Setback for America’s pro-Israel hawks

By Bernd Debusmann
March 5, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

“The brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending … Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians, it strives to pacify them … American identification with Israel has become total.”

These are excerpts from a 2007 speech by Charles (Chas) Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whose appointment as chairman of the National Intelligence Council was announced on February 26 and is turning into a test case for the strength of Washington’s right-wing pro-Israel lobby.

Signs are that its influence might be waning under the administration of President Barack Obama. Does that mean the days of unquestioning American support for Israel are coming to en end? Probably not.

But the furious reaction to Freeman’s appointment from some of the most fervent neo-conservative champions of Israel points to considerable concern over the possible loss of clout.

In his new job, Freeman will be responsible for compiling intelligence from the the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies into National Intelligence Estimates, detailed and lengthy analyses that play a key role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.

The initial drumbeat of criticism came from conservative pro-Israel bloggers, including Steve Rosen, former policy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Rosen has been indicted for giving “national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it,” legalese for spying.

“Freeman is a strident critic of Israel and a textbook case of the old-line Arabism that afflicted American diplomacy at the time Israel was born,” Rosen wrote.

While remarks critical of Israel are common coin among human rights groups and independent scholars, they are virtually taboo in official Washington, whose elected leaders – or those running for office – tend to stress unflagging support for the Jewish state.

Even small departures from the standard line can prompt the ire of the Israel-right-or-wrong camp. During his election campaign, Obama learned how tricky seemingly innocent remarks can be when he said “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” There was so much criticism, he later “clarified” the remark.

The initial blogger assault on Freeman, whose lengthy and impressive resume of public service includes Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, then moved to the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the conservative Washington Times. The attacks widened to suggest that he is beholden to the Saudi government.

That allegation stems from the time he ran a Washington-based think tank, the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), whose donors include Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family and billionaire entrepreneur, who gave the council $1 million.

CRITICISM THREATENS PEACE?

The appointment has been made but the quest to dislodge or discredit him is not over. Nine Republican members of Congress wrote to the inspector general in the office of the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, demanding “a comprehensive review of Ambassador Freeman’s past and current commercial, financial and contractual ties to the Kingdom to ensure no conflict of interest exists in his new position.”

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has urged Obama to reconsider the appointment, saying that Freeman’s comments about the U.S.-Israel relationship “raise serious concerns about his ability to support the administration’s attempts to bring security, stability and peace to the Middle East.”

Criticism of Israel threatens peace? Israeli settlements on the West Bank, in violation of international law, have nothing to do with the flagging peace process? Making peace is made easier by the U.S. refusal to talk to Hamas, the group that won elections in Gaza and runs the war-shattered territory?

One of the critics of the appointment, Gabriel Schoenfeld, noted, with a tone of disapproval, that Freeman’s MEPC had published “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a controversial assessment of U.S.-Israeli relations by two prominent American academics, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard.

They argued that the United States, through its unquestioning support of Israel, was neglecting its own security interests to advance the interests of another state. The influence of hawkish pro-Israel lobbies, chief among them AIPAC, had established a stranglehold on Congress to ram through decisions favoring Israel.

In the 60 years since its establishment on May 14, 1948, Israel has been by far the largest recipient of U.S. assistance, military and economic, in the world, according to the Congressional Research Service. Aid has been running at around $3 billion a year since 1985, a sizable sum for a country with a population smaller than that of New York City.

Walt, who blogs at Foreign Policy magazine, weighed into the Freeman debate as it gathered steam even before the actual appointment. Apart from trying to get it revoked by Dennis Blair or get Freeman to withdraw, Walt said, the anti-Freeman campaign had a third aim.

“Attacking Freeman is intended to deter other people in the foreign policy community from speaking out on these matters. Freeman might be too smart, too senior and too well-qualified to stop, but there are plenty of younger people eager to rise in the foreign policy establishment and they need to be reminded that their careers could be jeopardized … if they said what they thought.”

But the Obama administration appears to have no problem with people who say what they think about U.S.-Israel ties. Take Samantha Power, the former Harvard professor whose outspoken views echo those of Walt and Mearsheimer. Obama gave her an important job on the National Security Council.

