Category Archives: Government

AIPAC Bars Me From Media Access to Their Conference

This is a guest post by Souciant Magazine and Inter Press Service writer Mitchell Plitnick, formerly with Jewish Voice for Peace and B’Tselem:

It’s a little hard to imagine. The self-proclaimed “most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill,” an admittedly deserved sobriquet, is apparently afraid of what little old me might say about their conference.

It’s hard to interpret what has happened in any other way, after my approved media credentials for AIPAC’s annual policy conference were rescinded without explanation just a few days before the event.

I applied for media access to the conference back in January. Soon after, I received an email from AIPAC’s then-media relations officer, Ari Goldberg, confirming acceptance of my application to attend as a reporter.

I am hardly unknown in this arena, and a quick search on Google would certainly have revealed that I was a progressive blogger, but also that I had written numerous pieces of straight journalism for Inter Press Service, the agency for which I will still be reporting on the conference.

So, it was no surprise that AIPAC credentialed me. Just as a major event at, say, the Center for American Progress (a think tank with unabashed ties to the Democratic Party) would not think twice about credentialing someone from FOX News, it is standard practice that such large organizations credential a wide range of media.

More surprising was the revocation of those credentials with just a few days to go before the conference.

With the conference slated to start on Sunday, I got a curt note on Wednesday, simply stating: “Thank you for your interest in attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference as a member of the press.   However, press credentials for the conference will not be issued to you.  We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.”

It came from someone named Sarah Coopersmith at Scott Circle Communications, a firm AIPAC contracted with to handle the press logistics. The email wasn’t even signed.

Inquiries to both Coopersmith and AIPAC’s new press officer, Adam Harris brought no response. Ari Goldberg, despite having left AIPAC, did respond to me, expressing surprise and the hope that this was just a mistake.

To say this is highly unusual behavior would be an understatement. And I wasn’t the only one this happened to.

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, who had been credentialed the past three years without incident, and Adele Stan, the Washington Bureau Chief at AlterNet were also rejected without explanation. As I understand it, Phil and Adele were rejected outright. In my case, I was given media access and then had it revoked.

The combination was enough to get the attention of Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Ron has been in the DC scene writing about the politics here around Israel for years. He knows just how unusual this is. As he wrote, “Barring coverage in Washington is rare; Government institutions in Washington are known for accommodating a broad range of journalists, including those adamantly hostile to the government of the day.”

Apparently, as well, Chris McGreal of the Guardian (UK) was also summarily excluded, but after Ron’s piece came out in the JTA, AIPAC reinstated him, saying it was an oversight. Maybe it had nothing to do with trying to prevent the story from getting much bigger by excluding such a large international news source. Maybe it had everything to do with it, and Ron’s story made AIPAC nervous. I’ll let you make that call.

Kampeas, who has known me personally for several years, described me in JTA this way: “… a liberal blogger who has sparred with right-wing pro-Israel groups as well as anti-Zionists, and who was going to provide coverage for Inter Press Service, which emphasizes developing nations coverage as well as what it calls marginalized groups.”

Sounds like someone critical of AIPAC, but hardly like someone who would frighten them so much they would revoke credentials already given.

Now, I certainly have been very critical of AIPAC and the so-called “Israel Lobby.” But I have also engaged in public debates, including one appearance just after his book came out with Stephen Walt (who, in spirit of full disclosure, knows I disagree with parts of his thesis and nevertheless has developed a personal and professional relationship with me that has, at least from my end, been amazingly rewarding), when I believe the influence of that very powerful lobby is exaggerated.

Put simply, I’ve always called it like I saw it, both when that has gotten me some positive exposure and when it brought me into conflict, sometimes even with people in organizations I was working for.

No doubt, my professional experience as Co-Director of Jewish Voice for Peace and Director of the US Office of B’Tselemdoes not strike the folks at AIPAC well. Yet, I have, on more than one occasion, had very civil conversations with AIPAC staff members and officials.

It sure looks to me like AIPAC changed the way it deals with the press when Ari Goldberg left and Adam Harris replaced him. Perhaps reflecting a sense that, while the polls show no change in US citizens’ view of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the public discourse has been slowly shifting these past few years. It seems that the new regime at AIPAC is trying to manage the news with a much heavier hand as a result.

