So, Chas Freeman states the obvious: the ‘Israel lobby’ torpedoed his nomination because he didn’t embrace the ubiquitous pro-Israel bias required of those operating in U.S. foreign policy circles.
I’m sure anonymous fount of conventional wisdom who sat down to pen today’s Washington Post editorial responding to the charge intended to dispel the notion that the discourse around the Israel-Palestine conflict is as narrowly limited as Freeman claims. Unfortunately for him or her — and the rest of us — the product that emerged was such a McCarthyite screed, so far over the top, that it can ultimately only serve as fodder for the exact kind of ‘Jews control the debate’ conspiracism it seeks to condemn. Let’s tune into this bit of apoplexy in progress …
It wasn’t until Mr. Freeman withdrew from consideration for the job, however, that it became clear just how bad a selection Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair had made. Mr. Freeman issued a two-page screed on Tuesday in which he described himself as the victim of a shadowy and sinister “Lobby” whose “tactics plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and which is “intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.” Yes, Mr. Freeman was referring to Americans who support Israel — and his statement was a grotesque libel.
He was referring to a loose, informal network of political operatives and organizations that support Israel’s hawkish government and its policies towards the Palestinians (and its stance towards the rest of the Middle East). Two different animals — there are plenty of “Americans who support Israel” who don’t share those groups’ views (including plenty of American Jews).
For the record, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee says that it took no formal position on Mr. Freeman’s appointment and undertook no lobbying against him. If there was a campaign, its leaders didn’t bother to contact the Post editorial board.
See? They never got a memo saying …
Dear Washington Post,
Just wanted to let you know we’ll be shooting down this guy’s nomination because of his views on Israel.
The Israel Lobby
Case closed. At least on the editorial page — the New York Times’ news pages tell a different story:
The lobbying campaign against Mr. Freeman included telephone calls to the White House from prominent lawmakers, including Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat. It appears to have been kicked off three weeks ago in a blog post by Steven J. Rosen, a former top official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group.
On the Middle East, Mr. Rosen wrote, Mr. Freeman’s views are “what you would expect in the Saudi Foreign Ministry,” rather than from someone who would become essentially the government’s top intelligence analyst.
Because President Obama himself has been viewed with suspicion among many pro-Israel groups, the attacks on Mr. Freeman had the potential to touch a nerve.
There, that seals it — nothing to see here. Move along.
The irony is that while the WaPo’s editorial board denies that an Israel lobby even exists — they put it in quotes, as in: “[Freeman] described himself as the victim of a of a shadowy and sinister ‘Lobby’” — those who carry the lobby’s water do not.
… As Glen Greenwald has noted, “Lynch mob leader Jonathan Chait [of The New Republic and author of an influential op-ed for the Washington Post] who spent the last week denying that Israel was the driving force behind the attacks on Freeman,” now concedes the obvious.
Greenwald quotes Chait: “Of course I recognize that the Israel Lobby is powerful, and was a key element in the pushback against Freeman.”
Neoconservative Daniel Pipes offered an anatomy of the crime, blog-bragging about how it was conducted:
“What you may not know is that Steven J. Rosen of the Middle East forum was the person who first brought attention [on Feb. 19] to the problematic nature of Freeman’s appointment. … Within hours, the word was out and three weeks later Freeman has conceded defeat. Only someone with Steve’s stature and credibility could have made this happen.”
The same Steve Rosen who is currently on trial for violations of the Espionage Act involving the transmission of classified information intended for Israel? One and the same! This has to be the purest brand of gall that ever came down the Pipes.
We should be able to have an open discussion not only about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, but also the way the discourse over that policy is constrained here at home. But when influential voices like the Washington Post’s editors say, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” it only gives ammunition to those who do see a dark and sinister conspiracy afoot. Shame.
I’ll have more on this soon — been meaning to write on the topic anyway.
PS: see Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby, arguing that the Israel lobby’s victory in this fight is a pyrrhic one. After such a visible and high-profile excercise of the lobby’s power, I don’t suppose you can blame Walt for indulging in a bit of ‘I told you so.’