On Thursday the LA Times published an editorial about the Chas Freeman affair which perfectly exemplifies the self-contradictory reasoning of the ‘Israel Lobby’ conspiracy theorists.
An open debate on Israel
LA Times, March 12, 2009
Obama’s appointee to lead the National Intelligence Council withdrew, blaming the Israel lobby. To shape U.S. policy, many voices must be heard.
The writer suggests that some voices were suppressed. Were they? We’ll see.
When John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote about “The Israel Lobby” in 2006, many supporters of Israel were outraged. How, they wanted to know, could anyone say that the United States offered “unwavering support” to Israel? Worse yet, how did these two misguided professors dare suggest that there was a cabal of die-hard Zionists in the media, in Congress, in the Pentagon and in neocon think tanks working to ensure that U.S. policy did not deviate from the pro-Israel party line?
The smug, ironic tone is designed to suggest that the professors were not so misguided after all.
The debate was ferocious; the world (or at least the part that cares about these things) divided along angry partisan lines. Mearsheimer and Walt were shouted down in many quarters as anti-Semites. Needless to say, no resolution was reached, and eventually the furor died down.
What ‘resolution’ could there have been? But note that the “debate” had two sides, and both sides had ample opportunity to be heard. Their opponents were outraged, but they weren’t “shouted down” — i.e., prevented from publishing or speaking. Several versions of the original article and a book based on it were published; Mearsheimer and Walt toured the US promoting it. Indeed, Mr. Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council even published a footnoted version of their article.
Several weeks ago, however, it re-erupted after President Obama appointed Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Vehement objections came from several of Israel’s most loyal supporters in Congress, from some journalists and lobbyists known for their strong support of the Jewish state, and from other members of what some would no doubt call, well, the Israel lobby.
The Israel Lobby slander did not re-erupt like Mt. St. Helens. It was introduced by Freeman’s supporters as a red herring to distract attention from the very real concerns raised about his qualifications.
Freeman was not the sort of person they were ever going to like. He once said that “the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending.” He also said: “American identification with Israel has become total.” Israel, he once said, “excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace.”
He said a lot more, but in any event it is not unsurprising that he was opposed by people who support Israel. But they did not argue that he was unfit to digest intelligence information for the President because he disliked Israel. They argued that his close ties with foreign governments and his high degree of partisanship disqualified him.
Those are certainly provocative statements. On the other hand, Freeman was backed by a group of 17 former U.S. ambassadors who described him as a man of integrity who “would never let his personal views shade or distort intelligence assessments,” and defended by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, who called him “a person of strong views, of an inventive mind in the analytical point of view.”
Interesting. It certainly looks as though “many voices” were heard. Who, exactly, was silenced by the Israel lobby? The LA Times thus joins Mearsheimer, Walt and Freeman in insisting that the sinister Israel lobby silences dissent, in the face of evidence for the precise opposite.
But Freeman’s critics kept at him, and on Tuesday, Freeman withdrew from the appointment. Afterward, he was blunt: “The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and reflect “an utter disregard for truth.”
Do they? Let me quote one of his critics, Steve Rosen, formerly of AIPAC and someone who, by the way, was himself a victim of an FBI sting operation designed to silence him for his views:
According to a letter from the Acting Executive Director of Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council in today’s Washington Times, MEPC received five previously undisclosed contributions from the Saudi Foreign Ministry in 2008, and $1 million from the King of Saudi Arabia in 2005. In addition, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud announced that he “donated more than $1 million to the US Middle East Policy Council” on March 18, 2007. MEPC’s executive director says in his letter that the budget of MEPC is $600,000 a year, a sum roughly equal to the total of these three contributions from different donors in Saudi Arabia since 2005. He claims that, “Over the past decade, scheduled contributions to the council from the Saudi government have amounted to less than one-twelfth of our annual budget.” What if we take unscheduled contributions and only the period since 2005?? The numbers suggest a much higher level of dependence on Saudi Arabian sources.
Blair’s letter to Congress mentions only Saudi government funding. Universities that receive federal funding having to disclose all foreign-source gifts above a certain amount, and this should be the standard for the national intelligence Council. Likewise, what about other Arab/Gulf governments? Freeman should reveal all foreign-sourced gifts, donations, etc. for the entire time he headed the MEPC.
So who is disregarding the truth here, Freeman or Rosen?
The Times continues:
Our opinion is this: Israel is America’s friend and ally. It deserves to exist safely within secure borders. We hope it will continue to prosper as a refuge for Jews and a vibrant democracy in the region (alongside an equally democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza). But we do not believe that Israel should be immune from criticism or that there is room for only one point of view in our government.
U.S. policy has been extremely supportive of Israel over the years, as have many of our policymakers. That’s fine. But theirs should not be the only voices allowed in the room.
The Times has suggested along with Mearsheimer and Walt that pro-Israel ones are “the only voices allowed in the room”. Then it contradicts itself by bringing up the “ferocious” debate — pro and con — about the Mearsheimer-Walt paper, as well as the equally two-sided one about Freeman’s qualifications. The facts show that all sides spoke loudly in this dispute. And they certainly show that anti-Israel voices like Mearsheimer and Walt — as well as Chas Freeman, who has been writing, speaking and lobbying against Israel for years — are being heard loud and clear.
The Times and Freeman also suggest that the pro-Israel lobby has a lock on US policy. But if the opinions of the 17 former ambassadors are any indication of the climate in the State Department, this is decidedly not the case.