The Israel lobby and Republican neocons have scored their first triumph of the Obama administration by derailing the appointment of Chas. Freeman as director of the National Intelligence Council. The next time anyone qvells about how moderate a Republican Olympia Snowe is just remember that it was probably her signature on a letter from every minority member of the senate committee that oversees the intelligence agencies which sealed his fate. So much for moderation. She caved to rightist pressure at the drop of a hat.
To his credit, the feisty Freeman went down swinging. He landed heavy blows on his detractors and smearmeisters:
I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country. I agreed to chair the NIC to strengthen it and protect it against politicization, not to introduce it to efforts by a special interest group to assert control over it through a protracted political campaign.
…I am saddened by what the controversy and the manner in which the public vitriol of those who devoted themselves to sustaining it have revealed about the state of our civil society. It is apparent that we Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance to our country as well as to our allies and friends.
The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.
There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel. I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel. It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so. This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States.
The outrageous agitation that followed the leak of my pending appointment will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues. I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.
While it is clear that Freeman is right in attacking the Likudist Israel lobby for the “hit” against him. I’m rather uncomfortable with blaming them solely. It is clear that there are domestic political considerations that enabled the Republican right and “liberal” Democrats like Chuck Schumer to ally with the lobby in accomplishing this demolition job. Certainly, Aipac, the Wall Street Journal (Jonathan Chait), Middle East Forum (Steve Rosen), the Weekly Standard (Michael Goldfarb), Commentary (Gabriel Schonfeld), The New Republic (Marty Peretz-James Kirchik), The Atlantic (Jeffrey Goldberg), and other aiders and abettors of the lobby deserve a large measure of the shame. But without Schumer, Snowe and other elected officials who fed the dogs, this couldn’t have happened.
I also believe that progressive Democrats, bloggers, Middle East analysts, and the Obama administration itself didn’t mobilize itself in time to wage a counter-attack against this smear. I hope they won’t be caught as flat-footed next time (and there WILL BE a next time).
Speaking of Schumer, I have always had a sort of grudging admiration for him as a liberal Democrat. Big mouth. Big ego. But got the job done. But no more. He’s done a “Hillary” on me:
“Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top and went beyond anything I have seen from any administration official,” he said in a statement. “I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.”
Schumer is now the enemy of any decent, reasonable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As far as I’m concerned he’s poison to every issue he touches. Chuck ought to be careful. This is one of the ways Hillary wore out her welcome as a presidential candidate: one too many sycophantic comments favoring the lobby, security hawks, and the war party.
Which raises another important and obvious point: Democrats are not automatically friends of Israeli-Palestinian peace. A Democrat can be just as much an enemy of peace as a Republican. “Liberal” and “conservative” in their normal domestic context have little or no meaning as far as the conflict. There are liberal bloggers like Markos Moulitsas who haven’t learned that lesson yet and may never because I-P peace is a secondary issue (if it’s even an issue at all) to the primary goal of attaining and preserving Democratic political power.
Now that we’ve attacked a “liberal” Democrat, let’s sing the praises a liberal Democrat who understands what the issues are and isn’t afraid to express compassion for Palestinian suffering. Of course, he has a small Jewish constituency in the state he represents, Vermont. But nevertheless, Patrick Leahy is a true peace patriot. He attacked Jon Kyl’s amendment to a senate bill which would’ve prohibited any U.S. funding be directed to resettle Hamas members in the U.S. This was his profile in courage:
The senator then compared the Palestinian experience to his own ancestors in Ireland. They too were called terrorists once, because they were “fighting to keep their land,” fighting for their votes and freedom, religion and language. And “hunted” for doing so– “hunted because they had fought to practice their own religion… hunted because they wanted to keep their land…
“Thank goodness the United States had open arms for them.” The amendment, Leahy says, “goes against everything we stand for.”
Now, that is courage I can believe in.
