I have been closely following the debate over whether or not Charles Freeman would be confirmed as the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, even though I haven’t blogged about it. The back-story, briefly, is that he has said some controversial and pretty critical things about Israel. Haaretz sums up the controversy this way:
Since news of Freeman’s nomination, Jewish organizations have leveled criticism at the pick due to his history of opposition to Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories.
Some lawmakers protested about remarks he made in the past on Israeli “oppression” of Palestinians, and about China. Freeman’s withdrawal came just hours after Blair defended him in Congress as a man of “strong views, of an inventive mind and the analytical point of view.”
You can read Jeffrey Goldberg or Marty Peretz if you want a good example of the criticisms. (Also, Freeman’s son wrote a blog post kvetching about the guys who are going after his dad and even said he was going to punch them in the face.) It was, if I can say so, pretty ugly. And it seemed to me that it was mostly the hawkish, pro-Israel folks who were spreading the ugliness.
And just now I go to Laura Rozen’s blog at ForeignPolicy.com and find out that Freeman has withdrawn. He writes in his official statement:
I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country. I agreed to chair the NIC to strengthen it and protect it against politicization, not to introduce it to efforts by a special interest group to assert control over it through a protracted political campaign.
I am not so immodest as to believe that this controversy was about me rather than issues of public policy. These issues had little to do with the NIC and were not at the heart of what I hoped to contribute to the quality of analysis available to President Obama and his administration. Still, I am saddened by what the controversy and the manner in which the public vitriol of those who devoted themselves to sustaining it have revealed about the state of our civil society. It is apparent that we Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance to our country as well as to our allies and friends.
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.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer had this to say (via TPM):
Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration. I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.
I’m not one of those people who thinks that the Israel lobby is some all powerful force that controls Washington. I know that Jews don’t control the media, I didn’t even fully agree with a lot of Walt and Mearsheimer’s book. But I do recognize that the pro-Israel lobby–in the media and in congress–is significant. Just as other lobbies do, they have power and they have money, and they have journalists who support them. And I think that this whole issue with Freeman is going to bring a lot more attention to the existence and power of this lobby.
Phil Weiss is already fuming (he called our president “shrewd timid Obama”) and, while I’m not going to to go as far as Weiss (as usual), I understand where he’s coming from. Juan Cole is probably going to have some similar thoughts tomorrow. I think that this incident is going to vindicate the foes of the Israel lobby. This is going to give them a good example to point to and say, “Look at the power of these people!” By that they don’t mean “the Jews.” They mean the Israel lobby. Though it doesn’t help that Marty Peretz and Jeffrey Goldberg are the ones making the case against Freeman.
So let’s see what happens. Maybe the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd has won a real victory here. Or maybe not.