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.

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