Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Big Loser In The Decision To Cut Charles Freeman Loose: Israel-- Or At Least Its Long Term Prospects


My grandparents-- on both sides-- were Jewish. That means Hitler would have considered me a Jew as well. On the other hand, I consider myself a Buddhist. As a Jewish boy in Brooklyn, I was indoctrinated, as all American Jews are, to think that Israel is something special and has to do with God. I let that go around the same time I realized there was no tooth fairy.

In 1991 Roland and I decided to spend a month in Egypt (and the wonderful story of our Egyptian adventure is yours for the reading at that link). Roland's not Jewish; he's from Maine and I don't think he had ever met any before me. He's not even Catholic or Christian. He's just a Mainer. But he wants to visit everyplace and there was no holding him back from seeing Jerusalem when we were so close. So we took a bus across the Sinai and the Negev and spent a few days in Israel.

A friend is getting married in a couple weeks and he and his wife were both born in Israel. I've been considering going for the wedding-- like two or three days in Israel and then maybe a week someplace else in the neighborhood... anyplace else-- like Syria or Jordan. I've been all over the world and there are few places I went to that I liked less than Israel. It sure didn't feel like coming home to me. In fact, other than a night we spent in Bethlehem on the West Bank the whole place gave me the creeps. The people were unfriendly and the vibe was really bad. I couldn't wait to leave and we flew off to Istanbul at the first opportunity. But until yesterday I really was considering going back for my friends' wedding. I've been going back and forth on it all week.

The final nail in the coffin of the whole idea of visiting Israel again was a courageous open letter I read in The Cable by the much maligned Charles Freeman upon his withdrawal as Obama's nominee to the National Intelligence Council chair. It made me cringe and it made me angry and it made me remember how pushy and obnoxious the people I met in Israel were. The people were as ill-mannered and self-centered as people in Hong Kong, another place I hope to avoid in the future. It's worth reading all of Ambassador Freeman's letter. I'll post a couple of key sentences:
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.

...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.

There is a special irony in 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. I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel. It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so. This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States.

I wish I could just point the finger at the wretched likes of neo-Con fanatics of highly dubious loyalty to my country-- like Bill Kristol, the hysterical and venal Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Marty Peretz, Israeli spy Steve Rosen, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Jonathan Chait-- or clueless Republican obstructionists in the thrall of the Israeli lobby, like Mark Kirk (R-IL), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Kit Bond (R-MO), and a gaggle of clucking right-wing senators who in another time and place could surely have worked as concentration camp guards. Unfortunately, it looks like Zionist Jewish politicians inside the Democratic Party, specifically Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emanuel, and creepy NY Congressman Steve Israel, were at least as responsible for pushing Freeman off the island as any Republicans or members of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party.

Andrew Sullivan has summed up nicely the tragedy of this whole thing:
Obama may bring change in many areas, but there is no possibility of change on the Israel-Palestine question. Having the kind of debate in America that they have in Israel, let alone Europe, on the way ahead in the Middle East is simply forbidden. Even if a president wants to have differing sources of advice on many questions, the Congress will prevent any actual, genuinely open debate on Israel. More to the point: the Obama peeps never defended Freeman. They were too scared. The fact that Obama blinked means no one else in Washington will ever dare to go through the hazing that Freeman endured. And so the chilling effect is as real as it is deliberate.

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At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The establishment of the State of Israel was the biggest foreign policy blunder post WWII. To have a country based on a stupid religion is beyond the pale. America is also totally fucked to have so called religious people running the place. The talk to Goders are the biggest fools on the planet and have done more to hold back humanity than the black plaque.

With their inquisitions and their self righteous bull shit they have held back the progress of humanity at every possible turn. No more second hand gods. All the energy devoted to this nonsense could actually be used to improve things instead of perpetuating lies, superstitions and myths.

Let the people of the middle east choose democracy with free elections based on freedom of religion. No two state solution.

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Howie,

Actually, Jeffrey Goldberg WAS a concentration camp guard!

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm am an agnostic jewbu that was really hoping that was really hoping to see something different regarding American/Israeli policies. That and I am sick and tired of our tax money being used by Israel to buy more weapons to kill innocent people like in Gaza.

At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting. I am no fan of right-wing Israeli policies, but I was pretty impressed by the country when I was there. It seemed vibrant and sort of hopeful, excluding Jerusalem, which had all the craziest religionistas running the show. Haifa -- where Jews and Israeli Arabs live in relative happiness -- was astonishingly beautiful. A pleasant surprise, because I thought Israel was all about the historical and religious significance. But those areas are too politicized and frankly don't live up to their billing. Like I said, secular Israel was nice and welcoming.

The West Bank on the other hand, now that place gave me the creeps. To see people still living in refugee camps was disconcerting, to say the least. I was concerned with how unconcerned the Palestinians seemed with their own plight. The only time I saw anyone move about with any interest was when UN aid shipments were being dispersed (or so I was informed; didn't see the rice or medicines for myself). And this was before the Second Intifada when economic conditions were at a decent place -- there were almost no checkpoints, for example. (It was in the fairly hopeful Ehud Barak peace-deal years.) I'm not saying the Palestinians are deserving of responsibility for their situation, but the inaction and general resigned attitude was a little eerie on a couple of beautiful days.

I also got a look at Southern Lebanon and was blown away by the Hezbollah compounds. It was only men, most with light-to-medium arms. I don't think I saw a woman for 50km into Lebanon. The fear that grips that area is terrifying just to observe.

If you do go back to Israel, check out the less-well-trodden, secular areas, especially coastal and northern areas (Galilee/Golan) and then make your way to Jordan (or if you're feeling like utter depression, Syria). It might be worth your while.


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