Returning to the Freeman withdrawal: this was a Lexington and Concord for the Israel lobby, the first skirmish in what they know will be a long war against any constructive Obama impulse to address the real issues in the conflict and resolve them. It is the lobby saying: “Take what we tell you very, very seriously or you will know our wrath. And if you do you won’t forget it.”
I am sorry that Obama and Blair withdrew from the field with hardly a fight. It doesn’t augur well for the trench warfare that will be necessary in future if there is ever to be a U.S. role in midwiving peace in the Middle East. In this one, Obama faced the lobby eyeball to eyeball and flinched.
You certainly can try to argue that this appointment was not the type that warranted a major expenditure of political capital. Chas. Freeman is a bridge toward the goal but not the goal itself. There will be significant battles and the administration needs to save its powder for those.
But what is lacking in this analysis is the symbolic importance of the Freeman appointment and its savaging. Politics, like football, is a game of inches. It is a game of momentum. The lobby has tripped up Obama’s momentum and grabbed the agenda, at least momentarily. And both Dennis Blair and Barack Obama have lost the benefit of an honest broker who would not be afraid to tell them when they were wearing no clothes. Seems to me we’ve just completed eight years of an administration which ran from the truth tellers as fast as their feet would carry them. Similarly, the lobby wants no truth tellers when it comes to devising U.S. policy toward Israel. It wants sycophants, yes-men, the pols who know how to line up in a straight line. We can see how well this policy worked for George Bush. And it won’t work for an administration that wants to act as a more honest broker, rather than a cheerleader or enabler of one side’s bad habits.
For all the reasons Freeman outlined above, this is a very sad day for anyone who really wishes for Israeli-Palestinian peace and a vigorous American role in achieving it.
Qifa Nabki says
Great analysis. Any thoughts about who the next candidate will be? And can we expect a statement by Obama on the failed bid?
Richard Witty says
I think you exagerate the importance.
My sense is that it was a sliver, led by those that are even to the right of AIPAC, which did NOT make a public statement on the appointment, as reported by Phillip Weiss.
Few even on the left, made public supportive statements. Most did not know Freeman, and lied low.
Even among the left, I would expect that many were critical of US prior policy towards Saudi Arabia, and possibly even Freeman’s role in it, so I expect that there is some inconsistency on the left, some ambiguity about the appointment.
The appointment was not required to have ANY Congressional oversight, so was entirely internal. I don’t know if Freeman was asked to resign by anyone in the Obama administration. Others have reported that Rahm Emanuel did. I’m not convinced that they know that, more are guessing, but still stating as if fact.
I do not know Freeman’s history, current attitudes, etc, except from what I read here and at Mondoweiss.
Here, and at Mondoweiss, I hear a warring attitude from Richard S., what seems to be a willingness to shoot first, inquire fully later.
While I may ignored for not “believing”, my commitment is to NOT adopt superstitions, to remain skeptical of ALL political commentary.
I personally have seen the method of political correctness imposed by the left, and harshly and meanly (and really arbitrarily, again not articulating goals, not thinking a few steps out).
I think the method of “I’m going to go after the Israel Lobby” – a dangerously ambiguous term – in response to a not unexpectable political contreversy, is an isolating strategy, a way to alienate.
Its an Abbie Hoffman, not a David Dellinger.
this is really disappointing… where is J Street? Shouldnt they get behind Chas?
I think people should protest against this,
Can’t any journalist write a letter for the mainstream to sign and pass on to Obama?
Is this the change he promised? cowering to the Republicans?
I’ve not heard or read anything from Obama himself about this,
any comments anyone? This is unbelievable.
I’m beginning to think nothing is going to change. We need to be more vocal and organise protest campaigns,
The way this whole thing was handled is a poor reflection on American politics in general and most of the actors concerned. I guess Freeman was hamstrung a bit by his associations with the Saudis and the CNOPC; leaving this out all that could be said against him was that he sometimes said nasty things about Israeli policy. I don’t think most people would have seen the latter enough (apart from Congressmen and Senators desparate for political funding) and hence the use of the former to thwack him.
