Israel/Palestine,  Stateside,  Your View

Five comments on Chas Freeman

This is a guest post by Alex Stein of

1. What does Obama think about what’s happened? An interesting piece in Slate suggests one of the reasons for leaking candidates’ names before finalising them is to gauge opinion on the prospective appointment. The Freeman appointment got a lot further down the road than a leak, of course, but the principle still applies. Could Obama have been using the National Intelligence Council position as a barometer to test how the interested parties would react? Or is that granting him too much foresight? Certainly, he’s already got into trouble in making appointments, partly because of a lack of foresight and partly because of the difficulties in having to make so many new appointments (one of the strange quirks of the American system). In any case, I’m not sure it means much vis-a-vis policy, given that the role of the NIC director – properly understood –  is to dispassionately deliver intelligence assessments and then let the policy-makers do their stuff.

2. In this sense, surely even Freeman’s defenders would acknowledge that he doesn’t seem to be the most dispassionate guy around. This goes further than Israel, of course. His comments on China were troubling (although he had expressed regret), and he certainly seemed to be a bit too intimately connected to the Saudi government. Had he had a similar relationship with the Israelis, we know what the response of Freeman’s defenders would have been.

3. Still, at risk of offending some of my comrades, I have to confess that I accept the existence of a strong Israeli lobby. I don’t think there’s anything sinister about all this – they’re just very good at playing the game – but it does trouble me, particularly as AIPAC and friends are clearly tied to a narrow Likudnik perspective on Israel. As an Israeli citizen, it frustrates me that the American Jewish community can potentially have more influence on what happens here than I can. Because of this, I’m pleased with the creation of J-Street and the Israel Policy Forum, who are doing a good job in putting some balance back in the game.

4. AIPAC & friends might have overplayed their hand. Post-Gaza, it’s clear that the IP debate in the US is much more open than it used to be (although still nowhere near as open as  it is here). When you also take into account the various espionage allegations floating around, AIPAC would be well advised to tread carefully. If they become a self-fulfilling prophecy, the result would be potentially catastrophic for American Jewry. As is his style, Obama seems to be maintaining a studious distance from the furore; that might not remain the case once the new Israeli government comes to power. Rather than a reminder of the ever-present strength of AIPAC, we might be witnessing its last, violent eruptions.

5. I agree with Stephen Walt’s paradox about the future of Israel without a powerful lobby ’supporting’ it in the States. “The irony is that people like me have more confidence in Israel than they do: I think Israel can survive and prosper if it has a normal relationship with the United States instead of [sic] special one.” I would add one point: the lobby is surely partly driven by the guilt of American Jewry, the guilt that they’re over there and not over here. If they really cared, they would come to the land to build it and be built by it. As things stand, they are able to live out a fantasy, one in which they can shape the future of the promised land without laying down true roots on its soil, while at the same time avoiding its realities. This is the tragedy of the unresolved relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora; it is to be hoped but not expected that the representative bodies of the Jewish people will try and solve this problem.