Death Machine. Somehow even the self-avowed lefties reposting Friedman’s op-ed fail to note that he repeats the falsehood about rapes and that he isn’t actually critical of Israel at all.

Pro-Palestine protestors march outside the entrance to the New York Times as part of the Global Strike for Gaza on December 18, 2023. Photo by Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

Dear Thomas Friedman, in case you don’t get it: the word you’re looking for is genocide.”

In his op-ed, Friedman can’t even bring himself to name what Israel is doing. Instead, he writes that the whole Israel-Gaza operation is starting to look to more and more people like a human meat grinder whose only goal is to reduce the population so that Israel can control it more easily.” As David Kenneth Johnson put it on X (formerly Twitter), Is there another word for a policy whose only goal is to reduce the population?’”

Ultimately, Friedman’s op-ed isn’t really a criticism of Israel’s actions — it’s a plea that Israel please, please make sure people don’t think badly of its actions. The problem for him is one of messaging, that Israel is losing the global narrative that it is fighting a just war.” He offers no criticism of Israel’s war. 

And he isn’t really insisting that the meat grinder” should stop, uh, grinding meat: He just thinks that, perhaps, said meat grinder should be taken into the garage where no one can see or hear it working. What the world needs is a genocide behind the scenes, not one that’s so, oh, icky and just there, for all the world to see, according to Friedman. Massacre the masses if you don’t starve them to death first, but do be delicate about it, my good fellows!

It’s a busy week as I take a project over the finish line, and I won’t waste more of my time or yours critiquing a man whose entire career rests upon his unique ability to piss off people by the millions. A lot has been written about him, yet even the fact that he praises organizations with which he has undisclosed financial connections hasn’t dimmed his star.

But I cannot emphasize this enough: For the love of whatever you believe in, stop acting like even Tom Friedman” is a meaningful way to think about the vast and seismic changes happening in the U.S. political landscape. 

In Michigan, over 100,000 people voted uncommitted” in the Democratic primary. Organizers at Listen to Michigan, the group that carried out the campaign, had only hoped for at least 10,000 votes. This was not a social media success: The effort was led door-to-door, witnessed with great annoyance and skepticism by the New York Times’ podcast, The Daily. As the paper’s reporters followed campaigners and spoke to residents — including supporters of Biden — about why they are willing to vote against the president even in November, it became quickly apparent that the New York Times reporters and host Sabrina Tavernise were simply out of their depth. 

To be fair, the questions they asked are the sort that any journalist should pose: What do the voters think about the fact that they might cause Biden to lose the election in November; do they really think Trump will be better for them; and so on. But it’s hard to miss the liberal and very white (even if they’re not white-white, because whiteness exceeds race) anxiety rippling through their voices: What are these people thinking, after all we’ve done for them!” is the unstated declaration that runs throughout the episode.

A volunteer with the Abandon Biden Campaign holds a sign encouraging people to vote "uncommitted" in the Michigan Democratic Primary. Photo by Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu via Getty Images

The New York Times and Friedman can’t quite grasp the fact that the people they speak to or so willfully refer to as animals are also U.S. voters, not just some ragtag group they can safely ignore. For too long, the Democrats and their media mouthpieces have relied on the idea that Muslims and other minorities will be too scared of the alternative — Trump, in this case. But the Michigan vote is a clear message that people are, to put it simply, fed up and, in a nightmarish turn for Democrats, better organized than they had ever imagined.

No one should be interested in helping Israel rehabilitate its image, and the reality of its genocidal program is laid bare for all to see.

Friedman, in his hodge-podge of words disguised as a column, is right to point out that the world has shifted dramatically in terms of its support for Israel but he does not understand the full meaning of that shift. No one should be interested in helping Israel rehabilitate its image, and the reality of its genocidal program is laid bare for all to see. All the emotional and political blackmail, all the spurious charges of anti-semitism made when protestors raise their Palestinian flags, all the persecution of everyone from students to professors to activists who articulate even the mildest critiques of the war — all of it will be rendered useless in the face of generations of activism and a determination to change the political landscape.

Michigan didn’t happen overnight. I can recall friends and colleagues — including vulnerable undergraduates, community youth organizers and seasoned activists — putting their careers and lives on the line 20 years ago when the BDS movement first began; many lost a great deal, and many never quite recovered. 

The changes in attitudes toward Israel and the understanding of the history behind current events did not happen overnight either, and they did not come about simply because we can see the carnage on our phones: Twitter did not bring about the Arab Spring, and we need to rid ourselves of the idea that technology is anything other than a mere tool in bringing about vast ideological shifts. 

Sometimes, change takes a lifetime, often over many generations — but it is inevitable. Come November, voters will be faced with two appalling choices. One way to respond to that is sheer hopelessness, but another is what we’re currently witnessing in Michigan and elsewhere: to insist that change doesn’t happen within bad choices but in spite of them. If Trump wins, fine, we’ll deal,” seems to be the prevailing sentiment. 

Thomas Friedman’s opinion about Israel has not changed one bit: He’s only concerned about the perception of what it’s doing and doesn’t care about the reality haunting Palestinian lives as they continue to be shredded in that meat grinder, as he puts it so delicately.

Every time you say, “Even Tom Friedman,” you forget that the world has been changing, surely and unmistakably, without him. 

Every time you say, Even Tom Friedman,” another vital media outlet dies because you’re allowing yourself to forget that there have been decades of reporting, analysis, critique and understanding of global politics that deserve more of your consideration. Every time you say, Even Tom Friedman,” you hold him up as the outer limit of discourse on any matter. Every time you say, Even Tom Friedman,” you forget that the world has been changing, surely and unmistakably, without him.

Friends, lovers, ex-friends, ex-lovers: I am here to remind you that Thomas Friedman is a pompous windbag whose opinions matter not one bit, no matter what they are. Whatever opinion he may have at any given time will change, with the rapidity of the Japanese bullet train in which he has doubtless spent hours wheedling his fellow passengers for their views. Thomas Friedman does not determine the vast and limitless expanse of the world we have worked to create, a world where we call genocide what it is and where ending wars is about actually ending wars, not simply about changing our perception of them.

This was previously published on www​.yas​min​nair​.com.

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Yasmin Nair is a writer, academic, and activist. She’s an editor at large at Current Affairs, on the editorial board of the Anarchist Review of Books, co-founder of the radical queer editorial collective Against Equality and the (Volunteer) Policy Director of Gender JUST. She’s currently working on her book Strange Love: A History of Social Justice And Why It Needs To Die. Her writing can be found at www​.yas​min​nair​.com.

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