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The Changing Israel Debate…Even in Colorado 2

March 13, 2009

Note: Perhaps I spoke too soon when I wrote about the changing attitude towards Israel in the US? It’s not like AIPAC has quite folded up shop. As Israel’s credibility sours after the war against Gaza, in fact, such organizations are redoubling their efforts. It’s not just little pipsqueaks (like me) who have run afoul and are in their sights. Look what happened to Charles W. Freeman Jr.,who nominated for a top intelligence post by the director of national intelligence and forced to withdraw under intense pressure? His appointment did not survive an AIPAC-directed campaign to topple him.

Below is an article sent me by Bob Ross – executive director of the double bass repair lobby in Congress – and a good personal friend. If the double bass lobby joins forces with the even more powerful `senior university lecturer’ lobby – well, watch out AIPAC! The article appeared in yesterday’s New York Times. There is also apparently a piece by Freeman that appeared in the Wall Street Journal being circulated by Bob Kinsey, former Green Party candidate for US Senate here in Colorado.

AIPAC might have brought down Freeman – no doubt they did – but not without receiving collateral damage itself. The tone of the different articles suggests a growing impatience and anger with these little (in this case `not-so-little’) jihads against any and all who are critical of Israel. Those who blandly and blindly put Israel’s interests before those of the United States are finding that their arguments are wearing thin. Think about it – Stephen Rosen, a former AIPAC higher-up, who started the ball rolling against Freeman with a critical piece in his blog, was indicted for passing US intelligence secrets about Iran to Israel. Even from his disgraced position he still has the influence to bring down a senior US diplomat like Freeman! I wonder how much longer these kind of McCarthyite tactics will work?

I would also point out the method that it is done, essentially working behind the scenes, working old, worn political structures and personal contacts — but then no folks do it better than AIPAC. And they have the means. By way of example – the Colorado chapter had a brunch not long ago to welcome the organization’s national executive director to our fair state. The price for bagels, lox, coffee and orange juice, what must have been `knock out’ danish was $10,000 a plate, or at least that what was recorded on AIPAC’s website at the time. With several hundred people in attendance, the take for a half hour of AIPAC platitudes could have been in the seven figure realm.

But it’s not just the money, AIPAC-ADL et al have these little witch-hunt campaigns down to a `t’.

1. It starts with a letter to the editor, a blog entry, or the comments from an asshole rightwing radio or newspaper commentator. They `light the match’ so to speak

2. Then it is followed by `a call’ to someone in power from a Senator (in this case Chuck Schumer of New York), or in more local cases – a rabbi, an ADL representative, the wife of a local liquor store millionaire etc, that usually includes `a dossier’ – of writings or comments made, that, while informal, has the emotional power of a formal indictment. To add some pa-zazz and a sense of urgency to it all, delegations are marshalled to visit employers, newspaper publishers, politicans’. To add a little spice to it and show they really mean business, when possible, local witch-hunters like to drag along some multi-millionaire developer type (or their power-broker lawyers) in their Hong Kong-tailored suits for emphasis – you know, the kind that avoided indictment during the savings and loan scandals by the skin of their tootsies but now have foundations, university classroom buildings, community centers and museums named after them.

3. A few national heavies – Deshowitz, Foxman, David Horowitz and other such lowlifes – orchestrate a national media campaign.

4. The national media campaign is coordinated with a blitz from the base – phone calls, letters to the editor, the targeting of the individual – be it a former president like Jimmy Carter, a senior diplomat like Freeman or outspoken academics like Norman Finkelstein or Joel Kovel. The academics are usually easy to pick off in most cases, a Jimmy Carter or Freeman slightly more difficult.

5. It is assumed, and rightly so, if the purge is done properly, that the public will soon forget and as the issue fades from view, that no one will care. And, this is usually the case, making AIPAC (and associated groups) more brazen and arrogan

The message is not particularly ambiguous: if you want continued financial support (contributions, advertising, money for political campaigns), dump so-and-so. Nothing new about this, AIPAC has been doing this for years, and rather successfully. And don’t think it’s just the conservatives that engage in these tactics, if Denver is any example, the liberals among them are just as vicious, if not more, in these mostly `behind-the-scenes’ character assassinations .And even where the campaigns do not succeed – the goal is silence critics one way or another (within legal bounds of course), – they are very concerned about legalities as they fear getting sued as the ADL was here in Colorado and in California for going beyond legal bounds.

