Israel's Bogeyman

The campaign against Chas Freeman was a waste of time. People concerned about Israel’s safety should worry about Iran, not some minor bureaucrat.

Only now does Charles Freeman become truly interesting. Freeman, who has withdrawn from being named chairman of the National Intelligence Council, triggered an intense dispute over his suitability for the post. On the one side are neoconservatives and liberal hawks. On the other side are realists and chastened hawks, such as Andrew Sullivan, who has deemed the campaign waged against Freeman "repulsive."

Of course Sullivan is right. By this point, it's difficult not to be repelled by many of the tactics used to tar Freeman as a Saudi mole or a China stooge or anti-Israel, or all three at one and the same time. Seldom has so much vitriol been heaped upon so marginal a target. We're not talking about the State Department, the Defense Department or the CIA here. We're talking about an obscure organization that most Americans have never even heard of. What's next? Vetting appointments to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board? Where will it end?

For that matter, how did Freeman ever become a hostage in the first place? It seems that former AIPAC official Steven J. Rosen, who is being indicted under the obscure 1917 Espionage Act (a charge that I, for what it's worth, suspect is bogus), issued the first complaints about Freeman, which were then amplified by a chorus of critics who got several congressmen, including Steven Israel (D-NY), as well as Senator Chuck Schumer, to make their displeasure about Freeman's appointment known.

In his official statement, Freeman makes it abundantly clear that he regrets the contretemps but is also not going to go quietly. According to Freeman,

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.

Freeman believes that the ultimate irony is that he is being charged with being a cat's paw for foreign powers when, in fact, his adversaries are the ones seeking to protect a small foreign nation, Israel.

There were legitimate reasons to question Freeman's appointment, most notably his stance on China. But his statements about Israel hardly reached the level of animus that, for example, the National Review detected, deeming him a "savage critic of Israel." This was absurd. But conducting an open, fair interrogation of his views was clearly not the aim of his critics. Instead, the affair has had the whiff of a purge trial, in which the hanging judges had decided his fate from the outset.

The strangest role in this drama, however, has been played by the Obama administration. Despite its claims to vet its appointees, the administration clearly bungled yet another candidate, whom it quickly backed away from once he got into hot water for his political views. The administration has set a bad precedent in allowing its critics to dictate who can occupy intelligence positions. But it could well prove a pyrrhic victory for Freeman's foes. As David Rothkopf observed,

those who celebrate keeping out Freeman or any others whose views do not align with theirs or who feared his associations would do well to remember that the same kind of criteria can be applied by other groups. The result is not a government of people without conflicts of interest or troubling ties, rather it is a government full of people whose conflicts and ties are with groups powerful enough to protect them. This among other reasons is why I, as a Jew with a memory, was so opposed to the attacks on Freeman.

What Rothkopf is suggesting, I think, is that the counter-establishment that American Jews built up in the postwar era to check the influence of the WASP hierarchy, which truly was Arabist and anti-Israel, is in danger of becoming its mirror image.

Anyway, the entire kerfuffle over Freeman is wasted energy. The true threat to Israel was never represented by the likes of Freeman. It's Iran, first and foremost, that threatens the continued existence of Israel and knocking off minor appointments such as Freeman by inventing objections and by inflating picayune ones isn't going to change that one iota. There are plenty of real monsters out there in the Middle East without turning Freeman into one.

 

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.