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Is This Last Gasp for the Israel Lobby and the Neocons?

After sinking intel chief Chas Freeman, pro-Israel hardliners are celebrating. But they may have overplayed their hand on this round.

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The Post's case might have been stronger, had it not, just one day earlier, printed an editorial in which it called on Attorney General Eric Holder to exonerate Steve Rosen and drop the espionage case against him. Entitled "Time to Call It Quits," the editorial said:

 

"The matter involves Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC... A trial has been scheduled for June in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Mr. Holder should pull the plug on this prosecution long before then."

In his interview with me, Freeman noted the propensity members of the Israel lobby have for denying the lobby's existence, even while taking credit for having forced him out and simultaneously claiming that they had nothing to do with it. "We're now at the ludicrous stage where those who boasted of having done it and who described how they did it are now denying that they did it," he said.

Running Scared

The Israel lobby has regularly denied its own existence even as it has long carried on with its work, in stealth as in the bright sunlight. In retrospect, however, l'affaire Freeman may prove a game changer. It has already sparked a new, more intense mainstream focus on the lobby, one that far surpasses the flap that began in March, 2006, over the publication of an essay by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt in the London Review of Books that was, in 2007, expanded into a book, The Israel Lobby . In fact, one of the sins committed by Freeman, according to his critics, is that an organization he headed, the Middle East Policy Council, published an early version of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis -- which argued that a powerful, pro-Israel coalition exercises undue influence over American policymakers -- in its journal.

In his blog at Foreign Policy , Walt reacted to Freeman's decision to withdraw by writing:

 

"For all of you out there who may have questioned whether there was a powerful 'Israel lobby,' or who admitted that it existed but didn't think it had much influence, or who thought that the real problem was some supposedly all-powerful 'Saudi lobby,' think again."

What the Freeman affair brought was unwanted, often front-page attention to the lobby. Writers at countless blogs and websites -- including yours truly, at the Dreyfuss Report -- dissected or reported on the lobby's assault on Freeman, including Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe at Antiwar.com, Glenn Greenwald in his Salon.com column, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Peace Forum, and Phil Weiss at Mondoweiss. Far more striking, however, is that for the first time in memory, both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran page-one stories about the Freeman controversy that specifically used the phrase "Israel lobby," while detailing the charges and countercharges that followed upon Freeman's claim that the lobby did him in.

This new attention to the lobby's work comes at a critical moment, which is why the toppling of Freeman might be its Waterloo.

As a start, right-wing partisans of Israel have grown increasingly anxious about the direction that President Obama intends to take when it comes to U.S. policy toward Israel, the Palestinians, Iran, and the Middle East generally. Despite the way, in the middle of the presidential campaign last June, Obama recited a pro-Israeli catechism in a speech at AIPAC's national conference in Washington, they remain unconvinced that he will prove reliable on their policy concerns. Among other things, they have long been suspicious of his reputed openness to Palestinian points of view.

 
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