Chase Freeman Withdraws from DNI

Addendum: WaPo Editorial attacking Freeman and (Walt and Meirshimer

“…he described himself as the victim of a shadowy and sinister “Lobby” whose “tactics plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency” and which is “intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.” Yes, Mr. Freeman was referring to Americans who support Israel — and his statement was a grotesque libel….

What’s striking about the charges by Mr. Freeman and like-minded conspiracy theorists is their blatant disregard for such established facts. Mr. Freeman darkly claims that “it is not permitted for anyone in the United States” to describe Israel’s nefarious influence. But several of his allies have made themselves famous (and advanced their careers) by making such charges — and no doubt Mr. Freeman himself will now win plenty of admiring attention. Crackpot tirades such as his have always had an eager audience here and around the world.”

LA Times Editorial:

…. Our opinion is this: Israel is America’s friend and ally. It deserves to exist safely within secure borders. We hope it will continue to prosper as a refuge for Jews and a vibrant democracy in the region (alongside an equally democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza). But we do not believe that Israel should be immune from criticism or that there is room for only one point of view in our government.

U.S. policy has been extremely supportive of Israel over the years, as have many of our policymakers. That’s fine. But theirs should not be the only voices allowed in the room.

Original Post follows:

Freeman speaks out on his exit

You will by now have seen the statement by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reporting that I have withdrawn my previous acceptance of his invitation to chair the National Intelligence Council.

I have concluded that the barrage of libelous distortions of my record would not cease upon my entry into office. The effort to smear me and to destroy my credibility would instead continue. I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country. I agreed to chair the NIC to strengthen it and protect it against politicization, not to introduce it to efforts by a special interest group to assert control over it through a protracted political campaign.

As those who know me are well aware, I have greatly enjoyed life since retiring from government. Nothing was further from my mind than a return to public service. When Admiral Blair asked me to chair the NIC I responded that I understood he was “asking me to give my freedom of speech, my leisure, the greater part of my income, subject myself to the mental colonoscopy of a polygraph, and resume a daily commute to a job with long working hours and a daily ration of political abuse.” I added that I wondered “whether there wasn’t some sort of downside to this offer.” I was mindful that no one is indispensable; I am not an exception. It took weeks of reflection for me to conclude that, given the unprecedentedly challenging circumstances in which our country now finds itself abroad and at home, I had no choice but accept the call to return to public service. I thereupon resigned from all positions that I had held and all activities in which I was engaged. I n!
ow look forward to returning to private life, freed of all previous obligations.

I am not so immodest as to believe that this controversy was about me rather than issues of public policy. These issues had little to do with the NIC and were not at the heart of what I hoped to contribute to the quality of analysis available to President Obama and his administration. Still, I am saddened by what the controversy and the manner in which the public vitriol of those who devoted themselves to sustaining it have revealed about the state of our civil society. It is apparent that we Americans cannot any longer conduct a serious public discussion or exercise independent judgment about matters of great importance to our country as well as to our allies and friends.

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

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 US 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.

The outrageous agitation that followed the leak of my pending appointment will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues. I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.

In the court of public opinion, unlike a court of law, one is guilty until proven innocent. The speeches from which quotations have been lifted from their context are available for anyone interested in the truth to read. The injustice of the accusations made against me has been obvious to those with open minds. Those who have sought to impugn my character are uninterested in any rebuttal that I or anyone else might make.

Still, for the record: I have never sought to be paid or accepted payment from any foreign government, including Saudi Arabia or China, for any service, nor have I ever spoken on behalf of a foreign government, its interests, or its policies. I have never lobbied any branch of our government for any cause, foreign or domestic. I am my own man, no one else’s, and with my return to private life, I will once again – to my pleasure – serve no master other than myself. I will continue to speak out as I choose on issues of concern to me and other Americans.

I retain my respect and confidence in President Obama and DNI Blair. Our country now faces terrible challenges abroad as well as at home. Like all patriotic Americans, I continue to pray that our president can successfully lead us in surmounting them.

Comments (27)


1. norman said:

‘Israel most likely to succeed in peace talks with Syria, not PA’

Mar. 11, 2009
JPost.com Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST
Israel has greater chances of signing a peace treaty with Syria than with the Palestinians, former Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. [res.] Aharon Ze’evi Farkash said Wednesday.

Speaking to hundreds of top IDF brass and scientists who attended ‘Security and the War on Terror: the Scientific Challenge,’ a conference sponsored by the Center for Security Science and Technology in the Technion in Haifa, Farkash stressed that “there is a deep internal divide in Israel regarding the Golan Heights and the people must make a decision.” Syria demands the Golan Heights in return for a treaty with Israel.

The retired MI chief noted that due to the divisions within the Palestinians, it is less likely that Israel will be able to reach a peace agreement with them. “I say this in spite of the fact that Fatah and Hamas are holding talks today in Cairo.”

