Religious Conversion

The Synagogue That Thomas Friedman Built

Friedman's religious beliefs are relevant because they shed light on his political ideology, which he espouses with tremendous authority. In a New York Times column published shortly before Yom Kippur 1997, Friedman called on moderate U.S. Jews to give money to Israel "in a very targeted way," so that it would not end up in the hands of "ultra-Orthodox elements." In the same column, Friedman wrote that he had recently turned down an invitation to talk about Arab-Israeli affairs to an "American-Israeli educational institution," because he was required to end his speech "on an uplifting note."

These days, Friedman routinely bills himself as an optimist. In a recent column addressed to Israeli moderates, he wrote, "We have nothing to lose but our pessimism." In a speech he gave last fall, he declared, "I am an optimist by nature." And upon accepting the award last week, he recalled how his editor at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had praised him, saying, "You're the only optimist we have."

Asked whether he had ever agreed to give a speech on the condition that he take an optimistic stance, Friedman declined to comment.

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