Of course, AIPAC retains great influence in Congress and in state legislatures (as we saw here in Colorado with the recent lopsided Senate vote essentially blessing Israel’s war against Gaza), and will continue to for some time, but, still, the foundation is weakening. . AIPAC’s main problem won’t go away – that US and Israeli strategic interests – in the first place never as close as Israel’s supporters would have us believe – are starting to diverge even further and will continue to do so in the decades ahead. Not all the $10,000 a bagel brunches will change that. As the contradiction between US interests in the Middle East – centered mainly around the long term control of energy interests – clashes more directly with Israeli national interests – as the two seem to be doing at present concerning Iran – AIPAC’s well known tendency to put Israel’s interests before those of the American people – will be its undoing. But for the moment – AIPAC sails blithely along – purging to left, discrediting to the right as it has for decades. It cannot go on forever. And it won’t. Don’t expect it to be pretty as it all becomes unglued.

To the NY Times piece:

March 12, 2009
Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post

By MARK MAZZETTI and HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON — When Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, announced that he would install Charles W. Freeman Jr. in a top intelligence post, the decision surprised some in the White House who worried that the selection could be controversial and an unnecessary distraction, according to administration officials.

Just how controversial the choice would be became clear on Tuesday, when Mr. Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush, angrily withdrew his name from consideration and charged that he had been the victim of a concerted campaign by what he called “the Israel lobby.”

Mr. Freeman had long been critical of Israel, with a bluntness that American officials rarely voice in public about a staunch American ally. In 2006, he warned that, “left to its own devices, the Israeli establishment will make decisions that harm Israelis, threaten all associated with them and enrage those who are not.”

He did not soften his tone even on Wednesday, saying in an interview that “Israel is driving itself toward a cliff, and it is irresponsible not to question Israeli policy and to decide what is best for the American people.”

The critics who led the effort to derail Mr. Freeman argued that such views reflected a bias that could not be tolerated in someone who, as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, would have overseen the production of what are supposed to be policy-neutral intelligence assessments destined for the president’s desk.

Some of Mr. Freeman’s defenders say his views on Israel are extreme only when seen through the lens of American political life, and they asked whether it was possible to question American support for Israel without being either muzzled or marginalized.

“The reality of Washington is that our political landscape finds it difficult to assimilate any criticism of any segment of the Israeli leadership,” said Robert W. Jordan, who was ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2001 to 2003.

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. Many of these groups applauded Mr. Obama’s appointments of Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Dennis B. Ross as a special adviser for Iran and Persian Gulf issues, but remain suspicious of other members of his administration who will be dealing with Arab-Israeli matters.

After complaints from some pro-Israel groups during his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama distanced himself from Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, who has sometimes been critical of Israel.

Five days after Mr. Rosen’s blog item appeared, Senator Schumer telephoned Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, to ensure that the White House was aware of Mr. Freeman’s past comments about Israel. According to Senator Schumer, his staff then sent the White House copies of the statements.

Mr. Schumer said that Mr. Freeman showed an “irrational hatred of Israel” and that his statements were “over the top.”

Mr. Freeman said that nobody in the White House ever pressured him to withdraw. He said that he and Mr. Blair had agreed on Tuesday afternoon that he should step aside to avoid any perception of taint to the intelligence assessments he would have overseen at the National Intelligence Council. Hours earlier, Mr. Blair defended Mr. Freeman for his strong views and quick mind, and said he hoped he would challenge an intelligence community that for years had been criticized for groupthink.

In the days after Senator Schumer’s first phone call, other lawmakers and pro-Israel groups began applying pressure on the White House. Representative Steve Israel, a New York Democrat, also called Mr. Emanuel about the pick, and pushed Mr. Blair’s inspector general to examine possible conflicts of interest surrounding Mr. Freeman’s relationships with the Chinese and Saudi governments.

“I was prepared to present my case to anyone at the White House who would listen to it,” Representative Israel said.

Pro-Israel groups weighed in with lower-ranking White House officials. The Zionist Organization of America sent out an “action alert” urging members to ask Congress for an investigation of Mr. Freeman’s “past and current activities on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

With opposition to Mr. Freeman mounting, many in the White House were debating the wisdom of the selection, despite Mr. Blair’s public support for him. “In conversations with people associated with this administration, I never detected any enthusiasm for this pick,” said Ira N. Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, declined to comment on Wednesday.

Before his ambassadorship, Mr. Freeman held a variety of State Department posts. Since leaving government, he has worked with nonprofit groups and on the board of the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a past position that his critics said could be a conflict of interest in his new job.

As head of the Middle East Policy Council, he was a frequent critic of policy toward Israel. In a speech in 2005 he said that “as long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected.”

Critics also unearthed e-mail messages attributed to Mr. Freeman that seemed to support the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, saying it was not “acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be.”

Mr. Freeman said Wednesday that the passage was taken out of context, and that he had been describing the dominant view in China in the years after the crackdown.

Mr. Freeman, who severed his financial and professional ties to several organizations to re-enter government, said he had yet to decide what was next for him.

“I’m in a position to redefine my life and to press the reset button, and you don’t get that very often,” he said.

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