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Of Dictatorships and Double Standards: Charles Freeman and Israel

By Seth J. Frantzman
March 13th, 2009

The writer, a PhD student in geography at the Hebrew University, is a contributer to the Jerusalem Post, Frontpage magazine and Middle East Quarterly and runs the Terra Incognita blog. (sfrantzman@hotmail.com)

On February 22nd, 2009 it was revealed that Charles ‘Chas’ Freeman was to be named as the chairman of the National Intelligence Council which is responsible for coordinating intelligence reports and briefing the President.  On March 10th Freeman withdrew his name from consideration and, in a sharply worded and angry letter, accused the ‘Israel Lobby’ of slandering.  The Freeman outburst and controversy regarding his appointment are important topics, but what the entire incident reveals is the degree to which anti-Israel rhetoric, even at the highest and most educated levels, has become polluted by the double standard of excusing dictatorship and repression in one place while castigating it in others.

Charles Freeman was born in 1943 in Rhode Island and his youthful experiences included living in the Bahamas and studying in Mexico.  He attended Yale and Harvard before joining the U.S foreign service in 1965.  He served in various positions in India, Taiwan and Thailand, but his principle experience was in China where he served as an attaché to Nixon’s groundbreaking 1972 trip to the country.  He was made ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1989 and served during the tense months of Operation Desert Storm.  His work with the Saudis paved the way for a 1997 appointment as the head of the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), a non-profit organization that seeks, among other things, to influence the American government from the perspective of Saudi Arabia and includes as a member Talat Othman, a Palestinian-American businessman who is treasurer of the American Task Force on Palestine.  In 2004 Freemen took on additional responsibilities as a board member of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. In 2006 the MEPC published John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy.

In a November 3, 2006 speech at the 15th Annual U.S-Arab policymakers conference, Freeman advocated on behalf of the Saudi-sponsored peace initiative of 2002.  He claimed, “It would exchange Arab acceptance of Israel and a secure place for the Jewish state in the region for Israeli recognition of Palestinians as human beings with equal weight in the eyes of God.”  He predicted that if Israel did not accept this plan, “Arabs will revert to their previous views that Israel is an ethnomaniacal society with which it is impossible for others to coexist and that peace can be achieved only by Israel's eventual annihilation, much as the Crusader kingdoms that once occupied Palestine were eventually destroyed.”

With Freeman’s own experience of being funded by the Chinese and Saudi governments and coming to identify with their ideologies and perspectives, he had a unique understanding of what he called the ‘Israel lobby’.  In a 2007 speech to the Washington Institute for Foreign Affairs, another pro-Arab-leaning think tank, he noted that “American identification with Israel has almost become total.”  But he took his views of Israel one step further, arguing that the existence of the country “has had the effect of universalizing anti-Americanism, legitimizing radical Islamism, and gaining Iran a foothold among Sunni as well as Shiite Arabs.”  He had made similar statements in the aforementioned 2006 speech: “
Israel, a country that has yet to be accepted as part of the Middle East and whose inability to find peace with the Palestinians and other Arabs is the driving factor in the region's radicalization and anti-Americanism.”

Why someone with such a radical, almost conspiratorial view, was considered to serve as head of the NIC is not clear, but what is most unusual is Freeman’s own contradictory behavior.  In 2007 Freeman spoke of  “t
he brutal oppression of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation.”  However in comments regarding the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests by China, Freeman wrote in May of 2006 that: “The only surprise to me… was that the Chinese leadership did not act earlier to restore order. We would have done so… The main lesson those leaders who survived the affair have drawn from it, in fact, is that one should strike hard and strike fast rather than tolerate escalating self-expression by exuberantly rebellious kids.”  He concluded: “I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be. Such folk, whether they represent a veterans' 'Bonus Army' or a 'student uprising' on behalf of 'the goddess of democracy' should expect to be displaced…from the ground they occupy.”

Ironically, Freeman made these comments just two months before Israel’s 2006 Lebanon War, after which he would accuse Israel of working to “ bomb
Lebanon into peaceful coexistence with it and to smother Palestinian democracy in its cradle."

The most dangerous aspect of the fact that Freeman came so close to the nexus of the U.S intelligence apparatus is not his critique of Israel, but the double standards in that critique, his work as a disseminator of Saudi Arabia’s opinions, and his excusing of the excesses and suppressions of the Chinese government.  The most dangerous potential U.S policy is that which judges her allies, such as Israel, harshly while excusing other regimes (such as China) and giving them carte blanche to occupy and suppress.  Freeman was a victim of his own alliances. While he accused the Israel Lobby of forcing him to withdraw his candidacy, he also accused it of being a “
Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.”  He himself was a member of such a lobby, one funded by China and the Saudis, one less visible than those who support Israel, but one that engenders a dangerous hypocrisy involving dictatorships and double standards.

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