Monthly Archives: March 2009

Chas Freeman on Israel Lobby? Or is it the Lieberman Lobby?

Don’t know the Chas Freeman story or why it matters? You can start with Muzzlewatch editor Cecilie Surasky’s op-ed in yesterday’s Oakland Tribune. Chas Freeman is now doing lots of no holds-barred interviews on his battle with “the Israel Lobby.” Watch his extensive Al Jazeera video interview above, or read his interview with the terrific Larry Cohler-Esses at the Forward.

But Freeman also did not mince words about his view of American and Israeli interests. They are, he said, “divergent.”

“It’s a foreign country, and while maybe 40 years ago many of its values were convergent with ours, I think there’s been a divergence of values,” Freeman told the Forward in a phone interview. He argued that this trend is embodied most clearly in the rise of controversial right-wing Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman.

“I think the values in Israel are deeply disturbing now to many in the Jewish community, as well,” he said.

He does, however, moderate some of his earlier accusations that his job nomination was torpedoed by the entire “the Israel Lobby”:

He has since voiced regret that he referred to his opponents then as “the Israel Lobby.” “I’d call this little group the ‘Lieberman lobby,’” he told the Forward, explaining that he viewed them as hardcore defenders of what he considers Israel’s racist tendencies toward Palestinians, as embodied by Lieberman, the country’s incoming foreign minister.

Freeman is absolutely right to make this distinction. Lobbying for an Israel that is a truly democratic nation does not make one an automatic supporter of occupation, racism and injustice (any more than lobbying for a hyphenated Israel-Palestine makes one a hater of Jews).

For too long, the lobby has been exclusively represented by Likudniks/or the Lieberman lobby as Freeman calls it, but that it changing.  “The Israel Lobby” is increasingly becoming a sloppy term that renders invisible a great deal of difference on the political scale, and erases the many people who consider themselves part of the lobby with deeply humanitarian concerns who would want to see someone like Chas Freeman analyze intelligence for the US.

It is possible, in fact desirable, to care equally deeply about both Israelis and Palestinians, and to want for them peace, justice and democracy in the form they choose.

Newspaper targeted, Foxman says Zionism is racism

The editors and publishers of The Berkeley Daily Planet, Berkeley, California’s daily paper,  took the unusual step of writing their first joint statement to address pressure on advertisers. They write about a lot of issues- it being Berkeley and all- but…

The most controversial topic is by far the Israel-Palestine conflict. The vast majority of our submissions on the topic include some criticism of Israel. This leads some, like Mr. Sinkinson—who has been pressuring our advertisers to withdraw their support—to accuse the paper of anti-Semitism. This is an all-too-common technique by Israel’s more conservative partisans to stifle debate on the topic and to marginalize those who express even the mildest criticism of Israel.

Here’s the interesting thing, in a city purported to have one of the highest Jewish populations per capita on the West Coast, or maybe anywhere in the US:

The fact is that we receive almost no submissions that make a positive, proactive case for Israel. The only letters we receive from Israel supporters are in reaction to critics—letters that accuse those critics of bias and anti-Semitism. And we have printed many of these accusations over the years.

Meanwhile, intrepid reporter and analyst Phil Weiss sat through a lengthy panel on “Why Zionism has Become a Dirty Word” to bring us all this priceless quote from the Anti-Defemation League’s spokesmodel-from-another-era Abe Foxman:

“Can you be anti-Zionist and not be an anti-Semite? Almost never. Unless you can prove to me you’re against nationalism. If you’re one of those unique individuals in this world that’s opposed to American nationalism, French nationalism, Palestinian nationalism, then you can be opposed to Jewish nationalism. Is it racist? You bet it is. Every nationalism is racist. It sets its laws of citizenship, it sets its own capital… It sets its songs, it sets its values. It is, if you will, exclusive, and you can even call it racist. But if the only nationalism in the world that is racist is Jewish nationalism, then you’re an anti-Semite.. I don’t want to make any apologies for it. ”

Wow Abe. If this is how you defend Zionism….

