Yes Virginia, There is an Israel Lobby and It is Still Fighting Charles Freeman

by James M. Wall

Yes, Virginia, there is an Israel Lobby, and it is still fighting to block Charles Freeman’s recent appointment.

We thought the matter was settled when the word came down that Charles Freeman would be named chairman of the National Intelligence Council. This decision evoked great rejoicing among those of us who are counting on President Obama to tell the Israel Lobby, no single lobby will control what happens in the Obama Oval Office.

It is important to remember, Virginia, that the Israel Lobby has a role to play along with all the other special interest pleading groups in Washington. But, Virginia, you and all your other little friends, should never forget that a lobby’s role is to plead a case, not to control government policy.

The internet back-and-forth over Freeman’s appointment has yet to surface in the MSM. But in the blogosphere, it has raged and continues to rage, since rumors surfaced that Freeman was under consideration for the NIC position.

I wrote about Freeman in four separate postings (here and here and here and here, should you wish to revisit the recent past).  

To my surprise, my postings on this topic drew the largest number of responses of any Wall Writings posting since the late Andrew Weaver blasted SMU for capitulating to the George W. Bush library project. Much of it was supportive, at least as measured by the websites and blogs that referred the postings to their readers. The opposition, which was heavy, was a mixture of ugly racism and sophisticated diversion tactics from academics and slick pundits.

Richard Silverstein demonstrates just how diversionary rhetoric works:

[Freeman’s] critics veil their criticism in an attack on Freeman’s close ties to Chinese and Saudi business and government interests, but make no mistake–Freeman’s sin is his outspokenness on Israel and his sympathies for Palestinian suffering.

There were no diversions in a White Supremacy website which had referred its readers to my blog. That site bashes Freeman for being anti-Israel. That is an interesting shift, since in earlier years, White Supremacists were equal opportunity haters of both African Americans and Jews. Maybe they still hate American Jews but love the state of Israel? Armageddon anyone?

Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, knows the Israel Lobby quite well. He is the co-author, along with John J. Mearsheimer of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.  He identifies the cast of characters in the “get Freeman” drama:

. . . As soon as the appointment was announced, a bevy of allegedly “pro-Israel” pundits leapt to attack it, in what The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss called a “thunderous, coordinated assault.”  Freeman’s critics were the usual suspects: Jonathan Chait of the New Republic, Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey Goldberg of theAtlantic, Gabriel Schoenfeld (writing on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal), Jonah Goldberg of  National Review, Marty Peretz on his New Republic blog, and former AIPAC official Steve Rosen (yes, the same guy who is now on trial for passing classified U.S. government information to Israel). . . .

Among Freeman’s “past crimes”, according to his opponents, was that he served as an able and respected US ambassador to Saudi Arabia where he developed a good relationship with the ruling family.  Along with many other non-profit American foundations, a foundation on whose board he sits has received donations from the Saudi government.  Good for the Saudis for plowing back oil profits into good causes in the country which buys so much Saudi oil.

Freeman, in other words, has been friendly with the leadership in Saudi Arabia. Friendly to leaders of another country? The mind boggles. Friendship is a valuable diplomatic tool. Absolute loyalty to another nation is something different. It is absolute loyalty to another nation that is practiced extensively by Israel Lobby operatives, specifically, Washington insiders, public officials, pundits and funding sources.

The American public is not dumb; we know the difference between friendship and absolute blind loyalty to another country, no questions asked. Friends do not let friends drive when drunk; blind loyalists give them the keys. 

Have these people read George Washington’s farewell address in which he said, ” “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world…”  In his book on that address, Henry Cabot Lodge wrote “…no man ever left a nobler political testament.”

Freeman is a recognized authority on both Middle Eastern and Chinese affairs. His honesty and integrity are clearly superior to the practitioners of apophasis and venom who are determined to derail his appointment to the NIC through intimidation and political muscle.

At the moment that muscle is centered in the powerful office occupied by New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. Two other former members of Congress, another senator from New York named Clinton and a chief of Staff named Emanuel from Illinois, are out of the Lobby’s immediate reach now that President Obama has brought them into the official orbit of the executive branch.

And, to think, we worried about those two joining the Obama team. This Obama fellow appears to understand how government and politics work. 

But Chuck Schumer is still in the Senate and making noises. Greg Sargent wrote on his blog, Who Runs Gov, that Schumer placed a private call to his old buddy, Rahm Emanuel, to say that “he is concerned about Freeman”. This was not news to Emanuel. Since Schumer and Emanuel are notorious media leakers, that was a “private” conversation conducted specifically to be made public. 

Notice the gingerly manner in which the “private” conversation is treated in this blog. The message is clear: MSM, when you get around to covering this, take note, Schumer means business. Right now he is being Mr. Nice Guy, but this is only Round One.

Senator Charles Schumer has privately expressed concerns directly to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel about Chas Freeman, the Obama administration’s pick to head the group that prepares some of the intel community’s most politically sensitive assessments, a person familiar with their conversation tells me.