I’ll still be reporting on the conference, and I’ll still be doing it for Inter Press. What I won’t be able to do is give as full a picture as I could have of the feeling in the room, the people in attendance, the pulse of the crowd, the nuance and diversity there.

If I’m so threatening to AIPAC as a reporter, it’s hard to see how setting those limits on what I will have access to write about serves their purpose.

This conference is likely to be focused very strongly on the push for increased aggression  towards Iran. Maybe they feel their case is so weak that they have to resort to such heavy-handed tactics.

Again, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Is the U.S. Consulate Cooperating in Silencing Palestinian Activists?

Mohammed Omer, the Gazan journalist and photographer, is scheduled for a U.S. speaking tour together with Ali Abunimah.  The U.S. consulate in the Netherlands, where Omer now resides, has put an extended hold on his visa application, effectively cancelling the tour.   Omer has lived in the Netherlands since 2008, after he was detained and severely beaten by the Shin Bet when he returned to Gaza from London, where he had been awarded the prestigious Gellhorn Award for Journalism.

A similar silencing happened earlier this month in the Bay Area where I live, when the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem never responded to the visa application of Mohammed Khatib, founder and leader of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall.  He was scheduled to speak at the Sabeel Conference and at universities throughout the area.  He had been arrested by Israeli forces in 2009 on charges of throwing stones (this 36-year-old Catholic High School teacher), and later released when it was proven that that he was abroad at the time of the alleged incident. He was arrested again in January, this time charged with possession of “incitement materials.” We never got to see him. By not responding, the U.S. Consulate effectively cancelled his trip.  .

The American Civil Liberties Union has described the practice of denying visas to foreign nationals whose views the government disfavors as “ideological exclusion”, which violates our First Amendment right as Americans to hear constitutionally protected speech.  In the case of Omer and Khatib, inaction has had  the same effect as denial of their  visas, except without the explanation that a denial would require.

So it makes you wonder whether the U.S. Consulate is acting in concert with Israel to keep Palestinian nonviolent activists from getting the word out about the reality of Occupation.

We in the Bay Area were deprived of our chance to hear Mohammed Khatib speak, but there is still a window of opportunity to call on the U.S. Consulate in the Netherlands to approve Omer’s visa application so that his voice can be heard here.

U.S. consulate information:
Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S. Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The Netherlands
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688
-Carol Sanders
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Think tank tells Israeli government to declare war on peace groups

They’re baaaaack – Israel’s “most influential” think tank tells Israeli government to “attack” and “sabotage” global peace and human rights groups (as opposed to domestic groups which are already under attack.)

I wrote last month about the Reut (pronounced Ray-OOT) Institute’s report on what they see as the new existential threat to Israel. No longer military, the report said, the primary threat to Israel is political. Israel must fight a “delegitimization network” of peace and human rights groups based largely in four international “hubs”: Toronto, Madrid, London and the San Francisco Bay Area (where Jewish Voice for Peace is located.)

(Now, more of the report is available on-line, including a cool animated PowerPoint! Read terrific in-depth pieces on the new material by Ali Abunimah and Richard Silverstein.)

There are many astonishing elements of the report. One is the blame it places on others including the global left for the increasing political viability of a one-state solution. In fact it is Israel’s never-ending expansion of settlements that has made a two-state solution seem more and more unlikely by the day, not the global human rights movement. What groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) seek to delegitimize is the occupation and massive inequality and human rights violations committed against Palestinians, not Israel itself. Even most Palestinians, polls show, want their own viable state over a one-state solution. (JVP is neutral on the issue of one state or two or three for that matter, supporting any resolution consistent with international law which is largely supported by both parties.)

If the Israelis really wanted the Palestinians to have a state of their own, they could have made it happen years ago and the entire world would have cheered, and since 2002, they would have had full relations with all their Arab neighbors. But instead, the Israeli government has used endless peace negotiations as a way to expand settlements while keeping the international community at bay.  If the one-state solution marks the greatest existential threat to Israel, as the Reut report suggests, the Israeli government has no one to blame
but itself. The global peace and justice movement is the symptom, not the cause.

