Hot, Flat, and Crowded With Errors

In Wake of Accusations of Anti-Israel Bias, Critics Point to Errors in Tom Friedman Column

Thomas Friedman / AP
August 7, 2013

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is facing criticism from the pro-Israel community following an article in Wednesday's paper that incorrectly asserts Israeli settlers assassinated former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

While discussing renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Friedman wrote, "One should never forget just how crazy some of Israel’s Jewish settlers are. They assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin when he tried to cede part of the West Bank for peace."

However, Israeli settlers were not responsible for Rabin’s assassination. The New York Times made the same error in a 2005 article and was forced to run a correction.

Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir was living in the city of Herzliya, which is not a settlement, when he carried out the murder.

Friedman’s error comes on the heels of articles by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren that critics said were inaccurate and biased against the Jewish state. Rudoren wrote incorrectly in one article that the United States views Israeli settlements as illegal. The paper was forced to issue a correction after a report by the Washington Free Beacon on the false claim. 

After its incorrect 2005 report that mentioned Amir, the Times issued a correction admitting it "misstated the assassin's background. He was a militant Orthodox opponent of the government, not a settler."

Friedman, who states in his latest column that one should "never try to be smarter than the story," misleads his readers in other ways, critics say.

For example, he incorrectly states in his column that singer Eric Burdon cancelled a concert in Israel following threats from supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure individuals and companies to isolate Israel economically.

To support his claim, Friedman quotes from a July 24 article in Britain’s Independent newspaper.

"Let’s start with a small item in Britain’s Independent newspaper on July 24, which began: ‘He once sang, ‘You Gotta Get Outta This Place,’ but now Eric Burdon is not even turning up at all having deciding to withdraw from a planned concert in Israel,’" Friedman wrote.

"Burdon was just the latest of a rising number of artists and intellectuals who have started boycotting Israel over the occupation issue," Friedman went on.

However, Burdon did not cancel his show in Israel, according to regional media reports.

While Burdon initially planned to cancel the show, he travelled to Israel on July 29 and declared the threats against him "bullshit," according to the Times of Israel.

Many artists who have been threatened by BDS supporters have played shows in Israel despite threats, most notably singer Alicia Keys.

A correction about Burdon’s performance appeared on the Times’ website shortly after a Free Beacon reporter reached out to Friedman and Times’ spokeswoman Eileen Murphy.

"Mr. Burdon ultimately decided to perform, despite pressure not to," the correction said in a parenthetical notation.

"There is a correction on the story," Murphy told the Free Beacon when asked about Friedman's reference to Burdon.

When asked about Amir, Murphy said that she had informed the paper's editors of the complaint.

"If a correction is deemed appropriate, one will be issued," she wrote in an email.

One senior official at a pro-Israel organization said the Times is misleading its readers when it comes to the issue of Israel.

"Why can't the New York Times stop misleading readers about Israeli Jews who live in the West Bank?" the official asked. "Rudoren took accurate boilerplate about settlements that she had personally used before and changed the wording to falsely indicate the U.S. considers settlements illegal."

"Friedman printed a smear about settlers that the Times had already corrected years ago," the official said. "It's like they're going out of their way to mislead their readers."

Friedman, who has come under fire in the past for his criticism of Israel, did not respond to a message sent via the Times’ online portal.

It could not be learned if Friedman obtained this incorrect information from a taxi driver.