Roundup: Canadian letter, old story gets recirculated and more

In Canada, progressive Jews like Naomi Klein are  “Concerned About Suppression of Criticism of Israel.”

The signatories are particularly concerned that unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism deflect attention from Israel’s accountability for what many have called war crimes in Gaza. They state that B’nai Brith and the Canadian Jewish Congress have led campaigns to silence criticism of Israel on university campuses, in labour unions and in other groups. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff unquestioningly echo the views of these particular Jewish organizations.

The signatories strongly state that they are against all expressions of racism. While firmly committed to resisting any form of prejudice against Jewish people, their statement explicitly states that these spurious allegations of anti-Semitism bring the anti-Communist terror of the 1950s vividly to mind. The statement underlines the immeasurable suffering and injustice to the Palestinian people due to the severe poverty, daily humiliations, and military invasions inflicted by the State of Israel.

Meanwhile, here in the US, a nine-year old letter is circulating the net about Jewish newspaper editor Debbie Ducro being fired for publishing an op-ed by a Jewish American sympaethic to the Palestinian right of return. This blogger dug deeper to uncover the back story behind the 9-year old story.

Other progressive Jewish bloggers insist, like many within Israel these days, that the argument is over and that it is, in fact apartheid, and want other bloggers and activists to say the same.

In Israel, we continue to watch the blatant censorship and suppression of the rights of 20% of the Israeli population, and eagerly await the outcry of American Jewish leadership that claims it is committed to Israel’s survival as a vial democracy.

Hasbara Handbook: How to pretend to debate while smashing your opponent

Yes Virginia, there really is a Hasbara Handbook. You can download your very own copy right now – this one, by the World Union of Jewish Students, is from 2002 and aims to help students make the case for Israel.

You could, the book suggests, try one of two methods. You could engage in real debate or you could “point score.”  As it says on page 9 under the title “How to score points whilst avoiding debate”, and no I did not make this up: “Central to point scoring is the ability to disguise point scoring by giving the impression of genuine debate. Audience members can be alienated by undisguised attacks so all point scoring needs to be disguised.” Try as I might, I could not find Alan Dershowitz’s name listed as a writer, or at least the inspiration.

Download the book. There’s lots more to help you spot “point-scoring” versus, you know, real debate.

Israel tries branding … again

Update: You can download the actual 2006 branding report here. Download: Brand Israel Study

Richard Silverstein gave us this heads-up about Israel’s latest efforts to bypass reality and win friends and gain influence. NYT reports the new $2 million effort to re-brand Israel:

“When we show Sderot, others also see Gaza,” said Ido Aharoni, manager of a rebranding team at the Foreign Ministry. “Everything is twinned when seen through the conflict. The country needs to position itself as an attractive personality, to make outsiders see it in all its reality.”

This is old news. Several years ago at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in LA, I watched in person as Tzipi Livni and friends announced with great fanfare their first re-branding effort.  And boy, did it launch with a bang. That same month, before the latest Gaza war, and Netanyahu and Lieberman, mind you, Israel Today reported:

As if Israel’s position in the world in not bad enough, a new survey published in the US Wednesday says that Israel is suffering from the worst public image among all countries of the world.The study, called the National Brands Index, conducted by government advisor Simon Anholt and powered by global market intelligence solutions provider GMI (Global Market Insite, Inc.), shows that Israel is at the bottom of the list by a considerable margin in the public’s perception of its image.

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Popcorn effect: the world is changing

For those of you old enough to remember making popcorn in a pot over the fire or stove, you know you have to wait a long time as the heat builds up slowly. Finally, just one lonely kernel pops. Then, an eternity later, another one pops on the other side of the pot. Wait awhile, and another one pops. When you’re really hungry, it can feel like forever. But then something happens- the frequency starts to change and you get 2 or 3 kernels popping at a time, first here and then there. And then, the unthinkable happens- it’s as though all the kernels start popping simultaneously in a big cacophony until there’s no room left in the pot.