– You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com. —

128 comments

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An ignorant few keep on repeating the fallacy (perhaps hoping that it will become yet another established myth that serves the Israeli interests)that Israel responded to Hizbollah’s rockets, thereby acting in legitimate, if disproportionate, self defence. In fact I recall two soldiers were captured (Hizbollah firing on some Israeli tanks on the border during the precipitative raid). Israel responded by refusing to discuss any prisoner swap and threatening to turn Lebanon to the stone age. They then proceeded to bombard civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, bridges, power plants etc for eight days (killing civilians and children almost exclusively) – yes, I repeat for eight whole horrific days, before Hizbollah fired the first retaliatory missile into Northern Israel. Indeed since the war ended nearly 3 years ago, over 230 civilians (usually children or farmers)have continued to die because of the 4 million Israeli cluster bombs dropped indiscriminately on civilian areas during the last two days of the conflict (in fact these were dropped after the ceasefire had been agreed, thereby serving no purpose). I suppose these children are dying and being maimed because Israel is “defending” itself. Incidentally the IDF have repeatedly refused to provide maps of the cluster bomb sites to the UN in order to facilitate their removal.

Posted by Ramsey Lawrence | Report as abusive

Michael

You’re in as much of a coma as Ariel. Sharon hasn’t been Prime Minister for over 3 years and despite what he may have said as a General in the IDF (and you’ve not provided any citations or context), as PM he formally committed to a Palestinian state, stated so a multitude of times and in many places including the UN, and ethnically cleansed Gaza of every last living Jew to accommodate the neo-nazi Palestinians who insist that their territory be judenrein.

More to the point, you’re holding a particularly weak hand on a day when,

1) reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah have collapsed because of Hamas’ refusal to abide previous agreements or recognize Israel’s right to exist, and

2) Hassan Nasrallah stated that the Lebanese people are “capable of defeating this entity [Israel] and can make it disappear,” and therefore, Hizbullah will not recognize Israel, “not today, not tomorrow, not even in 1,000 years.”

Reuters of course, has not even seen fit to report the above comments because it would inform their readers and upset their anti-Israel agenda.

You’re being duped, Michael. Wake up.

Posted by HIS | Report as abusive

It is time for American taxpayers and voters to identify those traitors who are in the congress or in the senate of the United States of America and working for another foreign country, agents of AIPAC and throw them out and charge them with treason. It is enough swindling the whole America in the name of the security of other country and instead we should be concerned about the security and well being of America

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

HIS, I think myself and 95% of the rest of the board know who’s being duped here. I don’t take a word of what Fox News, Sky News, CNN or BBC say seriously because they absolutely REFUSE to cover and show the rubble that Palestinians have been left to rot in.

It’s a shame we ever give or have given a penny to these crooks. The average american homeowner pays 40% of their income on taxes and all we get are failed attempts at American Imperialism.

Hamas and the IDF both are in the wrong but I completely understand why the people of Palestine would elect Hamas, they feel completely defenseless and they’ve been driven to believe that these people are their only hope, even though this belief is wrong. Both are wrong but Israel has all the power, making them even more in the wrong.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

2 interesting articles posted this morning by Haaretz correspondent Amos Harel:

“IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement”:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072 040.html

“ANALYSIS / Can Israel dismiss its own troops’ stories from Gaza?”:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072 228.html

More testimony is expected Friday

Posted by Nu'man | Report as abusive

Well done HIS, you provide me one opinion from a coward’s who’s father himself was killed by an IDF soldier. I did learn something, there is someone even more neocon than our own crazed Fox and Sky news.

Not even the most right wing republican apologist has stated that Hamas attacked and invaded Israel for 2 years before the counter.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

How many times we’ve heard Palestinin leaders said they would not negotiate peace until Israel stops building settlements on Palestinian land? Yet, Netanyuhu has the gall to say he never heard any preconditions to that effect. And our beloved Secretary of State standing next to Neyanyuhu said Israel is giving up more in order to have Palestinian leader come to the peace table. She’s no different than Netanyahu! Both stand their making statements that are “bold lies.” What our govt needs to do is stop aid and grants to Israel. We’ve given Israel in excess of 104 trillion dollars since 1948. Annual Grant to Israel is $1400 per person living in Israel.
Not enough? Israel has nuclear weapons, not a member of NPT, and according to US Law, Israel is not entitled to any aid because of its violations.

It’s pathetic that facts of how the Palestinians are treated by occupiers aren’t borne out. They are treated like caged animals!! How would Americans act if we were under occupation for any period of time!! Course AIPAC and its followers run our great nation! The politicians will do anything to support Israel to enhance their own campaign funding!

Posted by Adamwestiii | Report as abusive