Secondly, the report actually dares to suggest “sabotage” of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace who are part of an international peace and justice  human rights network and who actively support Israeli and Palestinian activists on the ground (our sites include: www.December18th.org, www.FreeEzra.org, www.TheOnlyDemocracy.org etc..). We take this very seriously. Perhaps this is the way NGOs are
increasingly handled in Israel, especially under Netanyahu. But it’s certainly not how the government, and especially a foreign government, is expected to respond to law- abiding NGOs here in the United States (Ahem, Cointelpro and other efforts notwithstanding). And frankly, we won’t stand for it.

Plus it’s just a stupid idea.

How a report that says in one breath that Israel’s future lies in branding itself as a high-tech, eco-conscious and cultured democracy while simultaneously suggesting “sabotage” and “attacks” on law-abiding peace groups is stunning.  Instead of driving a wedge between “soft” and “hard” critics of Israel, as the report suggests, promoting these kinds of war-like responses against human rights groups will backfire and turn the most casual critics of Israeli policies into supporters of much harsher measures. This, after all, is
the primary legacy of Cast Lead, Israel’s massive attack on Gaza’s entrapped population.

If the Reut Institute really wanted to offer some helpful advice on how Israel might stop the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, they might start by advising the Israeli government to end the
occupation.

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Pogrebin on the “Israel-right-or-wrong mafia” in Moment magazine

First Jewish Week’s James Besser, and now the writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin, known to many as a feminist hero and Jewish activist, has written a groundbreaking piece in the Jewish magazine Moment. Her essay, “Jewish McCarthyism Strikes Gold(stone)”, in which she decries the shameful campaign against Richard Goldstone who investigated the war with Gaza on behalf of the UN, is remarkable because of where it appears, a respected Jewish magazine read by members of all branches of American Judaism. More evidence that the Jewish center is shifting and that the starry-eyed love-affair we American Jews have had with our fantasy of Israel is ending. Pogrebin writes:

Some weeks after the report’s release, a rabbi friend emailed me asking what I thought of it, promising me “confidentiality.” He knew how perilous it can be for a Jew to go public with an opinion that diverges from the “mainstream,” meaning the views expressed by “Jewish leaders” of “major Jewish organizations” and others who purport to speak for “the Jewish community.”

To understand the price for breaking ranks, just look at how mercilessly Judge Goldstone—a proud Jew and declared Zionist—was vilified, not by gentile anti-Semites or Arabist Israel-haters but by Jews in the Israel-right-or-wrong mafia who, rather than address the troubling issues raised in the report, resorted to character assassination to delegitimate its lead author.

Regarding Goldstone’s final report, she concludes:

I wish the document’s charges were being actively discussed and convincingly rebutted by an internal investigation, but debate has been effectively squelched. Smears and death threats have done little to erode Judge Goldstone’s prestige among those familiar with his lifelong commitment to truth and justice. But the ad hominen attacks have deeply wounded him, his wife, two daughters and four grandsons who must relate to their Jewish friends and colleagues under a cloud of McCarthyite slander.

Of course, on the surface, such a deliberate and calculated attempt by a significant portion of the Jewish and Israeli leadership to destroy the life of another Jew, who by all accounts is not just a great human being but a true friend to Israel, makes absolutely no sense. But as we see in this older but must-read Nation article, Israeli historian Idith Zertal shows in Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood that the builders of the state of Israel, like Ben-Gurion, long acted as though the interests of the Zionist project far outweighed the interests of individual Jews, whether Mizrachi Jews from Arab countries or traumatized Holocaust survivors. The stories are sadly numerous: From the tragic 4,500 Holocaust survivors on the famous Exodus ship, who through Ben-Gurion’s intervention were forced to stay on the boat for 7 months (Chaim Weizmann convinced the French Prime Minister to take them in as refugees, but Ben-Gurion thought they were more useful to him if they remained on the ship and helped build sympathy for a future Israel) — to the coerced “recruitment”  of exhausted Holocaust survivors into the Haganah, the Jewish underground militia that fought the war of ’48.

Certainly anyone who has witnessed protests by elderly, poverty-stricken Israeli Holocaust survivors and their families against an Israeli government that failed to care for them would find this history believable. Or those aware of the cavalier attitudes towards Jewish life exemplified by the settlement project itself. And so on and so forth…

In that sense, Pogrebin’s piece is striking for what it doesn’t say explicitly but necessarily plants in the minds of Jewish readers: perhaps it’s long past time to assume the interests of most Jews are aligned with the interests of Israeli governments when it comes to valuing the lives of Jews, let alone our cousins, Palestinians. As a Jew essentially sacrificed at the altar of toxic nationalism, Goldstone sadly has plenty of good company.

