Post-Mortem on Chas Freeman and the Pro-Israel Lobby: The Issue Isn’t Dead Yet

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

Did Chas Freeman withdraw as the new head of the National Intelligence Council because his opposition to Israeli settlements policies produced a brutal and brutish assault by the pro-Israel lobby, as his supporters believe? Or did he withdraw because of mounting pressure resulting from his positions on a range of issues, including his views on international human rights and his longstanding Saudi connections, and the growing perception that he was unsuited to the intelligence-sifting job?

Solid answers are elusive, in large measure because the battle surrounding his appointment quickly got caught up in other causes and concerns, including the ongoing fight over the influence of the Israel lobby and conflict surrounding key personalities on both sides of the debate.

Freeman’s record and statements were clearly exaggerated and misrepresented by some opponents. It is also undoubtedly true, as supporters charge, that some critics deliberately focused on other issues, including his controversial statement about Tiananmen Square, when their real concern was his criticism of Israel.

But  supporters also energetically whitewashed his record, especially his Saudi connections, and used the bogeyman of the Israel lobby to divert attention from that record.

By the time of his withdrawal late Tuesday, the controversy had become a frantic blur.

One outcome is certain: opponents of the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, with the tag team of Walt and Mearsheimer at the front of the line, have new ammunition and a new hero/martyr.

Freeman’s statement on withdrawal leaves no doubt he plans to take up that mantle. His colorful language will also provide ammunition for critics who portrayed him as hostile to the pro-Israel cause – and in particular his statement that 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.”

This reporter saw no evidence the “lobby” — meaning AIPAC itself – was involved in the anti-Freeman effort, although that effort was sparked to a considerable degree by Steve Rosen, a former top AIPAC employee, and there’s plenty of evidence the more right-wing elements of the pro-Israel movement were heavily involved.

And you don’t have to be a political genius to know AIPAC isn’t weeping salt tears over his departure.

Want to read Freeman’s entire statement? Here it is, passed on by Foreign Policy reporter Laura Rozen , who broke the Freeman appointment story that started the whole ruckus.

Also check out Ron Kampeas’ blog item on the issue over at JTA for an interesting take on whether the Freeman controversy was a real test of the pro-Israel lobby’s power. “What astonishes me is how the enemies of the lobby feed this imagined monster, with a neurotic commitment to self-defeat,” Ron writes.

And Joe Klein, in his Time blog, writes this: “The guy goes out with guns blazing–a bit too hot, for my taste. He pins his departure on ‘the Israel Lobby,’ which is imprecise. He was the victim of a mob, not a lobby. The mob was composed primarily of Jewish neoconservatives–abetted by less than courageous public servants like Senator Chuck Schumer, who has publicly taken credit for the hit.”

If you think this whole thing is over, guess again.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.