The next move by this admin is important; if they bring in someone with similar views as Freeman, but without any of the potential drawbacks I am not sure the pro-Israelis advocates and lobbyists could last another round.
emman chehade randazzo says
Indeed, where is J-Street? Their silence is deafening.
Every American should read Richard Silverstein’s article. A second read would not be a bad idea to ensure nothing was lost the first time around. Then, they should e-mail the link to their friends and recommend to them that first they read and then go and send some emails of their own.
The truly incredible element in all this is that not a word of protest came from these folk when President Obama named an ex-member of the Israeli military (must have dual citizenship, eh?) as his Chief of Staff in the White House. Do they not see the hypocrisy of their ways?
I suppose they do, but have found a way to rationalize it.
However, one minor correction. Re Olympia Snowe. This member of the “witless three” caved all right, but not to the right. If the matter is to be characterized, it should be labeled correctly, i.e. a gesture sure to please the Israel-comes-first crowd.
This is the moment Barack Obama was pictured signing the order to remove Freeman from his post. Notice he looks visibly distressed as the Israeli lobby peers over his shoulder to ensure the deed is done:
I’m joking. But you must admit, that’s how you would picture it.
“the first skirmish in what they know will be a long war against any constructive Obama impulse to address the real issues in the conflict and resolve them.”
I am not sure this is the first skirmish. I think it started with the administrations silence during the Gaza War. As, well as the decision not to attend the Durban conference.
Donald Johnson says
Obama has been a panderer to the Israel lobby all along, beginning with his first talk to AIPAC in 2007. There have been a couple of encouraging indications that he might not really have meant all that pandering, notably when he appointed Mitchell, but so far there’s not been much substantive change in the one-sided pro-Israel policies of the US.
(And by pro-Israel, as Chomsky said once, I mean the policies which are actually in favor of Israel’s moral degeneration.)
Assaf Oron says
I still have no idea who Freeman was but I take your word that this is an aipac victory. Hopefully a 3rd-level appointment will not be a make or break affair when things really heat up (e.g., if Bibi pulls off his me-Evet-and-Barak-trio govt. trick).
What strikes me is the evasive mode in which the press has been reporting this. No mention of aipac on NPR, or even a single example of his controversial statements. When it comes to I-P, the American media and Congress live in a totalitarian regime.
So I think the main take-home point from the story is, as you say Richard, that we shouldn’t forget for a second that the problem is with both Republicans and Democrats here.
Such as: great (self-proclaimed) progressive leader Russ Feingold voting FOR the anti-Palestinian Kyl amendment yesterday. One of five Democrats who did so. He should get some “love” from real progressives, especially Wisconsin ones, over this.
Peter D says
Feingold voted for Kyl amendment? Are you sure about this? Kyl withdrew the amendment per NYTimes. Feingold, AFAIK, was one of the few Democrats being consistent on trying to hold the Bush admin. accountable for its abuse of human rights etc. I am very surprised that he would support such thing!
Assaf Oron says
Senate amendment 631, To require the Secretary of State to certify that funds made available for reconstruction efforts in Gaza will not be diverted to Hamas or entities controlled by Hamas.
39 for (33 R, 5 D, dear Lieberman) – 56 against (50 D, 5 R, Sanders).
Scroll down to Wisconsin. Besides Feingold, the other 4 D’s are two Nelsons, Klobuchar and Casey.
Either Feingold didn’t understand what he’s voting on – or he’s yet another of these “perfectly progressive EXCEPT when it comes to Israel” types.
Come to think of it, I don’t ever recall him saying anything “out of aipac line” on Israel. He always seems more interested in other topics.
Are you familiar with the bill? It isn’t “pro-Israel”. Israel doesn’t lose anything by America relocating Palestinians from Gaza into America. Stop looking for conspiracy theories where none are valid.
Richard Silverstein says
It certainly is “pro-Israel” to claim you’re preventing Hamas leaders from resettling in the U.S. Israel’s goal is to have everyone in Gaza trapped in a cage. Having the U.S. permit anyone to resettle here would be rewarding Hamas & harming the siege.