Well, it’s hard not to feel like we’re finally getting the popcorn we’ve been waiting for,  a sudden acceleration of open speaking and thinking, after years of more solitary popping of voices here and there. The war on Gaza has gone a long way in making that happen. The most recent example? After Jon Stewart and  Bill Moyers on Gaza, or the NYT’s Roger Cohen’s amazing columns, we have The Los Angeles Times, which on the same day, in a spirit of real openness to debate, printed Ben (son of Barbara) Ehrenreich’s Zionism is the problem. who wrote:

Yet it is no longer possible to believe with an honest conscience that the deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and the West Bank come as the result of specific policies, leaders or parties on either side of the impasse. The problem is fundamental: Founding a modern state on a single ethnic or religious identity in a territory that is ethnically and religiously diverse leads inexorably either to politics of exclusion (think of the 139-square-mile prison camp that Gaza has become) or to wholesale ethnic cleansing. Put simply, the problem is Zionism.

and Judea (father of Daniel) Pearl’s Is anti-Zionism hate? who lays out why he thinks “anti-Zionism is in many ways more dangerous than anti-Semitism.”

… modern society has developed antibodies against anti-Semitism but not against anti-Zionism. Today, anti-Semitic stereotypes evoke revulsion in most people of conscience, while anti-Zionist rhetoric has become a mark of academic sophistication and social acceptance in certain extreme yet vocal circles of U.S. academia and media elite. Anti-Zionism disguises itself in the cloak of political debate, exempt from sensitivities and rules of civility that govern inter-religious discourse, to attack the most cherished symbol of Jewish identity.

Three cheers for the Los Angeles Times who will certainly be targeted by right-wing groups for daring to actually allow a real debate. A colleague of mine who suggested to me that while the rest of the pundit (and academic class) is shifting, quite dramatically, the dominant institutional Jewish world (of which my colleague is a part), not knowing what to do, is becoming even more closed and rigid. IMHO, Judea Pearl’s essay, which focuses endlessly on we Jews as victims but fails to even once acknowledge the undeniable price paid by Palestinians for the founding of Israel, is an example of this deeply emotional but thoroughly corrosive phenomenon.

Israeli human rights advocate Halper too hot to handle for Jewish paper

Antony Loewenstein gets to the heart of the matter- the Sydney-based Jewish newspaper, Australian Jewish News (AJN), just refused to run an ad promoting a talk by Israeli Committee Against House Demolition’s Jeff Halper, but happily runs ads supporting extremist settlers, because nobody complains:

I contacted the AJN’s National Editor, Ashley Browne, to shed more light on the decision to block the ad. He said that the paper was not obliged to run the ads and refused ads all the time.

When pushed, he acknowledged that he supported the publisher, Polaris Media’s Robert Magid – who recently claimed in the paper that the late English playwright Harold Pinter was a “political extremist” for daring to criticise Israel – to cut ads that would “offend significant members of the community, especially subscribers”. I asked him how an ad that simply listed a handful of events would be “offensive”, but he gave no further information.

Magid told the Herald that he rejected the ad because he didn’t “like the crowd who are bringing him out.” He went on: “I am familiar with them. They use their Judaism to bash other Jews and issues associated with the Jewish community.”

I queried Browne why the paper seemed happy to run irregular ads from the fundamentalist, West Bank settler movement. “Nobody has ever complained about those ads,” he replied. Clearly the message of the colonial project in the West Bank – a recent EU report found yet more evidence of illegal development around East Jerusalem – is less “offensive” than a mild-mannered Jewish peace activist.

Last year, as we reported, Sacramento, California’s Jewish newspaper similarly refused to run a calendar item about Dr. Alice Rothchild’s book tour. The backlash forced them to print an explanation on page one of the next edition.

The moral fiber of any community is built by addressing, head-on, the challenging questions raised by these human rights leaders– it is not built be refusing to even entertain the questions.

Goodbye Chas Freeman- how dumb do they think we are?

In the immediate aftermath of Chas Freeman’s decision to step down from consideration as top intelligence analyst, there is a lot of finger-pointing about who is to blame.

