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.


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.

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I find it very encouraging that by far the majority of posters above me can clearly see that Israel is the cause and not the cure of America’s problems.

After Obama’s and Clinton’s disgraceful pandering at the AIPAC last June I held out very little hope that anyone in Washington would be looking after the interests of American and Americans in this administration, and I still don’t really have any hope. But it is good to see that all of you, my fellow Americans, are finally coming around to the certain knowledge that Israel is a tremendous liability, and a shameless aggressor in Palestine as well. And we have more than enough liabilities at this point in time.

It’s time to cut Israel loose and to try to make up to the Palestinians for the tremendous injustice we have done them over the years with our blank check to Israel.

John Smith said:
“The first is that the “Palestinians” swallow their pride and start thinking of their children first.”

That’s just the thing, none of you know Arabs as well as the Israelis do. An Arab would NEVER swallow his pride, his honor – that’s the only thing they have. Everything else be damned. In fact, for the past 600 years, defending their “honor” in 20,000 different ways against enemies real but mostly imagined has been their greatest contribution to the human family.

They’ll seek the removal of Israel from Israel 1,000 years from now, even if they finally sign a peace treaty with Israel – in their mindset that would be justice.
That is, if their mindset stays the same. A peace with Israel is only a temporary arrangement with infidels – in Q’uran ALL accommodations with infidels are temporary.

In fact, they don’t by and large fundamentally believe in a concept of sovereign state, democracy, individual rights, or secular legal code – those concepts are not endemic to them to this day.

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

No question: Iran, Hamas and all the others should recognize Israel’s right to exist. The problem is trying to figure out which Israel they’re supposed to recognize? Is it the Israel that’s prepared to live peaceably within the 1968 borders or the Eretz Israel one the Zionists keep going on about? The Israel that bombed Arafat’s headquarters into rubble or possibly the Israel that occupies the West Bank and is building settlements all over the place? Surely it’s not the Israel that’s laying on the siege of Gaza? So first things first—you don’t sign the agreement if you don’t know the terms. What Israel, the U.S. and the “international community” needs to do is come up with an answer to the question, “Which Israel?”

No question: Israel should lay off threatening to bomb Iran.

Posted by marcanizan | Report as abusive

It is truly double standard for the Israelis to be so barbaric and cruel in destroying Gaza.They wanted the world to remember
how bad it was Nazi but they forget how they are behaving now.
It is all about land grab, even now they want more land.
The Palestinians deserve to have a statehood not to be subjugated by Israel

Posted by rick | Report as abusive

It is a shame that most of the Law makers of such a great nation like the United States Of America, work for another state called Israel, represented by a shameful organization called AIPAC. American Voters must know the cost of supporting Israel, and How much that coming out of their own pockets.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

Once again a great article from you. I salute you. Only this time the Americans should take time to read and see how much they have lost and losing directly and indirectly by their blind support for Israel. Its very sad indeed to see that any honest opinion and remark about the sufferings of Palestinians evoke so much condemnation. Its time that we ban contributions to politicians as that practice has made lobbyist effectively buy out every single position and politician in the white house.
Would like to see more articles like this that awakens Americans to think for themselves.

Posted by Kumar | Report as abusive

The columnist should have mentioned that after whereas Hamas won an election, it illegally overthrew the legal government and even threw Fatah members off buildings as part of its coup.

What a great article, the world view of blind Israeli support is dead but it’s still alive and well here in the US. I don’t put the blame on us U.S. citizens I put it on our puppet government and media that ALWAYS side with Israel no matter what atrocities they commit.

Also, the state of Israel doesn’t deserve to exist, the country does of course no one disputes that. However hardcore Jewish Israeli’s feel that certain lands were given to them by God and this is what is known as the state of Israel. They think they have the right to form settlements in Palestine, Egypt, other parts of Africa, etc. and this is a the same thing a German fella used to do in the 30′s and 40′s.

Iranian Prez Ahmadinejoud (sp?) said he loves all countries and that he loves the Jews of Iran, but the neocons in our country don’t wanna hear that and our media doesn’t wanna play those speeches for all to hear.

Here in this US our gov’t and media’s motto is death to Muslims and Christians and Jewish people can spread imperialism all over the world without consequence.