He went on to say that Operation Cast Lead caused “terrible damage” to Israel’s image in the world, and noted that this was detrimental for Israeli efforts to rally the world against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“Iran does not view Israel as its No. 1 nuclear target, but Israel, in its actions, pushes towards becoming Iran’s primary target,” Farkash said. “Israel needs to be more modest.”

Pakistan, according to Farkash, is a more immediate threat. “Pakistan has nukes and it exports terror,” he said.

On other regional issues, Farkash said that he expected the northern front to be calm at least until June, when Lebanon holds elections.

“[Hizbullah chief Hassan] Nasrallah is focused on Lebanon now,” he said.

Regarding Turkey, Farkash explained that the country abandoned its traditional policy of not interfering in Middle East politics – a policy initiated by Turkish national visionary Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – partly because of “Israel’s request that Turkey mediate its crisis [with Syria].”

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1236764156826&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull
[ Back to the Article ]
Copyright 1995- 2009 The Jerusalem Post – http://www.jpost.com/

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March 11th, 2009, 3:44 pm

 

2. Ghat Albird said:

Ariel Sharon, the man ostensibly still in a coma in Tel Aviv, was more than prophetic when he remarked to Shimon Perez several years ago, “not to worry about Americans. We control America”.

Charles Freeman joins a growing list of Americans ( Pres. Jimmy Carter, Gen. Zinni and others including Dr. Finklestein) whose loyalty and commitment to principled American “first and only” goals has been smeared by individuals whose loyalties are highly suspect.

Shame on America.

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March 11th, 2009, 3:50 pm

 

3. Off the Wall said:

An excellent Article, pointing part of the blame on progressives for not mobilizing on Freeman’s issue

The article can be accessed at
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/mar/11/chas-freeman-israel-lobby-obama

The Israel lobby’s Lexington and Concord
Chas Freeman’s resignation is the first skirmish in what will be a long war between the Obama administration and the Israel lobby

Richard Silverstein
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 11 March 2009

The Israel lobby and Republican neocons have scored their first triumph of the Obama administration by derailing the appointment of Chas Freeman as director of the National Intelligence Council.

Freeman was a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and known as an outspoken critic of the Israeli occupation. Director of national intelligence Dennis Blair, an old friend, appointed Freeman to head the agency that produces intelligence estimates for nations that pose a danger of terrorism to US interests. During the Bush administration these estimates were quite controversial, and the report for Iran judged that the regime had suspended its nuclear programme, running counter to the claims of Dick Cheney and other Iran hawks.

Because of his strong, critical views on Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, knocking out Freeman was one of the lobby’s top priorities. To his credit, the feisty Freeman went down swinging. He landed heavy blows on his detractors:

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonour and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the wilful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.

The next time anyone qvells about how moderate a Republican Olympia Snowe is, just remember that she signed a highly partisan letter attacking Freeman that every Republican member of the Senate intelligence committee also signed. Given her status as a swing vote and party moderate, her participation may have sealed his fate. She caved to rightist pressure at the drop of a hat.

But Democrats like Charles Schumer also led the charge against Freeman. “Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top and went beyond anything I have seen from any administration official,” Schumer said in a statement. “I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.”

This raises another important and obvious point: Democrats are not automatically friends of Israeli-Palestinian peace. “Liberal” and “conservative” in their normal domestic context have little or no meaning as far as the conflict. There are liberal bloggers like Markos Moulitsas who haven’t learned that lesson yet and may never because peace is a secondary issue (if it’s an issue at all) to the primary goal of attaining and preserving Democratic political power.

But I also believe that progressive Democrats, bloggers, Middle East analysts and the Obama administration itself also share some blame for Freeman’s withdrawal. They didn’t mobilise in time to wage a counter-attack against the smears. The New York Times, for example, didn’t weigh in with a news story or editorial at all. It confirmed Freeman’s “funeral” with a story the day he withdrew. While it’s true that journalists like Matt Ygleisias, James Fallows, MJ Rosenberg, Spencer Ackerman, Greg Sargent spoke out in favour of Freeman, along with and fellow CIA/intelligence officers, most did so late in the game after the lobby had drawn first blood. By then the damage had been done. I hope they won’t be caught as flat-footed next time.

This was a Lexington and Concord for the Israel lobby, the first skirmish in what they know will be a long war against any constructive Obama impulse to address the real issues in the conflict and resolve them. It is the lobby saying: Take what we tell you very, very seriously or you will know our wrath.

Aipac’s Josh Block somewhat disingenuously told the New York Times that his organisation had “taken no position” on the Freeman appointment. Spencer Ackerman writes that Aipac’s campaign against the former ambassador was one of the Beltway’s worst kept secrets and that the group had been “shopping around oppo research” on him for some time.

I am sorry that Obama and Dennis Blair withdrew from the field with hardly a fight. It doesn’t augur well for the trench warfare that will be necessary in the future if there is ever to be a US role in midwiving peace in the Middle East. In this one, Obama faced the lobby eyeball to eyeball and flinched.

You certainly can try to argue that this appointment was not the type that warranted a major expenditure of political capital. Freeman is a bridge toward the goal but not the goal itself. There will be significant battles, and the administration needs to save its powder for those.

But what is lacking in this analysis is the symbolic importance of the Freeman appointment and its savaging. Politics, like football, is a game of inches. It is a game of momentum. The lobby has tripped up Obama’s momentum and grabbed the agenda, at least momentarily. And both Blair and Obama have lost the benefit of an honest broker, who would not be afraid to tell them when they were wearing no clothes.

Seems to me we’ve just completed eight years of an administration that ran from the truth tellers as fast as their feet would carry them. Similarly, the lobby wants no truth tellers when it comes to devising US policy toward Israel. It wants sycophants, yes-men, pols who know how to line up in a straight line. We can see how well this policy worked for George Bush. And it won’t work for an administration that wants to act as a more honest broker, rather than a cheerleader or enabler of one side’s bad habits.

This is a very sad day for anyone who really wishes for Israeli-Palestinian peace and a vigorous American role in achieving it.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

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March 11th, 2009, 8:57 pm

 

4. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

On the same day that Asad makes an important visit to KSA, and meets with Mubarak,
what do we get on SyriaComment?
An irrelevant ( to Syria ) article about a Jew in America.

Why? to magnify the (infamous) myth about the (elders of) AIPAC ?
Every thing that smears Israel and the Jews is good (or relevant) to Syria?
.

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March 11th, 2009, 10:56 pm

 

5. Enlightened said:

5. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

On the same day that Asad makes an important visit to KSA, and meets with Mubarak,
what do we get on SyriaComment?
An irrelevant ( to Syria ) article about a Jew in America.

Why? to magnify the (infamous) myth about the (elders of) AIPAC ?
Every thing that smears Israel and the Jews is good (or relevant) to Syria?

================================================================

Well allow me to retort.

You must seriously look at the world with rosy coloured glasses. This whole fiasco regarding Freemans appointment clearly highlight the depths of under handedness, and dirty tactics that the friends of Israel and their lobby will go to, if someone does not toe the line.

Another victory for the AIPAC orcs this time, but this is a long term battle that your friends will surely lose.

I suggest you take a reality pill , it might cure your headache, and rosy coloured view of the world.
.
“Every thing that smears Israel and the Jews is good (or relevant) to Syria?”

You are doing such a good job of it yourselves, i wont counter it with a argument.

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March 11th, 2009, 11:46 pm

 

6. Joe M. said:

Here is a funny, yet accurate metaphor for Israel (it’s only 28 seconds long):

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March 12th, 2009, 6:19 am

 

7. Enlightened said:

JOE M:

YOU MIGHT UPSET SOME ZIONIST SENSITIVITIES WITH THAT ONE!

You aren’t being nominated for an administrative post in the Obama team are you?

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March 12th, 2009, 6:38 am

 

8. norman said:

Israel is trying to divide the Arabs and now take Syria out of the conflict as they did with Egypt,

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

——————————————————————————–

Last update – 23:27 19/02/2009
Indyk: Netanyahu may seek Syria deal to deflect U.S. pressure
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said Thursday that he believes that should Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu become Israel’s next prime minister, he “will try to deflect American pressure by seeking a deal with Syrians”

Indyk, who was born to a Jewish family in England but grew up primarily in Australia, has made a career of Middle East diplomacy and support for Israel. Among other entries on an impressive resume, he has worked at AIPAC, founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and served two stints as U.S. envoy to Israel.

His terms as U.S. ambassador to Israel coincided with Netanyahu’s truncated term as prime minister between 1996 and 1999.

According to Indyk, Netanyahu will not seek peace with Syria “because he wants to avoid the concessions in the West Bank, but because there is a strategic rationale in backing a deal with Syria. This deal is an interesting deal ? territories not for peace, but territories for Syrian realignment, leaving the Iranian sphere of influence. Netanyahu believes it will be attractive to the Israeli public and for Obama’s administration.”

Speaking during a panel on Israel’s recent elections at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Indyk said “back in the 90s, we had a fairly intimate, although a bit bumpy relationship,” he recalled Netanyahu’s administration, using the former prime minister’s nickname Bibi. “The consequences of Bibi’s approach got him into considerable trouble with [then U.S. President Bill] Clinton and brought tension to U.S.-Israel relations.”

“The consequence of Bibi’s consent to hand over 13.1 percent of the West Bank to Yasser Arafat ? Bibi’s government collapsed soon after. Netanyahu remembers this episode very well. I had a conversation with him four months ago, when he said that Barack Obama will be the next president of the U.S., and he’ll be the next prime-minister of Israel and added ‘we’ll make beautiful music together.'”

“I reminded him of past episodes, and he told me that the mistake was not to form a National Unity government with Shimon Peres when he [Netanyahu] defeated him, and ‘this time I’ll do it and it will settle all.'”

Indyk said that Netanyahu would probably prefer to form National Unity government with Labor, not Kadima – “He would like to grind up Kadima, so Likud will be stronger,” he said.

One of Bill Clinton’s biggest mistakes, said Indyk, was to become “too involved” in Israeli politics. “The prolonged involvement of the U.S. in the region shows that we push one door – and the other opens. We should set the course and see what opportunity arises. My sense is that Bibi will go with the Syrians. To try to move Israeli-Palestinian negotiations forward – that must include a real settlement freeze and blocking terror on the Palestinian side, and also holding out an open hand to Iranians, if they want to be a part of this process.”

“I think Obama made very clear during the campaign his steadfast commitment to Israel’s survival. But he also?said he doesn’t have to support the right-wing parties [in Israel], and I suspect the biggest test will come with the question of the settlement freeze, especially with narrow right-wing coalition.”

Addressing a possible reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, Indyk said that “America would like to see national unity government with both sides. Do we continue Bush’s policy and block such reconciliation? I don’t think we should stand in the way of such an effort.”

Regarding the approaching elections in Lebanon, Indyk noted that “a coalition that will give Hezbollah control of the government – from the Israeli perspective it’s not such a bad thing, because for them it will be easier to deter a government than a terrorist organization. Regarding the peace negotiations ? the issues between Israel and Lebanon are few – Shebaa farms which can easily be resolved, there’s no reason for Israel to hold on them. The deal is there. It’s important to get these negotiations going, because it’s in American interest to preserve Lebanon?s independence.”

On Iran, Indyk said that it seems that “Israel is willing to give diplomacy a chance, maybe for tactical reasons – to let Obama understand that it doesn’t work, and then get to sanctions. They appear to give it a chance. I sense that this horizon has stretched a bit.”

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March 12th, 2009, 3:19 pm

 

9. Off the Wall said:

Amir in Tel Aviv
The silencing of free thinking in my adopted country is important to me. So Back off.

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March 12th, 2009, 3:58 pm

 

10. Nour said:

What’s more interesting than the angry WaPo editorial are the ensuing comments. People are apparently not buying the BS the media is flinging, and are realizing that AIPAC really is a problem for the US.

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March 12th, 2009, 4:17 pm

 

11. Ghat Albird said:

Viewed Geopolitically and realistically the US is not what it used to represent after WWII.

Its subservience and myopic policies in the ME to Zionism and fun damentalist pressures, nothwithstanding what the WP, the LA Times or Jews in America and Israel blindly follow can only be honestly described as a series of policies that have accelerated the deterioration of the US.as “the” leading power in the world.

The BS that the stature, safety and protecction of the US is codependent on Israel is dependent on the intelligence of fools.

Its basically like telling 300 million American that their safet and protection is in the hands of Israel whose existance depends entirely on handouts from the Government representing the 300 plus American citizens.

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March 12th, 2009, 5:08 pm

 

12. Observer said:

Mr. Freeman’s letter explaining his withdrawal is truly an act of courage. The NYT reports today that his withdrawal was due primarily because of AIPAC and Israeli influence on this posting.
It appears that they do not wish to have any dissent potential or real when it comes to the relationship between the US and Israel.

My estimation of the situation is that the KSA is realizing that the alliance with the US has marginalized them and they are trying to recoup some of the lost ground during the subservient years of the Bush presidency.
THis administration is moving to independence of energy sources and to reduce the importance of the ME as it has come back to bite the US in the rear.

I agree with Nour as the people are now realizing that the press and the coverage of both the ME conflict and the travails of the current financial and banking mess is not complete and certainly can be quite biased.

Here is some important reading from Le Monde, the fact that people are coming forward to even discuss the issue is encouraging.

By the way, I can hear those crying foul and claiming anti semitism for any critique of the apartheid exclusivist religous ethnic entity in the ME.

Israel’s War Crimes
Israel blamed its earlier wars on the threat to its security, even that against Lebanon in 1982. However, its assault on Gaza was not justified and there are international calls for an investigation. But is there the political will to make Israel account for its war crimes?
by Richard Falk

For the first time since the establishment of Israel in 1948 the government is facing serious allegations of war crimes from respected public figures throughout the world. Even the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, normally so cautious about offending sovereign states – especially those aligned with its most influential member, the United States – has joined the call for an investigation and potential accountability. To grasp the significance of these developments it is necessary to explain what made the 22 days of attacks in Gaza stand shockingly apart from the many prior recourses to force by Israel to uphold its security and strategic interests.

In my view, what made the Gaza attacks launched on 27 December different from the main wars fought by Israel over the years was that the weapons and tactics used devastated an essentially defenceless civilian population. The one-sidedness of the encounter was so stark, as signalled by the relative casualties on both sides (more than 100 to 1; 1300-plus Palestinians killed compared with 13 Israelis, and several of these by friendly fire), that most commentators refrained from attaching the label “war”.

The Israelis and their friends talk of “retaliation” and “the right of Israel to defend itself”. Critics described the attacks as a “massacre” or relied on the language of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past Israeli uses of force were often widely condemned, especially by Arab governments, including charges that the UN Charter was being violated, but there was an implicit acknowledgement that Israel was using force in a war mode. War crimes charges (to the extent they were made) came only from radical governments and the extreme left.

The early Israeli wars were fought against Arab neighbours which were quite literally challenging Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state. The outbreaks of force were of an inter-governmental nature; and even when Israel exhibited its military superiority in the June 1967 six day war, it was treated within the framework of normal world politics, and though it may have been unlawful, it was not criminal.

But from the 1982 Lebanon war this started to change. The main target then was the presence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in southern Lebanon. But the war is now mainly remembered for its ending, with the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Although this atrocity was the work of a Lebanese Christian militia, Israeli acquiescence, control and complicity were clearly part of the picture. Still, this was an incident which, though alarming, was not the whole of the military operation, which Israel justified as necessary due to the Lebanese government’s inability to prevent its territory from being used to threaten Israeli security.

The legacy of the 1982 war was Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and the formation of Hizbullah in reaction, mounting an armed resistance that finally led to a shamefaced Israeli withdrawal in 1998. This set the stage for the 2006 Lebanon war in which the announced adversary was Hizbullah, and the combat zone inevitably merged portions of the Lebanese civilian population with the military campaign undertaken to destroy Hizbullah. Such a use of hi-tech Israeli force against Hizbullah raised the issue of fighting against a hostile society with no equivalent means of defending itself rather than against an enemy state. It also raised questions about whether reliance on a military option was even relevant to Israel’s political goals, as Hizbullah emerged from the war stronger, and the only real result was to damage the reputation of the IDF as a fighting force and to leave southern Lebanon devastated.

The Gaza operation brought these concerns to the fore as it dramatised this shift away from fighting states to struggles against armed resistance movements, and with a related shift from the language of “war” to “criminality”. In one important respect, Israel managed to skew perceptions and discourse by getting the media and diplomats to focus the basic international criminal law question on whether or not Israeli use of force was “disproportionate”.

This way of describing Israeli recourse to force ignores the foundational issue: were the attacks in any legal sense “defensive” in character in the first place? An inquiry into the surrounding circumstances shows an absence of any kind of defensive necessity: a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that had been in effect since 19 July 2008 had succeeded in reducing cross-border violence virtually to zero; Hamas consistently offered to extend the ceasefire, even to a longer period of ten years; the breakdown of the ceasefire is not primarily the result of Hamas rocket fire, but came about mainly as a result of an Israeli air attack on 4 November that killed six Hamas fighters in Gaza.

Disproportionate force?
In other words, there were no grounds for claiming the right of self-defence as Israel was not the object of a Hamas attack, and diplomatic alternatives to force existed and seemed credible, and their good-faith reliance was legally obligatory. On this basis the focus of legal debate should not be upon whether Israeli force was disproportionate. Of course it was. The focus should be on whether the Israeli attacks were a prohibited, non-defensive use of force under the UN charter, amounting to an act of aggression, and as such constituting a crime against peace. At Nuremberg after the second world war, surviving Nazi leaders were charged with this crime, which was described in the judgment as “the supreme crime” encompassing the others.

The Gaza form of encounter almost by necessity blurs the line between war and crime, and when it occurs in a confined, densely populated area such as Gaza, necessarily intermingles the resistance fighters with the civilian population. It also induces the resistance effort to rely on criminal targeting of civilians as it has no military capacity directly to oppose state violence. In this respect, the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the Hamas resistance crossed the line between lawful combat and war crimes.

These two sides should not be viewed as equally responsible for the recent events. Israel initiated the Gaza campaign without adequate legal foundation or just cause, and was responsible for causing the overwhelming proportion of devastation and the entirety of civilian suffering. Israeli reliance on a military approach to defeat or punish Gaza was intrinsically “criminal”, and as such demonstrative of both violations of the law of war and the commission of crimes against humanity.

There is another element that strengthens the allegation of aggression. The population of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months when Israel launched its attacks. This blockade was widely, and correctly, viewed as collective punishment in a form that violated Articles 33 and 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the conduct of an occupying power in relation to the civilian population living under occupation. This policy was itself condemned as a crime against humanity, as well as a grave breach of international humanitarian law.

It also had resulted in serious nutritional deficiencies and widespread mental disorders on the part of the entire Gaza population, leaving it particularly vulnerable to the sort of “shock and awe” attack mounted by Israel from land, air and sea. This vulnerability was reinforced by Israel’s unwillingness to allow Gaza civilians to seek safety while the tiny Strip was under such intense combat pressure. Two hundred non-Palestinian wives were allowed to leave, which underscored the criminality of locking children, women, the sick, elderly and disabled into the war zone, and showed its ethnically discriminatory character. This appears to be the first time in wartime conditions that a civilian population was denied the possibility of becoming refugees.

In addition to these big picture issues, there are a variety of alleged war crimes associated with Israeli battlefield practices. These charges, based on evidence collected by human rights groups, include IDF firing at a variety of civilian targets, instances where Israeli military personnel denied medical aid to wounded Palestinians, and others where ambulances were prevented from reaching their destinations. There are also documented claims of 20 occasions on which Israeli soldiers were seen firing at women and children carrying white flags. And there are various allegations associated with the use of phosphorus bombs in residential areas of Gaza, as well as legal complaints about the use of a new cruel weapon, known as DIME, that explodes with such force that it rips body parts to pieces.

These war crimes concerns can only be resolved by factual clarifications as to whether a basis exists for possible prosecution of the perpetrators, and commanders and political leaders to the extent that criminal tactics and weaponry were authorised as matters of Israeli policy. In this vein too are the Israeli claims relating to rockets fired at civilian targets and to Hamas militants using “human shields” and deliberately attacking from non-military targets.

Even without further investigation, it is not too soon to raise questions about individual accountability for war crimes. The most serious allegations relate to the pre-existing blockade, the intrinsic criminality and non-defensiveness of the attack itself; and the official policies (eg confinement of civilian population in the war zone) have been acknowledged. The charges against Hamas require further investigation and legal assessment before it is appropriate to discuss possible arrangements for imposing accountability.

A question immediately arises as to whether talk of Israeli war crimes is nothing more than talk. Are there any prospects that the allegations will be followed up with effective procedures to establish accountability? There are a variety of potentially usable mechanisms to impose accountability, but will any of these be available in practice? This issue has been already raised by the Israeli government at the highest levels in the form of official commitments to shield Israeli soldiers from facing war crimes charges.

The most obvious path to address the broader questions of criminal accountability would be to invoke the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court established in 2002. Although the prosecutor has been asked to investigate the possibility of such a proceeding, it is highly unlikely to lead anywhere since Israel is not a member and, by most assessments, Palestine is not yet a state or party to the statute of the ICC. Belatedly, and somewhat surprisingly, the Palestinian Authority sought, after the 19 January ceasefire, to adhere to the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC. But even if its membership is accepted, which is unlikely, the date of adherence would probably rule out legal action based on prior events such as the Gaza military operation. And it is certain that Israel would not cooperate with the ICC with respect to evidence, witnesses or defendants, and this would make it very difficult to proceed even if the other hurdles could be overcome.

The next most obvious possibility would be to follow the path chosen in the 1990s by the UN Security Council, establishing ad hoc international criminal tribunals, as was done to address the crimes associated with the break-up of former Yugoslavia and with the Rwanda massacres of 1994. This path seems blocked in relation to Israel as the US, and likely other European permanent members, would veto any such proposal. In theory, the General Assembly could exercise parallel authority, as human rights are within its purview and it is authorised by Article 22 of the UN charter to “establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its function”. In 1950 it acted on this basis to establish the UN Administrative Tribunal, mandated to resolve employment disputes with UN staff members.

The geopolitical realities that exist within the UN make this an unlikely course of action (although it is under investigation). At present there does not seem to be sufficient inter-governmental political will to embark on such a controversial path, but civil society pressure may yet make this a plausible option, especially if Israel persists in maintaining its criminally unlawful blockade of Gaza, resisting widespread calls, including by President Obama, to open the crossings from Israel. Even in the unlikely event that it is established, such a tribunal could not function effectively without a high degree of cooperation with the government of the country whose leaders and soldiers are being accused. Unlike former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Israel’s political leadership would certainly do its best to obstruct the activities of any international body charged with prosecuting Israeli war crimes.

Claims of universal jurisdiction
Perhaps the most plausible governmental path would be reliance on claims of universal jurisdiction (1) associated with the authority of national courts to prosecute certain categories of war crimes, depending on national legislation. Such legislation exists in varying forms in more than 12 countries, including Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, Britain and the US. Spain has already indicted several leading Israeli military officers, although there is political pressure on the Spanish government to alter its criminal law to disallow such an undertaking in the absence of those accused.

This path to criminal accountability was taken in 1998 when a Spanish high court indicted the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and he was later detained in Britain where the legal duty to extradite was finally upheld on rather narrow grounds by a majority of the Law Lords, the highest court in the country. Pinochet was not extradited however, but returned to Chile on grounds of unfitness to stand trial, and died in Chile while criminal proceedings against him were under way.

Whether universal jurisdiction provides a practical means of responding to the war crimes charges arising out of the Gaza experience is doubtful. National procedures are likely to be swayed by political pressures, as were German courts, which a year ago declined to proceed against Donald Rumsfeld on torture charges despite a strong evidentiary basis and the near certainty that he would not be prosecuted in the US, which as his home state had the legally acknowledged prior jurisdictional claim. Also, universal jurisdictional proceedings are quite random, depending on either the cooperation of other governments by way of extradition or the happenchance of finding a potential defendant within the territory of the prosecuting state.

It is possible that a high profile proceeding could occur, and this would give great attention to the war crimes issue, and so universal jurisdiction is probably the most promising approach to Israeli accountability despite formidable obstacles. Even if no conviction results (and none exists for comparable allegations), the mere threat of detention and possible prosecution is likely to inhibit the travel plans of individuals likely to be detained on war crime charges; and has some political relevance with respect to the international reputation of a government.

There is, of course, the theoretical possibility that prosecutions, at least for battlefield practices such as shooting surrendering civilians, would be undertaken in Israeli criminal courts. Respected Israeli human rights organisations, including B’Tselem, are gathering evidence for such legal actions and advance the argument that an Israeli initiative has the national benefit of undermining the international calls for legal action.

This Israeli initiative, even if nothing follows in the way of legal action, as seems almost certain due to political constraints, has significance. It will lend credence to the controversial international contentions that criminal indictment and prosecution of Israeli political and military leaders and war crimes perpetrators should take place in some legal venue. If politics blocks legal action in Israel, then the implementation of international criminal law depends on taking whatever action is possible in either an international tribunal or foreign national courts, and if this proves impossible, then by convening a non-governmental civil society tribunal with symbolic legal authority.

What seems reasonably clear is that despite the clamour for war crimes investigations and accountability, the political will is lacking to proceed against Israel at the inter-governmental level, whether within the UN or outside. The realities of geopolitics are built around double standards when it comes to war crimes. It is one thing to proceed against Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, but quite another to go against George W Bush or Ehud Olmert. Ever since the Nuremberg trials after the second world war, there exists impunity for those who act on behalf of powerful, undefeated states and nothing is likely to challenge this fact of international life in the near future, thus tarnishing the status of international law as a vehicle for global justice that is consistent in its enforcement efforts. When it comes to international criminal law, there continues to exist impunity for the strong and victorious, and potential accountability for the weak or defeated.

It does seem likely that civil society initiatives will lead to the establishment of one or more tribunals operating without the benefit of governmental authorisation. Such tribunals became prominent in the Vietnam war when Bertrand Russell took the lead in establishing the Russell Tribunal. Since then the Permanent Peoples Tribunal based in Rome has organised more than 20 sessions on a variety of international topics that neither the UN nor governments will touch.

In 2005 the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul, heard evidence from 54 witnesses, and its jury, presided over by the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, issued a Declaration of Conscience that condemned the US and Britain for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and named names of leaders in both countries who should be held criminally accountable.

The tribunal compiled an impressive documentary record as to criminal charges, and received considerable media attention, at least in the Middle East. Such an undertaking is attacked or ignored by the media because it is one-sided, and lacking in legal weight, but in the absence of formal action on accountability, such informal initiatives fill a legal vacuum, at least symbolically, and give legitimacy to non-violent anti-war undertakings.

The legitimacy war
In the end, the haunting question is whether the war crimes concerns raised by Israel’s behaviour in Gaza matters, and if so, how. I believe it matters greatly in what might be called “the second war” – the legitimacy war that often ends up shaping the political outcome more than battlefield results. The US won every battle in the Vietnam war and lost the war; the same with France in Indochina and Algeria, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Shah of Iran collapsed, as did the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of defeats in the legitimacy war.

It is my view that this surfacing of criminal charges against Israel during and after its attacks on Gaza resulted in major gains on the legitimacy front for the Palestinians. The widespread popular perceptions of Israeli criminality, especially the sense of waging war against a defenceless population with modern weaponry, has prompted people around the world to propose boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This mobilisation exerts pressure on governments and corporations to desist from relations with Israel, and is reminiscent of the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign that did so much to alter the political landscape in South Africa. Winning the legitimacy war is no guarantee that Palestinian self-determination will be achieved in the coming years. But it does change the political equation in ways that are not fully discernable at this time.

The global setup provides a legal framework capable of imposing international criminal law, but it will not be implemented unless the political will is present. Israel is likely to be insulated from formal judicial initiatives addressing war crimes charges, but will face the fallout arising from the credibility that these charges possess for world public opinion. This fallout is reshaping the underlying Israel/Palestine struggle, and giving far greater salience to the legitimacy war (fought on a global political battlefield) than was previously the case.

© 2009 Le Monde
Richard Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and in 2008 was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

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March 12th, 2009, 5:47 pm

 

13. Akbar Palace said:

Dear Forum,

I have 2 more days remaining within the Zionist Project. I am taking this opportunity at a local internet cafe, to say a quick “hello”. Upon my return, I promise to give you an update on the situation here. I will give it to you straight; the good news and the bad.

Until then,

Salam.

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March 12th, 2009, 6:54 pm

 

14. Shai said:

AP says: “Upon my return, I promise to give you an update on the situation here. I will give it to you straight; the good news and the bad.”

I can’t wait… 🙂

It’s been a while since I set foot in a Jewish settlement on the West Bank… so I guess I’d like to hear the update as well.

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March 12th, 2009, 7:44 pm

 

15. Ben Waxman said:

The guy had ties to China, to big oil, to a host of other interests. There is no way he could be allowed to hold such a sensitive post.

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March 12th, 2009, 8:26 pm

 

16. Enlightened said:

14. Akbar Palace said:

Dear Forum,

I have 2 more days remaining within the Zionist Project. I am taking this opportunity at a local internet cafe, to say a quick “hello”. Upon my return, I promise to give you an update on the situation here. I will give it to you straight; the good news and the bad.