Obama’s choice of Freeman as head of National Intelligence Council — which has aroused opposition because of his strong criticism of Israel and other things — signaled that the President isn’t afraid to buck the pro-Israel lobby and the neocon critics who aggressively opposed the Freeman pick.

But Schumer’s concerns could create serious problems for Freeman, since Schumer is a Democrat and a high-profile voice on Israel, and could give cover for other Democrats to come out and vocally raise questions about the appointment. The source familiar with Schumer’s conversation with Rahm tells me the New York Senator was concerned about Freeman’s positions on Israel.

Schumer is not just the highest profile voice on Israel.  He is the leader of the AIPAC pack whose tactics are described by Richard Silverstein,in his blog, Tikum Olam:

This coordinated attack fits Aipac’s modus operandi to a tee.  First, you will probably not hear the group’s name directly associated with the assault.  The phone calls go from Aipac headquarters to their mostly Republican minions on the Hill.  But it’s entirely possible that unlike the Manchurian Candidate, Aipac doesn’t even need to activate their operatives.  They’ve been so indoctrinated that the Congress members know what is expected of them and they start the campaign themselves.

In a posting, “Intel Council Draws Ire of Israel Lobby”, on the website, Lobe and Daniel Luban wrote:

The campaign gained a much higher profile this week when the ranking Republican and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, called on the administration to withdraw Freeman’s appointment in an interview with the Wall Street Journal whose neoconservative editorial page had already denounced the appointment, and a New York Democrat, Rep. Stephen Israel, urged an investigation of his ties to Saudi Arabia.

Ten other members of Congress made the same demand in a letter they sent to the DNI’s inspector-general Tuesday:

Four of the signatories – Republican Rep. Mark Kirk and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, as well as the top two Republicans in the House of Representatives, Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor – were among the five top recipients in the House of campaign contributions from pro-Israel political action committees (PACs) closely tied to AIPAC during the 2007-8 election cycle, according to figures compiled by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Kirk himself has been the House’s top recipient of Israel-related PAC money over the past decade, according to the Report.

Largely outside MSM range, the attacks on Freeman have come from the usual suspects in pro-Israel circles. They include writers and publications the casual reader might not recognize as being loyalists in the AIPAC army. All are following the AIPAC script: Shift the attention to Saudi Arabia, and away from Israel. 

M.J. Rosenberg writes in his blog that these attacks on Freeman are getting creepy:

The effort to force President Obama to withdraw the nomination of Chas Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council is getting very very creepy. . . .Here is the scary part.  I’m a pro-Israel Jew, who has visited Israel 50 times in 40 years. But I am, like 99.9% of American Jews, first an American.The idea that the anti-Freeman crowd is running all over town demanding that anyone not close to Israel be banned from working in an American intelligence agency leaves me nauseated.

How did we reach this creepy moment? Stephen M. Walt traces the narrative:

 What unites this narrow band of critics is only one thing: Freeman has dared to utter some rather mild public criticisms of Israeli policy. That’s the litmus test that Chait, Goldberg, Goldfarb, Peretz, Schoenfeld et al want to apply to all public servants: thou shalt not criticize Israeli policy nor question America’s “special relationship” with Israel. Never mind that this policy of unconditional support has been bad for the United States and unintentionally harmful to Israel as well. If these pundits and lobbyists had their way, anyone who pointed that fact out would be automatically disqualified from public service.
There are three reasons why the response to Freeman has been so vociferous. First, these critics undoubtedly hoped they could raise a sufficient stink that Obama and his director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, might reconsider the appointment. Or perhaps Freeman might even decide to withdraw his name, because he couldn’t take the heat. Second, even if it was too late to stop Freeman from getting the job, they want to make Obama pay a price for his choice, so that he will think twice about appointing anyone else who might be willing to criticize Israeli policy or the special relationship. 
Third, and perhaps most important, 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 be if they followed in Freeman’s footsteps and said what they thought. Raising a stink about Freeman reminds others that it pays to back Israel to the hilt, or at least remain silent, even when it is pursuing policies — like building settlements on the West Bank — that are not in America’s national interest.  

This last ditch effort to derail Freeman, as Walt notes, lays down a marker. Even if Freeman makes it to the NIC, the Washington political community has been warned by the Lobby .  Which is why this should be the moment when Obama says to the Lobby:

Thank you for your service as a lobby; you and other lobbies in this nation perform a useful civic role. But you must remember that my task is to promote American interests and values in the Middle East, not just the interests of one country among many. Now I want you to back off, or run the risk of reducing your role in American life to that of the Know Nothings of American history .

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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13 Responses to Yes Virginia, There is an Israel Lobby and It is Still Fighting Charles Freeman

  1. Brenda Bentz says:

    Thanks for the warning! B

  2. Harris Fawell says:

    Thanks for an excellent report on Charles Freeman. It is appreciated.

  3. Pauline Coffman says:

    Thanks for this summary. Very helpful. A letter to the President is in order…don’t give in!

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