Maybe it’s changing, but probably not as the original writer said.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Judging by the quotes and comments Mr. Debusmann cites, it seems Mr. Debusmann never misses an opportunity to take a swipe at Israel. Implicit in the article is the suggestion that somehow the “pro-Israel lobby” has controlled America’s foreign policy, when in fact Americans have controlled their own foreign policy and they have collectively decided that they want to support a democratic state that shares their values and which has been justified in defending its right to exist. If Mr. Debusmann really wishes to embrace a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he should consider the real obstacle to peace. The main obstacle is that Palestinian Arabs today do not want and they have never wanted a Palestinian state, hence, over 60 years of frustration in achieving the 2-state solution. The Palestinians Arabs refused to accept the state offered to them as part of the 1947 UN partition proposal; they showed no interest in creating a Palestinian state between 1948 and 1967; they refused Israel’s offer of peace for land after 1967 including former Israeli PM Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000. Even today, there is no strong interest in a Palestinian state. Opinion polls indicate that about 50% of the West Bank’s Arabs would like to see eventually some sort of federation between themselves and Jordan (which makes sense in view of the close family and historic connections between the two). Hamas sees a Palestinian state as only an intermediate stage, with the ultimate goal being the recreation of a pan-Islamic nation. And today, of course, there is the divide between the West Bank and Gaza. This divide is partly a quarrel between Hamas and Fatah for power, but mainly it reflects the lack of a national identity. Gazans are much more religious than West Bankers, who historically look down upon the Gazans. And there are many other important cultural, historic and socio-economic divisions between the two which makes the creation of a national identity difficult. The tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the failure to develop successful Palestinian state institutions and more importantly a Palestinian sense of national identity. Instead, the focus for over 60 years has been the destruction of Israel, a state which many Arabs and Muslims have seen as an illegitimate entity in what they consider to be the Arab and Islamic heartland. Mr. Debusmann and his anti-Israel diatribes do little to contribute in a positive way to a solution. Judging by the anti-Israel invectives posted here by others, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to focus primarily on the destruction of Israel rather than something positive.

Posted by Dan from Canada | Report as abusive

Washington gets a lot of financial support for reelection of politicians, they are all practically in Israel lobbyist’s pocket. Do you remember how Obama made a 180 degree turn when he made a supporting statement about the Palestinians right? American Jews own the media and that is a very powerful weapon if you want to be elected. We spend billions on Israel, a developed country, and a fraction in Africa, while China is going to take over Africa.

Posted by aalamaram | Report as abusive

Thanks for a good column.
We need see more pieces like this.
PLEASE keep it up!!

Posted by Shotta | Report as abusive

I’d like to hear where Dan from Canada gets his news. No one wants the destruction of Israel, we just want them to stop starving out an already 3rd world country through their illegal blockades. We want them to stop mercilessly killing children in the street and letting them bleed out despite being within their own borders. To stop bulldozing homes with families still inside just because of not having some impossible to obtain building permit. 1,300 people killed, the IDF is nothing but ruthless, gutless barbarians. When there’s one person in a building you need to kill you don’t drop a cruise missile on a village full of civilians.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Do not become greedy businesman and ignorant politicians or use your nuclear weapons as a means of forcing your neighbors to accept a “just peace”.
I do not think that that “Holocaust”, was caused by Sheperds in the River Valley of Jordan, do you? Once the insanity of Hitler and others before him including the Catholic Church “picked out” an enemy, to blame, they were called “Jews”. But these “so called human beings” pretending to be men, knew they were wrong because they more or less believed in the God of Abraham and Moses and the Ten Commandments and their confusion was built in part upon “Social Darwinism”, which gave them power, for “ineffectual” ideas.
We/You must make peace with the Palestinians and give them a few thousand square miles of semi-arrid land to call a “home”.
Israel, forget the past, right now in the turmoil of this world, we have no choice! I think you know what I mean, General Motors, Citicorp, Bank of America, Lockheed-Martin, etc. are selling lke “penny stocks”. However, peace is a dividend of understanding and of “basic life” which we need now. And how much can the United States of America and Israel afford?

Jon T.

Posted by John Tamalavage | Report as abusive

Where were all these outpourings of sympathy and demands for just treatment when steel ball bearings shredding their way through Israeli buses? Borders are closed to prevent these happenings. Palestinians only seek a total destruction of Israel. This is their sole goal.There is no other motive for their action.

