The Israel argument
Re “Israel isn’t off-limits,” editorial, March 12
Kudos to The Times for having the courage to raise the issue of the attacks on Charles W. Freeman Jr. by the juggernaut Israel lobby.
That no position other than unwavering support for Israel, right or wrong, should be allowed in our government is appalling, and is in no one’s best interest -- Israel’s or ours. No issue can have only one acceptable side, and honest criticism cannot be cast as hatred of Israel, as Freeman’s has been.
There are many American Jews, myself included, eager for the continuance of Israel as a state, who strongly agree with Freeman. It is clear that we have incurred a vast amount of enmity from the rest of the world because of our unconditional support of Israel.
No group, no matter how well-placed, should be allowed to throttle the expression of a different point of view.
Where have you been that you haven’t heard criticism of Israel? There isn’t a day that goes by that there isn’t a chorus of anti-Israel sentiment -- and this in the only country in the world that is pro-Israel. The rest of the world is abysmally anti-Israel. What you are saying in your editorial is that you want America to fall in line with the rest of the anti-Israel world.
The Palestinian Arabs could have had a country of their own but refused. Why shouldn’t they? They’re just waiting for the anti-Israel sentiment to continue spreading so they can have their own country and get rid of Israel too.
Your editorial makes no mention of serious questions raised about Freeman’s potential conflicts of interest because of his past work in Saudi Arabia and China. Some of his most critical statements about Israel were made while he was head of the Middle East Policy Council, which is partly funded by Saudi money.
Freeman’s potential conflicts of interest were reported in The Times. It’s disingenuous, at the least, for you to run an editorial critical of the outcome of the Freeman affair without acknowledging that there were other good reasons to question his appointment. At worst, it looks like The Times jumped at a chance to bash Israel and its supporters.
I applaud The Times for its editorial. Not only did the pressure that led Freeman to withdraw his name from consideration to be the next chairman of the National Intelligence Council deprive the country of a distinguished and experienced civil servant, but it casts a dark cloud over any open debate on the American relationship with Israel.
President Obama’s inner circle is populated with unconditional supporters of Israel, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rahm Emanuel and Dennis Ross. If the U.S. is ever again to play a credible role in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it needs to be seen as able to include responsible critics of Israel in its government ranks -- and not be seen, as is now the case, as just a comfortable repository for pro-Israeli hawks.
The writer, Milbank professor of international law emeritus, served as United Nations special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Like all appointments to key national security positions, Freeman’s merited public scrutiny. His clearly stated views on Saudi Arabia and the lessons of Tiananmen Square, as well as his hostility toward America’s steadfast friend, Israel, raised legitimate concerns.
Freeman could have defended those beliefs in an open debate. Instead, he chose to scapegoat others for his own decision to withdraw.
The only “indecency” is Freeman’s use of a tired cliche about a nefarious “Israel lobby” that stifles debate. In truth, Freeman wanted to silence the debate when his opinions proved unconvincing. If Freeman’s conspiratorial rant reflects the quality of his analysis and his temperament under pressure, it’s further evidence that he wasn’t the right man for this critical job.
The writer is executive director of the American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles.