Israel Lobby Ousts US Intelligence Nominee
By Joseph Fitsanakis* | intelNews | 03.11.2009
THE NEAR-HYSTERICAL REACTION BY Washington’s pro-Israel lobby against Charles “Chas” Freeman’s candidacy for National Intelligence Commission (NIC) Director has paid off. On Monday, Freeman, a State Department official with 44 years’ experience in the US diplomatic service, decided to withdraw his nomination to head the NIC –the government agency that works with the US intelligence community to compile national intelligence estimates. On February 26, Freeman, who was US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, was nominated for the job by Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair. Blair had said the veteran diplomat would bring with him to the post “a wealth of knowledge and expertise in defense, diplomacy and intelligence”.
But Freeman’s nomination was met almost immediately with vehement opposition from pro-Israeli lobby groups in Washington, who managed to recruit several lawmakers from both political parties to oppose Admiral Blair’s choice. Within days, all seven Republican members of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, as well as at least ten House Representatives began a vocal campaign to stop Freeman’s NIC candidacy. Chief among the pro-Israel lawmakers were two Jewish Democrats from New York, Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Steve Israel. Along with another usual suspect, “independent” Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, they described Freeman as a “controversial” diplomat with “strong political opinions”, who “appear[s] inclined to lean against Israel” with “statements against Israel [that] were way over the top”.
A “STRONG ARABIST”
Freeman’s “over-the-top” statements “against Israel” include such banalities as “[t]he brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending” and other similar statements pointing to the obvious. In one of them, the former Ambassador expressed the view that “[a]s 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”. He is also one of a handful of American diplomats who have dared to point out what the entire world, barring Israel, the US and some of its atoll protectorates in the Pacific, sees: namely that “Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands is inherently violent” and that, in recent years, “American identification with Israel has become total”.
In other words, Chas Freeman has been condemned by the US pro-Israel lobby as what Ira Forman, Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, calls a “strong Arabist”, for essentially aligning himself with the standard United Nations view of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This standard view was expressed in a January 7, 2008, UN Security Council resolution expressing “grave concern at the escalating violence and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza”, condemning “all violence and hostilities directed against civilians” and calling for “unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza”. The resolution, which received a 14-0 vote approval, with the US abstaining, was passed after the International Red Cross, another “strong Arabist” organization, condemned Israel for systematically preventing medical assistance from reaching Gaza and instructing its troops to fire on aid workers. Shortly afterwards, the relief organization “accused the Israeli military of unacceptable conduct and of breaching international humanitarian law”.
The United Nations’ “strong Arabist” credentials are also evident in its consistent condemnation of Israel’s refusal to abide by its pledges –offered after US pressure– to terminate its illegal construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Arab soil. Last December, a UN special Rapporteur on human rights described these and many other illegal Israeli actions as systematic failures to abide by “the agreed norm of a responsibility to protect a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a Crime Against Humanity”. Some of these crimes, which go routinely unpunished, have been classified by no other than former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as “pogroms” against Palestinians, comparable to expressions of “bygone anti-Semitism in Europe”. An unrepentant “strong Arabist”, no doubt.
THE SAUDI “CONNECTION”
It is understood that Washington’s pro-Israel lobby did not concentrate on Chas Freeman’s mainstream UN views to bar his NIC appointment. It chose instead to highlight his former presidency at the Middle East Policy Council, a tiny Washington-based think tank that receives approximately $72,000 a year from the government of Saudi Arabia. This was systematically flaunted as proof that Freeman had “conflicting ties to Saudi Arabia” –a country that former US President George W. Bush publicly described in 2008 as “a strong partner [and] staunch ally” of the United States.
It takes minimal effort to dismiss these allegations as utterly laughable, if not downright fabricated. Each year billions of dollars of Saudi money pour into US think tanks, charities and academic institutions, to the point that it is now almost impossible to find an American Ivy League school that does not accept donations from Saudi royals. In fact, the same Saudis who gave the Middle East Policy Council a mere $72,000 last year, have given “at least $1.476 billion” to companies and institutions allied to the Bush family, including “$1 million by Prince Bandar to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, $1 million by King Fahd to Barbara Bush’s campaign against illiteracy, $500,000 by Prince Al Waleed to [...] finance a newly created George Herbert Walker Bush Scholarship Fund, and a $1 million painting from Prince Bandar to George W. Bush’s White House”. If presiding over a think tank that receives 12% of its total annual budget of $600,000 from the Saudi government is proof of one’s “conflicting ties to Saudi Arabia”, then what does receiving “at least $1.476 billion” in Saudi money signify about the two US Presidents in the Bush family?
OBAMA BACKING AWAY
None of above was pointed out by terrified Obama Administration officials, who chose instead to back away from a potential showdown with Israel’s Congressional champions. After Chas Freeman was instructed to step down from the NIC nomination, US Representative Steve Israel added insult to injury by publicly congratulating himself and his pro-Israel colleagues for forcing “Ambassador Freeman’s departure [and] preserv[ing] the impartiality of US intelligence”.
I am personally not one of those who believe in the existence in the United States of an all-powerful, all-capable pro-Israel lobby. I subscribe instead to the school of thought that views the pro-Israel (and not Jewish –the two are very much distinct) lobby as a supplementary mechanism used to fine-tune an already strong alliance between the US and Israel, built primarily on the latter’s consistent subservience to US national interests. Yet I do see this recent incident as indicative of the speed and efficiency that characterizes the pro-Israel political machinery in America’s capital.
On March 10, Chas Freeman issued a statement about his decision to withdraw his NIC nomination, noting the “special irony [of] having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government –in this case, the government of Israel”. He also suggested that his case raises “serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues”. It will be quite some time before this question can be addressed conclusively. What is certain for the time being is that, in the words of veteran national security correspondent Jeff Stein, “Obama won’t risk another fight with the Israeli lobby with his next NIC pick”.
* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis has been writing and teaching on the politics of intelligence for over ten years. His areas of academic expertise include the institutional analysis of the intelligence community; the interception of communications; and the history of intelligence with particular reference to international espionage during the Cold War. He is co-founder and Senior Editor of intelNews.org. His latest writings for intelNews.org are available here.