Report Claims New York Times Columnist Took Swing at Critic

By Nathaniel Popper

Published December 12, 2003, issue of December 12, 2003.

A night devoted to talking about peace took a violent turn, according to one man who says he was physically assaulted by The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Manhattan lawyer Harvey Schwartz says that Friedman hit and shoved him as the men were talking after the Israel Policy Forum’s annual dinner late in the evening of December 4.

The alleged altercation is described in an exclusive report in the online magazine Jewsweek by writer Steven Weiss, who claims to have witnessed the fracas.

Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was at the dinner along with the architects of the Geneva Understandings, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, to discuss prospects for peace in the Middle East. Schwartz, who was a guest at the dinner, says that he approached Friedman in front of the dais as soon as the speeches were over.

As the two men were shaking hands, Schwartz told the Forward, he said to Friedman, “I learned two things from your talk: One that you are in favor of drilling in ANWR, and two that you are willing to sacrifice Israel on the altar of Iraq.”

Schwartz was making reference to remarks Friedman made during his talk about the need for Israel to compromise with Palestine.

After the comment about oil drilling, Schwartz said, Friedman continued shaking his hand and smiling, but after the comment about Israel, Friedman took a step back, yelled an expletive and became violent. Schwartz said that Friedman first hit him on the arm with an open hand and then shoved him.

Friedman is not a large man, but he sent Schwartz reeling back into a crowd of people, Weiss wrote in his report. Weiss reported that Friedman then quickly went off to talk with an Israel Policy Forum official.

Neither Friedman nor The New York Times responded to calls for comment. Martin Irom, a spokesman for the Israel Policy Forum, said, “No one that we know saw it happen.”

Immediately afterward, Schwartz said he was uncertain of what to do.

“What does one say after hearing Thomas Friedman talk like that?” Schwartz said. “That’s not the kind of language he uses in his columns. How does one react?”

Schwartz has said he has not yet decided on a course of action.

The incident has, however, made him rethink his view of the Times: “In retrospect, if Mr. Friedman is viewed as one of the Times’ leading columnists, this doesn’t speak very well for the Times.”



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