-Cecilie Surasky
cecilie@jvp.org

Toronto, London, Berkeley: new axis of evil, declares Reut Institute

My Muzzlewatch stump speech has long talked about the parallel Middle East battle happening on the level of language and imagery:

While Israelis and Palestinians struggle over land, water and basic human rights in the Middle
East, a proxy battle is being waged here in the United States. Instead of Qassam rockets and
F-16s, the weapons are words, images and the internet. Instead of orchards and city streets, the battlefield is academia, journalism, politics, arts and publishing. And instead of calling it what it is–a struggle between those who unconditionally support often disastrous US-Israeli policies, and those who do not– the debate is framed as being about national security, the war on terror, and the clash of civilizations.

This battle is actually global, though the stakes in the US are obvious- unconditional diplomatic and financial support for Israel while it pursues its dream of a Greater Israel. But either way, it is framed as a battle between those who care about Israel/Jews, democracy and Western values, and those who threaten them. This framing benefits right wing Israel advocacy groups by erasing any legitimate Palestinian claims, collapsing all forms of resistance, including nonviolent civil society, under the banner of ‘terrorism.” Further, it means that Israel’s human rights record, and the US support which makes it possible, is removed from consideration

Recently, the Israeli think tank, the Reut Institute, has come up with its own version of this analysis which it is presenting to Israeli diplomats. Their frame is that this is a grassroots battle over the legitimacy of Israel (whatever that means), thus delegitimizing virtually any resistance to human rights violations and systemic inequality.

Substitute “Enemy Command HQ” for “Hubs of Delegitimacy.” Instead of “enemy armor outflanking our infantry,” use “resistance networks outflanking the IDF to attack Israel’s very legitimacy.” Instead of bombing Israeli embassies – picketing Israeli stores and taking Israeli products off supermarket shelves.

Pair Iran’s nuclear program, an existential threat to Israel, with the simultaneous creation of an existential political threat, and you are talking in a new type of language, and a new type of warfare in which the IDF is not equipped to engage in, and perhaps shouldn’t be engaging in.

A new report by the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based national security and socioeconomic policy think tank, maps out the “new battlefield” in which Israel finds the legitimacy of its very existence attacked by a wide array of organizations and individuals in global centers like London, Toronto, Brussels, Madrid and Berkeley.

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$7 million muzzling shocker- Canadian government cuts off funds for church group it calls anti-Semitic

Despite a 35-year collaboration, the Canadian church group KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, “one of Canada’s most respected and important charitable organizations,” was stunned when their likely routine 7 million dollar request for the human rights program was denied by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). But they were even more surprised when they discovered why: although the group’s board had made public their opposition to sanctions and boycotts against Israel 2 years earlier, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in a speech he gave this week in Israel charged the group with being anti-Semitic for “taking a leadership role in the boycott.” Kenney, speaking at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, said they were “defunding” groups as part of their new “zero-tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism.  (Read the full text of his speech here. )

In his speech, Kenney included in a list of acts of anti-Semitism, like the spray-painting of swastikas on a Canadian Holocaust memorial, the spray-painting of the phrase “Stop the Israeli genocide in Gaza”.

Anti-human rights/Israel lobby group NGO Monitor built an extensive dossier on KAIROS– which represents Canada’s Mennonites, the Anglican, United and Catholic Churches and does work in some of the poorest regions of the world.

Kairos came under fire for co-sponsoring, along with 50 other groups, an international Sabeel conference in 2005 on morally responsible investment. (Sabeel is “an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians,” and Jewish Voice for Peace frequently co-sponsors Sabeel conferences here in the United States.)

In this comprehensive and thoughtful 2008 strategy paper on using “economic advocacy measures… to advance peace between Palestinians and Israelis, ” KAIROS said:

KAIROS affirms the desire of the Israeli people for a secure homeland, recognizing the long, terrible and continuing history of anti-Semitism, and the vital role of Israel to Jewish people around the world. KAIROS also recognizes the great suffering of the Palestinian people, many of whom live as refugees in surrounding countries, and others who have lived under Occupation for 40 years, and affirms their right to a secure and viable homeland. KAIROS calls for an end to the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories and for two secure states based on the June 4, 1967 borders.

