An open debate on Israel

When John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote about “The Israel Lobby” in 2006, many supporters of Israel were outraged. How, they wanted to know, could anyone say that the United States offered “unwavering support” to Israel? Worse yet, how did these two misguided professors dare suggest that there was a cabal of die-hard Zionists in the media, in Congress, in the Pentagon and in neocon think tanks working to ensure that U.S. policy did not deviate from the pro-Israel party line?

The debate was ferocious; the world (or at least the part that cares about these things) divided along angry partisan lines. Mearsheimer and Walt were shouted down in many quarters as anti-Semites. Needless to say, no resolution was reached, and eventually the furor died down.

Several weeks ago, however, it re-erupted after President Obama appointed Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Vehement objections came from several of Israel’s most loyal supporters in Congress, from some journalists and lobbyists known for their strong support of the Jewish state, and from other members of what some would no doubt call, well, the Israel lobby.


Freeman was not the sort of person they were ever going to like. He once said that “the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending.” He also said: “American identification with Israel has become total.” Israel, he once said, “excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace.”

Those are certainly provocative statements. On the other hand, Freeman was backed by a group of 17 former U.S. ambassadors who described him as a man of integrity who “would never let his personal views shade or distort intelligence assessments,” and defended by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, who called him “a person of strong views, of an inventive mind in the analytical point of view.”

But Freeman’s critics kept at him, and on Tuesday, Freeman withdrew from the appointment. Afterward, he was blunt: “The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and reflect “an utter disregard for truth.”

Our opinion is this: Israel is America’s friend and ally. It deserves to exist safely within secure borders. We hope it will continue to prosper as a refuge for Jews and a vibrant democracy in the region (alongside an equally democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza). But we do not believe that Israel should be immune from criticism or that there is room for only one point of view in our government.

U.S. policy has been extremely supportive of Israel over the years, as have many of our policymakers. That’s fine. But theirs should not be the only voices allowed in the room.