It is not uncommon for a Presidential nominee to withdraw his or her name for personal or political reasons. What is uncommon is a slew of editorials published across the country and political leaders making public and private statements about that withdrawal. In the case of Chas Freeman, recently nominated to serve as chair of the National Intelligence Council, criticism was levied against him exclusively from pro-Israel voices and groups in the United States. The actions of such overzealous groups have made it blatantly clear that some will exert pressure to serve their own interests at the cost of our national interest.
Up against an onslaught of what he called "barrage of libelous distortions," Freeman withdrew his name on Wednesday and issued a powerful statement, which says in part:
"I accepted this position because I believed that I could make a contribution to the quality of our intelligence analysis and that I could restore its credibility, which has been somewhat problematic in recent days...When it became apparent that anything I was associated with would be subject to fairly unscrupulous attack and criticism, I decided that in fact it was best for country, for me, to withdraw...
"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 U.S. 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."
Freeman has criticized unjust and illegal actions taken by the state of Israel, including its consistent expansion of settlements in the West Bank as well as its deliberate starvation of the Gazan population.
In calling for an honest discussion of the United States' blind and self-defeating support for Israeli policies, Freeman has joined a long list of individuals who were the subject of baseless ad hominem attacks for daring to speak out. This list includes the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, journalist Bill Moyers, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, and MPAC's own executive director, Salam Al-Marayati.
President Obama now has the difficult perhaps even impossible task of appointing a new nominee that can be objective on the Middle East. The nominee will either have a pro-Israel record or no comment at all on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, another recipe for entangling the U.S. deeper into the Middle East quagmire.
The Obama administration is to be commended for its appointment of George Mitchell as a special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Yet, this appointment revealed that pro-Israeli groups in this country have no interest in a just and balanced approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the words of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League:
"Senator Mitchell is fair. He's been meticulously even-handed...But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn't been 'even handed' -- it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support...I'm not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East."
An objective view of Israel, much less an "even-handed" perspective on its policies, should no longer serve to disqualify Americans from serving their country. It's up to all of us to call and write our members of Congress, demanding that even-handedness should not be an alien terminology in our nation's capital.
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