Posted by Sigismund | Report as abusive

Gosh, the Jews control US Foreign Policy, the Banks, the labor unions, and the Media too. Why no mention of the daily rockets coming from Gaza aimed at civilian targets (a war crime) or the Hamas charter that calls for the destruction of Israel. Yes, the Hamas was democratically elected (so was Hitler), so I guess Gazans are collectively responsible for the mess they made of their own nest. Israel left Gaza to the Gazans after pulling out all Jewish settlers in the hope for peace…they get rockets instead.

Posted by hal vivaldi | Report as abusive

Indeed , great article. Careful, but precise.
Liberty of speech is proclaimed to be a great legacy of democratic quest in the West. Yet, any anti-Israel talks,that criticize strictly the politics, are still considered antisemitic ,and a taboo subject. It is no freedom of speech, but its supression .
America is a great country, that should be an anchor to peace talks, not it`s torpedo. The cost to Israeli-American relations , and the blind support are granted ad escalating costs. Both economic and political.
To have a 2nd runner up for presidency chant ” Bomb bomb Iran ” and then watch THE president elect boycott ( not assist and enforce own position, but refuse to attend) an anti-racism conference, is yet another sign of this all-for nothing alliance.
If we will preach justice and respect of international laws, we must do so , regardless of the race or faith of the transgressor. We need to address, not seek to justify them. Now more than ever, USA can play a vital role in the peace process in the middle east. After the trillions of dollars spent on financing this conflict, it would be unacceptable for the “sponsor” to deny at least verbal support to the party oppressed. The time has come to set aside AIPAC , and the phobia of calling things by their names : apartheid , occupation , humanitarian crisis, and act with integrity and the good will once sold to us, during election campaign.

Israel, give peace a chance
USA, monitor so that chance is not bombed with DIME or phosphorus.

Posted by Samantha Smith | Report as abusive

To hal vivaldi, the Palestinian are prisoners living in concentration camps, refugees because someone else stole their land and homes, and rename it Israel, what would you do if the same happened to you and your family providing you are not the thief. Israel is not only occupying the Palestinian land but also the American Congress and senate, and the American political and financial systems, America is under an Israeli occupation and all American politicians must adhere to their master wishes and commands.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

America’s blind support of Israel is religious. According to fundamentalist Christians (aka Holy Rollers, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Assembly of God freaks, etc.)God blesses those countries that bless Israel and curses those countries that curse Israel. That has been U.S. foreign policy since Truman, who himself was a Southern Baptist, a Zionist supporter, and believed in all this Second Coming nonsense. It is funny to me how when any Arab nation commits an act of terrorism the United States is quick to condemn but when Israel commits an act of terrorism the United States turns its head and mumbles that Israel has a right to defend itself. The Jews own America and are responsible for the mess in the Middle East.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

I am frankly stunned that, on the one hand, posters like ‘Michael’ can say that nobody wants the destruction of the state of Israel and in the same breath praise Ahmadinejad. Iran has been a massive supporter of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezb’Allah for decades, and Ahmadinejad himself is a holocaust denier and a bigot. For shame.

Israel has nothing to gain by oppressing Palestinians; they don’t need or want the land back, they don’t want the Palestinians’ resources… there’s nothing they have that Israel wants.

If it were Israel’s goal to simply do away with the Palestinians, it would have been well within their power. Heck, Israel’s army and air force were able to completely wipe out the armies of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt all at once in the Six Day War – do you think they couldn’t do the same to the Palestinians if that was their aim?

Israel does want peace, but it wants long, lasting peace. Can they really be expected to negotiate with groups whose stated objective is Israel’s destruction?

Yet as bad as Hamas is, it still has a mandate from the masses. If Hamas truly abandoned violence, stopped sneaking in weapons, and agreed to peaceful coexistence with Israel, they would get it within the hour.

But of course, President Ahmadinejad wouldn’t stand for that.

Posted by Matt Brendzel | Report as abusive

I have one little observation to make. Note how when even people who don’t support the Zionist hardline refer to Israel building in the West Bank they call it “settlements”, as if the land weren’t previously occupied by someone else, i.e. Palestinians. Choosing the word to use in a debate is a traditional means of predetermining how the debate will be resolved. If we called them “colonies” instead, which is an arguably more accurate term, would this debate be still occurring or would it have been settled by now?

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive