I think the drumming out of Chas Freeman from an intelligence post in the Obama administration is a bad thing. If the reporting is to be believed (here and here), he chose to leave because of the enormous pushback by “pro-Israel” groups. They claimed he was basically unhinged. I think he had the simple temerity to say something – anything – critical of Israel.
Saying anything bad about Israel or its policies is another third rail (along with Social Security – can you have two third rails?) of American politics. It will get you slammed hard by right-wing “pro-Israel” groups that believe that only the harshest, most militant, most lopsidely pro-Israel (contra-anyone else in the Middle East) policies are valid.
But, of course, why is this so?
Well, one line of reasoning goes down the “Israel lobby” road. I think there’s a lot to that. (If lobbying doesn’t work, why do so many groups do it?)
However, I also think it connects back to American electoral politics. Jews have lived in America for quite some time and are a generally successful and rich people. Successful and rich generally translates into political influence in the U.S., mainly thanks to our campaign finance system. On the other side, there generally is not a strong Arab presence in American politics. Many Arabs are far more recent immigrants to the U.S. and are just getting established. As that community gets its roots here, it will be interesting to watch the political balance change. I did a story for NPR on part of this issue a few years back.
I also think that it has to do with the definition of “pro-Israel.” I use scare quotes for that descriptor, while the articles I cited above from the NYT and the Washington Post do not. The reason is that it’s not at all clear that the policies pushed by the most vocal Israel-supporting groups in the U.S are necessarily “pro-Israel” – not when they continually advocate, as I already said above, for policies that are harsh and militaristic and only in Israel’s interests and no one else’s. Thankfully, I believe this might be changing. I follow M.J. Rosenberg and enjoy his work very much. I’ve also been encouraged by the creation of J Street as an alternative to the current crop of high-profile “pro-Israel” groups in the U.S.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and by extension, the tensions in the rest of the Middle East – will not be resolved by right-wing policies that are bent on destroying the other side. It will be resolved through justice and by stopping the violence. And that applies to both sides – even Israel. It’s high time the U.S. took a more balanced approach to its Middle East policies.