Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thomas Friedman Tries To Ruin My Day with Conflation
by David Gilfix

If I were to teach a course in critical reading I think that I would include Thomas Friedman’s most recent article, “Go ahead, Ruin My Day,” as one of the required texts.

This was vintage Friedman.  Well written, well paced, covering all the hot topics, and definitely pointed.  (Here’s some news to “ruin my day”).

Friedman is a master of conflation, a persuasion technique that usually has as its goal inflation.  It works like this:  you include, or “conflate” different examples in order to inflate the severity of the least valid example.   In this case, the three example of bad news that might “ruin” your day were the Israeli elections, ISIS, and Iran. 

Of course, Friedman doesn’t actually ‘say’ that each example is similarly bad, and perhaps he doesn’t even believe it himself.   But by including each of the examples in the same column he is signaling to his readers that we should consider the elections results to be something very bad.

Conflationists like to lump together certain themes, such as bigotry.   ISIS is a bigoted, racist group, and Netanyahu made some campaign comments that could be considered bigoted.  Yes, except that ISIS cuts off your head and pushes gay citizens to their death off of high buildings.  And they kill you if you refuse to convert to Islam.

By that way of thinking we could certainly lump Churchill and Hitler:  Winston Churchill made many comments that could be considered racist, and so did Hitler.  Therefore let’s include them both in the same column.   (I hope that doesn’t  “ruin your day”).

To support his cause, Friedman throws in some examples that will appeal to critics of Israel who like simple answers to complex issues, such as the settlements (as if everyone ‘knows’ that they are both illegal and the cause of the conflict).  Also, to appear fair, Friedman discusses the lack of peace and concedes that we should not “put all of this on Netanyahu,” and then points to the “insane worthless Gaza war that Hamas initiated last summer,” and the fact that the Palestinians “spurned” two previous “two-state offers” from Barak and Olmert. 

But if the Palestinians spurned two previous land-for-peace offers and if Hamas initiated a war last summer after Abbas walked out on negotiations and made an alliance with Hamas, then why blame the lack of peace on Israel?

Friedman doesn’t, he is much too clever. 

Instead he simply conflates different “wrongs” to make his point:  Israel has settlements and the Palestinians rejected two peace treaties and started a war in Gaza.  (But remember, we shouldn’t “put all of this on Netanyahu.”).

What happened in Israel, yesterday, was Democracy.  Yes, the campaigning got dirty at times, and some of us (and Mr. Friedman and President Obama) might not like the results, but that is how it works in democracies.

By the way, one result of the election is that the number of Arab members of the Israeli Knesset increased from eleven to seventeen.   


Ivan Lubash said...

Very well written David. So far, the PLO, Hamas, and Iran have refused to recognize the right of Israel to exist. The PLO has turned down all offers -- even those that met their demands. Also, before 1948 there were Jewish settlements on the West Bank and were destroyed by the Jordanians. As it is said, "Takes two to tango."

abe c said...

Friedman's concern is for the future of Israel. We don't question that the blame for a lack of peace, thus far, lies with the Palestinian leadership. But comments made this week and the continued build-up of housing in the territories, leaves Israel without the capability for a future rationale for the lack of an agreement.

I fear for Israel if their only defenders in the entire world are American Republicans. I already see (non-Orthodox) American Jews slipping away. Based upon my limited exposure to Israelis, it seems as though Bibi's support, within Israel, comes almost exclusively from the Orthodox.

And is a less oppressive form of bigotry than is practiced in other States acceptable?

abe c said...

P.S. Likud received 23.4% of the Israeli vote.
That's the equivalent of Fox News running the American electoral system. Oh wait...

Isi said...

Great Article David!
Although he only got 24% of the vote, more than half of Israel wants him as PM as noted by opinion polls and by the support of those parties for his leadership.
His comments which are being so criticized did not condemn the Arab vote in itself, in fact in the same message, he clearly said "I am not against Arab citizens fulfilling their democratic right", rather his problem was with the international campaign that was orchestrating a massive Arab voting campaign ONLY in order to cause Bibi's defeat. This international interference by the EU, the US State Department, Obama's advisers and others is both morally wrong and obnoxious.
Regarding the voting pattern, the orthodox voted for their own parties and Bibi is actually supported by your mainstream Israeli on the street, even if that is not what you might be led to believe.
Lastly, with the constant Palestinian refusal to make peace, Israel should not continue to waver on building a strong Israel. The settlements are actually one of the best ways of providing Israel with a more robust and stronger Israel (besides it being a historical right), which indirectly actually brings a greater level of peace to the Palestinians.

Isaac said...

Friedman should learn from his own essay. Since he acknowledges that the Palestinians rejected the two-state offers from Olmert and Barak why does he consider Netanyahu such a failure? How could he believe that a different head of Israel would have succeeded when he has just told us that the previous ones didn't?

Dave Kassel said...

The anti-Israel zealots in the U.S., and around the world, seemed to be obsessed with the outcome of the Israeli elections and with the desire that Netanyahu should lose. When the voters in Israel said 'thanks, but we'll make the choice ourselves,' it was more than the outside zealots could bear.

They're telling us that Netanyahu's win marks the end of Israel as a democracy and as an ally with any influence left in the U.S. other than on a small group of Republicans etc. etc. The Huffington Post is beside itself with consternation. It's satisfying to watch.

Unknown said...

You made some excellent points David.

Obama did a great job of helping Netanyahu get re-elected. I can see how Bibi ticked off Obama. But considering Israel's precarious position in the world, Obama could have shown some restraint. Obama and his entire cabinet have shown a very public contempt towards Israel. Naturally, when Israel feels alone in the world they will swing to the right.

Unknown said...

This classic Friedman article makes me wonder about a few things. The accuracy of pre-election polls, in the USA and Israel. How Obama can actually believe that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful. How our State Department has faded from public scrutiny but its biased influence actually strengthened Iran's hand by our interventions in the region since 2001. How will the widening split in the Democratic party justify punishing Israel, our only real ally in the region that has values comparable to ours.

The democratic process in Israel returned Netanyahu to power yet strengthened Arab representation in the government. The sophistication of the American PR and advertising industry and their global ownership [Japanese and French come to mind] have been behind campaigns [on behalf of Saudi and similar clients] to manipulate what Americans [I assume EU residents as well] are fed through the media, corporate sponsorships, curriculum funding [rewriting history as Russian and Arab countries do] and other strategic initiatives. If Jews are so ‘smart’ and most Israeli politicians are Jewish [at least those in positions of real influence outside the country], then why don’t they grasp the big picture? Or perhaps they do.

I recommend reading Naomi Klein's 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. It is an interesting perspective on the catastrophic failure of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School's philosophy of man-made crises as triggers for social and economic change. Regardless of whether you believe her highly persuasive cases and the accompanying data, Klein builds a strong argument that the World Bank and IMF are unduly influenced by these flawed principles. Paul Krugman's volume The return of depression economics and the crisis of 2008 similarly warns of short-sightedness in the light of abundant evidence that government policies need policing.

abe c said...

Hi Diane Dorf- Don't Mr. Netanyahu's recent actions/comments add credence to Obama's long-held belief that BN cannot be trusted?

My Israeli cousin "shared" a posting in which Tzipi Livni states that the entire world now knows it cannot trust Bibi Netanyahu.