It was only a matter of time before J Street — the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that is neither — came to the defense of Tiananmen Square Massacre enthusiast Charles “Chas” Freeman. In a statement released Friday, J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami says says that “J Street stayed out of this fight. First, we – probably like many of those who did comment – did not know enough about Freeman or his positions to really take a stand.” But even though Ben-Ami admits that his organization didn’t bother to familiarize themselves with Freeman and his worldview, he then goes on record defending the man and attacking his critics. “What is important to me is that the Obama team not draw the lesson from this episode that they simply need to be more careful vetting of appointees to make sure they’ve never criticized Israel,” he writes.
The problem with this assertion is that there are plenty of people in the Obama administration, up to and including President Obama himself, who have criticized Israel, some quite stridently. This has been the case in every presidential administration. So the claim that Freeman lost out because he failed to pass an ideological litmus test imposed by “Israel-firsters,” in the language of his intemperate son, is a straw man argument, and it’s disappointing, though not surprising, that Ben-Ami would parrot it.
Israel was not at the heart of the controversy over Chas Freeman. And Ben-Ami never actually acknowledges just what it is that made so many people — liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans etc. — outraged about his appointment to the NIC Chair. Doing so might lend credence to those critics’ arguments, so Ben-Ami does the easier thing. He ignores these concerns and propagates the meme that it was Freeman’s statements on Israel — awful as they were — that ultimately ended his career, despite all evidence to the contrary. (Does Jeremy Ben-Ami believe that Congressmen Wolf and Hastings, as well as Senators Bond, Coburn and Chambliss were all lying when they told the media that the dread Israel Lobby had next to nothing to do with scuttling Freeman’s appointment?)
The real “lesson” to be learned from all this, and one that an ostensible “progressive” like Jeremy Ben-Ami should support, is that presidents should not appoint to sensitive intelligence positions people who defend the Tiananmen Square Massacre, take money from the Saudi Royal Family and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, and refer to unrest in Tibet as a “race riot.”
And on that very point: Ben-Ami never mentions the fact that Freeman was on the payroll of two foreign governments with values deeply inimical to those of the United States. From this omission, one can only conclude that this massive conflict of interest is not something that bothers Jeremy Ben-Ami or his organization.
“Some are strutting proudly today at the personal destruction of someone who – in their view – is a real foe of Israel,” Ben-Ami writes. “In their view, intimidating those who would otherwise speak their mind on Israel is the ultimate service to protect and defend the state of Israel.” So the answer as to why J Street would take their belated stance in defense of Freeman while simultaneously admitting its abject ignorance of his positions is pretty simple: Friends of Israel (as well as people who view Saudi Arabia with suspicion, support democracy activists in China, a free Tibet, and human liberty more generally) are glad that the menace of Charles Freeman writing the country’s National Intelligence Estimates has passed. And since J Street has positioned itself as the enemy of the established pro-Israel community, it must oppose anything that these individuals and institutions stand for. Joe Lieberman raised questions about Charles Freeman? Why, Freeman must be a good guy!
Of course, it’s much easier for J Street to make these remarks now that Freeman has dropped out. Had J Street rallied to his defense in the midst of the controversy, it would have been conspicuous as one of the very few “pro-Israel” organizations to have done so.
“This really isn’t about Charles Freeman or the statements he’s made,” Ben-Ami writes in bold. That’s convenient; because if it was, Ben-Ami would have to grapple with Freeman’s unhinged swan song, in which he accuses American Jews of having dual loyalties. Why on earth would an organization claiming to be “pro-Israel” come to the defense — however muddled — of a man spouting such poison?