There is no doubt that there was a campaign led by former AIPAC operative Steve Rosen to discredit Freeman because of reasonable statements he has made about Israel and US foreign policy.  Rosen is a man, mind you, soon going to trial for spying. In fact, Max Blumenthal’s excellent piece on Rosen’s bullying tactics uncovered this juicy tidbit:

The one-time power broker suddenly became persona non grata on Capitol Hill. In 2007, Rosen announced a new mission to The Forward’s Nathan Guttman: avenging “the strong anti-Israel sentiment among individuals in America’s intelligence community, which he believes is what led to the investigation against him in the first place.”

Blumenthal also looked under the rock to find this other AIPAC tie to the campaign:

Spencer Ackerman, a national-security reporter for the Washington Independent, first reported the rumors. “Reporter friends of mine have told me that AIPAC has been shopping oppo research on Freeman around,” Ackerman wrote on March 5.

Writers like The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Republic’s Marty Peretz, Rich Lowery at The National Review and The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb, happily joined in and within minutes, the anti-Freeman chorus was singing in tune.

But it is also true that the campaign against him started gaining ground in Congress when additional concerns surfaced regarding his financial relationships with Saudi Arabia and China. Despite Freeman’s statement to the contrary, many will insist to the bitter end that he was taken down, not by his Israel politics, but by these other concerns:

“This was not about Israel, it was about a revolving door through which Freeman rotated and was paid handsomely,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), after Freeman withdrew his name from consideration on Tuesday. The New York congressman was referring to the idea of the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia going from serving the U.S. government, to being paid by foreign governments and then returning to government service.

“There was a steady revelation of financial conflicts of interest involving foreign powers that were troubling,” said Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who along with Israel, led the opposition in Congress. “If it had simply been a dispute about Middle East policy, he would have survived.”

But the reasoning is false. And its untrue.  Somebody started the pile-on and as conservative journalist Andrew Sullivan, Max Blumenthal and others have identified, it’s clear who it was. Not people concerned about financial ties of public servants, or as MJ Rosenberg points out, people who give 2 cents about human rights, but rather those concerned with protecting the terrible status quo of unconditional US support for Israel–even when Israel shoots itself and everyone else in the foot time and time again. Others may, thankfully, have authentic concerns about human rights in China and Saudi Arabia, but they did not create this campaign.

Further, Freeman himself blamed the Israel Lobby in no uncertain terms, which means that he stepped down, clearly devastated by the personal attacks and smears about his relationship to Israel, exactly as he was meant to. This is the goal of intimidation through these full throttle attacks- just ask Jimmy Carter, or Archbishop Tutu or Bill Moyers for heaven’s sake. Even if a former Nobel-prize winning president can survive the onslaught, as painful as it has personally been for Carter, the lesson to the rest of us is clear. Don’t even try.

From Freeman’s statement:

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.”

This has been a litmus test to see if a new order of reality-based policymakers has once and for all moved back to DC after the last very long exile. The answer, for the time being, isn’t very pretty. It’s not just the Palestinians who are the most obvious losers. It’s certainly the US, but also Israel.

Charles Freeman’s statement on shameful smear campaign

Wow. Wow. Wow. Chas Freeman says, ” 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….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.” Foreign Policy has his entire statement:

Retired Amb. Chas Freeman, who said today that he no longer accepts an offer to chair the National Intelligence Council, has just sent this message:

You will by now have seen the statement by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reporting that I have withdrawn my previous acceptance of his invitation to chair the National Intelligence Council.

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.

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Bullies win: Charles Freeman out.

In my post this morning, I suggested the nomination of Charles Freeman for top intelligence analyst post would be the test for Glenn Greenwald’s optimistic theory that the age of right-wing “pro-Israel” bullying was over. Well, score one for the bullies:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The candidate for a top U.S. intelligence post withdrew from the running on Tuesday after angering some in Congress with remarks on Israeli “oppression” of Palestinians, and about China.

The office of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in a statement that Charles Freeman, who had been picked to head the National Intelligence Council, had asked not to proceed.

Blair had accepted Freeman’s decision with regret, the statement said.