But the late unlamented Kyl Amendment was really just an extension of the anti Obama smearmongering fr. the election campaign. There never was a campaign to resettle any Palestinians here, let alone Hamasniks. But if the wingnut pro-Israel hoaxsters could spread a rumor that there WAS such a plan it would throw Obama off his game for a few moments. That’s all these people ever hope for–to throw a cog in the machine. And Kyl, Islamophobe that he is (having hosted a screening of Geert Wilders Fitna for Capitol Hill), was only too happy to be co opted into this.
American politics is about power; not justice.
Obama was never going to change things the way we though he would. He was a natural reaction to 8 years of Bush. People have said that even Bush would do the things Obama promised had he had a 3rd term.
Obama is – like every other American politician – a slave to Israel and the Israel lobby.
@Moje – Good visual. That’s how I picture the faces of 5th columnists as they compel yet another politician to bend to their will.
You could have also used the faces in the crowd for “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Crimson Ghost says
The AIPAC victory re: Freeman is even worse than it looks when coupled with the installation of Zionsit fanatic Dennis Ross to a key Middle Eastern post.
Looks like the lobby will be able to continue dictating US middle Eastern policy until the costs to America of this slavish ass licking become too great to bear.
And when (not if) we reach that point people like Charles Freeman will the least the lobby — and possibly all American Jews — will have to worry about.
“While it is clear that Freeman is right in attacking the Likudist Israel lobby for the “hit” against him. I’m rather uncomfortable with blaming them solely. … But without Schumer, Snowe and other elected officials who fed the dogs, this couldn’t have happened.”
And what would you suggest motivated them other than the Israel lobby?
Richard Silverstein says
Partisan politics. The Republicans are desperate to score pts, any pts. they can against Obama. They need to slow the momentum. This, they think, is how they do it.
Arie Brand says
It is sometimes forgotten that Israel’s main Western ally, before the US was saddled with the burden of that alliance, was France.
France had warmly approved the coming about of the Israeli State and though it was a partner, together with Britain and the USA, to a 1952 tripartite agreement banning arms sales to the Middle East, began secretly supplying arms (tanks and the Mirage and Mystere planes with which Israel fought the Six Day War) to Israel. In 1956 of course it was allied with Israel (and Britain) in the Suez campaign.
All this began to change when De Gaulle appeared on the scene. In his memoirs (Memoirs of Hope 1971) De Gaulle, after voicing his admiration for what the Israelis had achieved, wrote coldly “… I put a stop to irregular dealings which had developed between Tel Aviv and Paris on the military plane since the Suez expedition, whereby Israelis had become permanently attached at all levels to French military staffs and services. In particular, French co-operation in the construction of a factory near Beersheba for the transformation of uranium into plutonium – from which, one fine day, atomic bombs might emerge – was brought to an end.”
It was, I think, a matter of “raison d’etat”. After the war within Algeria which De Gaulle had managed to extricate France from he judged improvement in the relations with the Arab world through a more evenhanded approach to Israel in the interest of the state.
De Gaulle warned Israel before the Six Day War of being the first to attack and stopped arms supplies a few days before the war, with the exception of spare parts for material already in Israeli possession.
When Israel turned out, in De Gaulle’s view, to be the aggressor and, against his advice, occupied Arab lands, the friendship came to an end. At a notorious press conference, held on 27th November 1968, where he described “le peuple juif” as “an elite people, self-assured and domineering”, he again condemned Israel’s occupation of Arab lands and the subjugation of local populations. He predicted there that Israel could not carry out a long term occupation “without oppression, repression, expulsions and resistance, which Israel, in its turn, calls terrorism.”
What seems to be mainly remembered about that press conference is De Gaulle’s remark about “le peuple juif”. Raymond Aron, the political scientist/sociologist, accused him in a well known essay, not of personal anti-semitism, but of seemingly having conflated diaspora jews with Israelis and having made anti-semitic utterances once more respectable.