They also explicitly rejected “sanctions against Israel” and “a boycott of products from Israel.” But in line with the universal recognition of the illegality of settlements, they did also advocate for things like:

limiting the geographical applicability of Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement to within the 1967 borders of the State of Israel; and

enforcing a certification of origin for goods coming from settlements in the Occupied Palestinians Territories;   

and, almost identical to the Presbyterian Church USA’s strategy:

That where KAIROS members opt to pursue shareholder action respecting Canadian companies doing business in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories (that are contributing directly or indirectly to violence, occupation or other human rights abuses in the region), shareholder action shall move through several stages, from dialogue with senior company management to filing shareholder proposals and, as a last resort, divestment. 

So, after so much thoughtful and sensitive delving into ways to responsibly use economic pressure and investment, what did they get for their troubles? Charges of anti-Semitism.
(At Jewish Voice for Peace, where we have devised a similarly nuanced approach to economic pressure that works for us, choosing to focus on companies that profit from the occupation, or groups that fund settlements, we’ve seen from day one how pro-occupation groups purposefully and immediately ignore the facts, and raise the urgent flag of anti-Semitism as a strategy to kill virtually any resistance activity that goes beyond nicely asking the Israeli government to stop violating international law. Ironically, as they deny more and more people the right to boycott settlement goods only, they leave them with no choice but to boycott all Israeli products. )

A KAIROS official responded in The Star:

“It’s a horrible charge to make, and to do it with so little thought cheapens the reality of anti-Semitism in the world and diminishes the very careful attention that it deserves,” said United Church spokesperson Bruce Gregersen. “We’re quite disappointed in the government on this.

“The policies of KAIROS have all been approved by the collective board of KAIROS, so in a sense what Mr. Kenney is doing is accusing Canadian churches of being anti-Semitic and I think that’s really unfortunate,”

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That commenter on your blog may actually be working for the Israeli government

Straight out of Avigdor Lieberman’s Foreign Ministry: a new Internet Fighting Team! Israeli students and demobilized soldiers get paid to pretend they are just regular folks and leave pro-Israel comments on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other sites. The effort is meant to fight the “well-oiled machine” of “pro-Palestinian websites, with huge budgets… with content from the Hamas news agency.” The approach was test-marketed during Israel’s assault on Gaza, and by groups like Give Israel Your United Support, a controversial effort to use instant-access technology to crowd-source Israel advocates to fill in flash polls or vote up key articles on social networking sites.

Will the responders who are hired for this also present themselves as “ordinary net-surfers”?

“Of course,” says Shturman. “Our people will not say: ‘Hello, I am from the policy-explanation department of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and I want to tell you the following.’ Nor will they necessarily identify themselves as Israelis. They will speak as net-surfers and as citizens, and will write responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the Foreign Ministry developed.”

The full article, translated by Occupation Magazine into English here:

The Foreign Ministry presents: talkbackers in the service of the State
By: Dora Kishinevski
Calcalist 5 July 2009

Translated for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

After they became an inseparable part of the service provided by public-relations companies and advertising agencies, paid Internet talkbackers are being mobilized in the service in the service of the State. The Foreign Ministry is in the process of setting up a team of students and demobilized soldiers who will work around the clock writing pro-Israeli responses on Internet websites all over the world, and on services like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The Foreign Ministry’s department for the explanation of Israeli policy* is running the project, and it will be an integral part of it. The project is described in the government budget for 2009 as the “Internet fighting team” – a name that was given to it in order to distinguish it from the existing policy-explanation team, among other reasons, so that it can receive a separate budget. Even though the budget’s size has not yet been disclosed to the public, sources in the Foreign Ministry have told Calcalist that in will be about NIS 600.000 in its first year, and it will be increased in the future. From the primary budget, about NIS 200.000 will be invested in round-the-clock activity at the micro-blogging website Twitter, which was recently featured in the headlines for the services it provided to demonstrators during the recent disturbances in Iran.

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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.

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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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.