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Lessons From The Freeman Fiasco


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So there it was, “perfect proof” of what John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt were saying about the Israeli lobby: the pressure mounted and Charles Freeman, the designated chairman of the National Intelligence Council, decided to withdraw his name from consideration.

Of course, the incident really has nothing to do with the kind of allegations against the Jewish community that Mearsheimer and Walt and others have been propagating. Their contention is that the Jews control the discussion and making of Middle East foreign policy in this country and won’t allow for alternative viewpoints to be explored and flourish.

That charge is absurd on its face, particularly when they cite as examples institutions such as the media and campuses. In both places, there are multitudes of examples of expressions of views critical of Israel. The notion that there is no diversity of viewpoints is simply false.

How then to view the Freeman saga? It is undoubtedly true that many in the organized Jewish community were distressed about the pending appointment. The more his record was revealed – his blaming U.S. support for Israel for the 9/11 attacks; his demonizing of Israel as the responsible party for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the more concern there was about the central role he might play in intelligence affairs. Some on the Right who were predicting the Obama Administration would be no friend of Israel saw this as evidence of their fears.

For most, however, the Freeman appointment was disturbing on its own terms without generalizing about where U.S.-Israel relations were heading.

It must be said that to suggest there was anything illegitimate about American Jewish concern about Freeman or that it indicated in any way Jewish control of policy is pure fantasy. Freeman’s views do not fall into the category of alternative perspectives on the conflict; those kinds of things surface all the time whether in criticism of Israeli settlements or judgments on how to deal with Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran.

Rather, his views fall far away from mainstream opinion in America vis-à-vis Israel and the region and enter into that area of demonizing Israel and its supporters in the U.S.

Nothing better illustrates where Freeman is coming from than in his statement explaining his withdrawal. He articulates, in the guise of a victim, the essential conspiracy view of the Israel-supporting community which made his appointment so troubling in the first place. He sees the exposure of his troubling attitudes toward Israel as proof “that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired.”

“The aim of this lobby,” he says, “is control of the policy process…and the exclusion of any and all options for decisions.” And Freeman blames it all on “the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider any option for U.S. policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling factor in Israel politics.”

These statements are part of a pattern, most notable being a 2006 comment by Freeman blaming the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America’s close relationship with Israel: “We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach to managing relations with the Arabs,” he said, adding that as of September 11, 2001, “we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home.”

So it turns out that Freeman is just another version of Mearsheimer and Walt, conjuring up demonic images of Israeli policymaking and creating fantasy views of an America where no criticism of Israel is allowed, where American policy is controlled by Israel and its Jewish allies, where U.S. administration policy never differs from Israeli policy.

The real story here is not one of evidence of Jewish control, but rather that when extremist views surface in mainstream government circles, there still are ways to make sure they don’t become government policy.

As the U.S. enters a critical period with regard to Middle East issues, and as intelligence community findings on a range of issues from Iran to Hamas to Pakistan will become more critical than ever, we should be thankful that good sense has prevailed in the withdrawal of the Freeman appointment at the National Intelligence Center.

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