Charles Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is the diplomat chosen several weeks ago by the administration to chair the National Intelligence Council.
Problems immediately arose. Freeman was in the paid service of Saudi Arabia, had repeatedly blasted Israel, had defended China including its actions in the Tiananmen Square massacre, and had numerous conflicts of interest. Prior to the appointment he had not been fully vetted, and any examination of his finances had not occurred. As a result, the selection became controversial as soon as Freeman's name became public.
As a result of these issues, opposition to his nomination arose among several members of Congress, as well as parts of the media and ordinary citizens. This led to his withdrawing his nomination after several weeks of controversy. Whether he withdrew or was pushed is not clear at this time.
Opposition to Freeman was initially attributed to his many statements blaming Israel for the current crisis and absence of peace in the Middle East. However, what led to his demise were not primarily considerations related to Israel but rather the exposure of Freeman's many statements apologizing for Saudi and Chinese behavior as well as a whole panoply of foreign policy conflicts.
These included his 12-year chairmanship of the Middle East Policy Council which was a Saudi-funded front group, and his chairmanship of Projects International, a group that represented U.S. business interests in Saudi Arabia and China. Freeman fully supported the repressive government of China. He criticized a Tibet protest against China as a "race riot", and stated that China should have intervened earlier in the Tiananmen Square protests. But the major feature of his support for China was his paid role on the board of a Chinese government-owned oil company that had dealings in Iran. This same Chinese oil company also purchased oil from Sudan while its leaders were overseeing genocide in Darfur. There were no objections from Freeman about any of this
Following the withdrawal, a collective sigh of relief was uttered by those who opposed him. However, it is not yet time to uncork the champagne. For those of us in opposition, we should not expect this problem to disappear. The fact that a group of citizens along with members of Congress mobilized to put pressure on the administration to halt the nomination clearly represents an age-old use of the democratic right to petition government. However, it also opens the door to new charges of pressure from the Israel lobby.
We have heard this before, from Jimmy Carter, Stephen Walt, and John Mearsheimer, from the likes of such hateful demagogues as Norman Finkelstein, and even from Jewish groups such as J Street, who falsely label themselves as pro-Israel. This time, joining the cries of criticism of the so-called "Israel lobby" are many new and surprising names, including Andrew Sullivan, and M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum.
Certain historical events become symbols. The USS Liberty tragic friendly fire incident in 1967 became the casus belli for the anti-Israel zealots and has been so for over 40 years. Now the Freeman case is about to become the poster child for those who preach against the "Israel lobby".
Freeman himself has initiated the process. In a note to Foreign Policy, ABC News has reported that Freeman attacked the Israel lobby, claiming that the destruction of his career "will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues."
Here are Freeman's words:
"The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. 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. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors."
The inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel. It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so. This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States."
Now what is going on here? Congress, the media, good government organizations, and various special interest groups, have always evaluated candidates for high government office with great scrutiny. In this case as in others, the candidates own words were examined in full context. But as Jake Tapper of ABC News has pointed out, "only in Freeman's case does the nominee make an allegation that a foreign power was lurking nefariously somehow behind it all."
For Freeman, this represents a different and more lucrative kind of career move than the one he had originally expected. He is now following in the footsteps of Jimmy Carter, Ramsey Clark, Charles Lindbergh, and others who have made a profitable career out of travelling the lecture circuit blaming Jews and peddling tales of conspiracy. This is what Richard Hofstadter labeled "the paranoid style in American politics", and it has great appeal for angry minds.
Most Jewish and pro-Israel organizations took no public stance on the nomination, and there was apparently little lobbying of Congress. Nonetheless, Freeman's son, Charles Freeman Jr., a former assistant U.S. Trade Representative for China Affairs., referred to his father's critics as "Israel first-ers" and stated that his father's "appointment is being challenged these days by a small cabal of folks that believe first and foremost in the importance of allegiance to Israel as a core U.S. priority."
An irony in all this is that according to several members of Congress, the concerns about his anti-Israel positions did not and would not stop his official appointment to chair the NIC. Rather, it was Freeman's comments on China and Tibet, and his connections to the Chinese oil company, that finally did him in.
None of Freeman's critics claimed that he was not entitled to hold these opinions on Israel, China and the Middle East. Rather, they claimed he was not entitled to hold these judgments and allegiances and at the same time make official analyses and reach conclusions for the US government on critical intelligence matters.
This raises an age-old question for American Jews. Is it useful to try to prevent this sort of appointment, or will it, as M.J. Rosenberg claims, be dangerous in that it feeds resentment of Jews in official circles? We had a different experience during World War II, when the Roosevelt administration was supported by most of the Jewish community. Opposition to Roosevelt's policies regarding restrictions on intake of the doomed European Jews was virtually non-existent. At that time, the roles of Jimmy Carter, Stephen Walt, and John Mearsheimer, were taken by Charles Lindberg, Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin.
In the 1930s and 1940s Jews were primarily motivated by the fear of creating an anti-Semitic backlash. The prevailing view of the Jewish community was to maintain a low profile and do nothing that might annoy the powers in Washington, (This is the position of M.J. Rosenberg today).
At present, the Jewish community can see the results of a more aggressive
posture. We now know the benefits of publicly speaking out, of lobbying, and
using our rights as citizens. All indications are that this is a far healthier
stance. However, this behavior is about to be tested.