De Gaulle resisted that interpretation in an exchange of letters with Ben Gurion with whom he seems to have had a rather warm personal relation (in his memoirs he professes his admiration for him saying that he “developed an immediate liking and respect for this doughty warrior and champion”). De Gaulle wrote: “Some people claim to see this assessment as derogatory, whereas in fact there cannot be anything disparaging in underlining the character thanks to which this strong people was able to survive and remain itself after 19 centuries spent under incredible conditions.”
In the same letter De Gaulle repeated his warnings about the unavoidable consequences of an “occupation which has all the aspects of an annexation” and by which Israel was “overstepping the bounds of necessary moderation.”
We know the rest of the story: the US took over the role of France with a vengeance (is it coincidence that during the same period the American contempt for and dislike of France seems to have increased?).
At this stage it doesn’t seem likely that President Obama will do a De Gaulle, that is judge American ties with Israel by the cool light of “raison d’etat”. But then De Gaulle was of course not bound hand and foot by an Israel lobby.
Perhaps I missed it? but where is there any mention about the guy who led the charge against Chaz Freeman…that of Steve Rosen….who SIGNIFICANTLY is one of the two men who were indicted years ago for taking CLASSIFIED information about the US and passing it along to their handlers in Israel …while they were employed for more than 20 years by AIPAC…taking information from Larry Franklin who was at the time employed by Dod, and who was sentenced to 12 yrs…was wearing a wire for FBI a number of times in order to capture the discussions of Rosen and Weissman with Franklin.
This is what is referred to as : betraying the US for a foreign govt. Now it appears that this latest case obtaining classified US info for Israel..which has been kicked down the road for 4 yrs– was editorially explained on Wash Post as “merely” practicing “free speech”. How many Americans do you think even know about this 4 yr old espionage case or that Rosen is key in it? or that it will probably be dismissed fairly soon thanks to Obama’s new AG Eric Holder?
Wait a second?
Do people still think of Obama as some kind of a saviour, as some kind of a hero, as ethical and moral?
Obama is just PR.
Putting a good face (lipstick) on a bad game (pig).
Obama is an American politician, and there are rules that he and every one of his ilk follow, once they reach a position of power in the American so called “democracy”.
Rule number 1 is slavish obedience to the Israel Lobby.
Which Obama always followed, as my blog link and this Washington Post article prove:
“A mere 12 hours after claiming the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee yesterday — and changed himself into an Israel hard-liner.
He promised $30 billion in military assistance for Israel. He declared that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force has “rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.” He used terms such as “false prophets of extremism” and “corrupt” while discussing Palestinians. And he promised that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” ”
Please, look beyond the hype and open your eyes.
We do not need false saviours – we need an educated populace.
Walter Ballin says
Not that this is going to happen, but I say that AIPAC and other organizations that are part of the Israel Lobby should be required to register as agents of a foreign government, which they are. Our government’s unconditional support of Israel is very dangerous to our security. I also predict that if Obama does not stand up to the Israel Lobby and adopt an even-handed policy that the Palestinians will soon give up on a two-state solution. I predict that they will gain strength and fight more ferociously, and that they will attack the Jewish settlers and that there will be widespread suicide and other terrorist attacks in Israel proper, like nothing that has been seen before. I believe that there will be a bloodbath in Israel if this dispute is not settled soon. With the Palestinian population about to far outnumber the Israeli population, Israel cannot survive being an occupier.
I second that, for ALL lobbies (Not just the Israeli ones). It’ll be like how ‘non profit’ organizations can be tax exempt by abiding to strict rules, so too should these lobbies. If they are made specifically to forward the agenda of foreign entities they should be taxed more severely and be branded as foreign elements that have foreign interests.
The smears and libelous claims, that mostly originated from Steven Rosen of MEF (Middle East Forum), is quite disgusting. And Freeman is right to state that:
“I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country.”
But I am also disappointed in his giving up without even a real fight…. After all, he was the one that withdrew. Obama did not advise or push him to it. And even if he did, he shouldn’t have give up so easily.
And so the fight goes on…