Until then,

Salam.

____________________________________________________________

Firstly since you concluded with the word peace, peace be upon you Akbar. Now that I have got the semantics out of the way, Akbar this trip is taking a long time, and we miss your satirical comments of we are terrorists,terrorist supporters etc etc etc.

However I note with particular interest your Baathi education has been subtle and gradual with out you noticing that much, its indoctrination by stealth, why would you refer to your beloved first or second country as the Zionist project?

Anyway keep safe, and bring me back some Israeli beer as you promised!

ps. Tell Bibi while you are there that we have great expectations of him, but to ditch Liebermann (hint hint) he will cause Israel massive long term problems with his racist outlook.

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March 13th, 2009, 12:32 am

 

17. majedkhaldoun said:

Chase is an honest ,good american,the Israeli lobby are fabricating lies against him,he should not quit.

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March 13th, 2009, 1:56 am

 

18. alia said:

I am puzzled by how rapidly he gave up. He knew very well what he was in for….

In this position, he could have been maligned but no one could have prevented him from acting …there is something that does not make sense in this too short of an interlude. Either he was not as strong and dedicated as he claimed to be or something really bad is hanging over his head to force him to bow out.

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March 13th, 2009, 2:06 am

 

19. Alex said:

Alia I think he is motivated more by using his case to shed light on the excessive power of the Israel lobby.

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March 13th, 2009, 8:05 am

 

20. Alex said:

Interview (part 1) with Jihad Makdissi (Arabic)

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March 13th, 2009, 8:07 am

 

21. Alex said:

Part II

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March 13th, 2009, 8:13 am

 

22. alia said:

Alex,

Perhaps you are right…but the excessive power of the lobby will continue and be worse within the highest spheres of the government without a corrective influence like his- that what the initial selling point about his appointment. It would have been much more valuable to work from inside with all his abilities and let journalists and writers speak about the lobby. Most people in MSM have not even heard his name as of last evening.

I just do not like how many times he referred to his beautiful life in retirement when the world is in such shambles. Either he is being forced to leave or he is too narcissistic to take the heat and stay.

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March 13th, 2009, 10:37 am

 

23. Nour said:

Alia,

I don’t think he left of his own accord. I think he was asked to withdraw as the Obama administration succumbed to the pressure of the Lobby. But he was given the chance leave voluntarily so as not to appear that he was forced out.

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March 13th, 2009, 10:53 am

 

24. Nour said:

I don’t believe that there is anything to “mend ties” about in Syria’s relationship with the Arab regimes of KSA and Egypt. I don’t agree with the argument that there were merely “Arab disagreements.” The reality is that those Arab regimes were collaborating with the enemy and actively participating in the war against our people and in the US-“Israeli” agenda of destroying the resistance. There is nothing to “make up” about. Syria didn’t do anything wrong. It was merely standing for the right of our people to resist a criminal and brutal occupation, while those Arab regimes wanted to deny our people this right. Unless these Arab regimes have changed their behavior and begin to act in line with our people’s interests, I don’t see what all these meetings are going to accomplish.

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March 13th, 2009, 11:16 am

 

25. norman said:

Nour,

I am proud of you.

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March 13th, 2009, 12:31 pm

 

26. Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:

e-mail I got from J Street on the Freeman topic.

Yossi —

The appointment and subsequent withdrawal of Charles Freeman from a senior national intelligence post this week is just the latest example of Israel policy as political football.

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. Further, on principle, we objected to making our government’s intelligence apparatus a political battlefield. Remember, it was politicized intelligence that helped mislead the U.S. into Iraq.

Now, however, in the aftermath of the battle and Freeman’s withdrawal, many are interpreting the incident as a victory for those who would make their view of what it means to be pro-Israel a standard for service in the U.S. government.

To that I personally – and we at J Street – object.

The principle at stake here is critical: It cannot be a litmus test for service in the American government that you have never criticized Israel or its policies publicly.

This really isn’t about Charles Freeman or the statements he’s made. Again, we took no position on his nomination.

It’s about the kind of politics we practice when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.

Some are strutting proudly today at the personal destruction of someone who – in their view – is a real foe of Israel. 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.

They’re wrong. Israel’s no better off with only meek friends in positions of power in the United States. Frankly, all friends, Israel included, need to hear the hard truth sometimes.

Others are clamoring that the failed appointment is the death knell of hope that President Obama may engage in meaningful diplomacy and conflict resolution in the Middle East.

They’re wrong, too. President Obama has already shown his determination to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He’s appointed George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace and lived up to his promise to engage from Day One in resolving the conflict.

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.

I support Israel. I believe in its right to exist safely and securely, and I value the special relationship between the United States and Israel. I also feel strongly that if I see Israel or the United States following a misguided path, it’s not simply my right, but my obligation to speak out. Does that mean that I will never again be able to be in public service?

Neither Israel nor the United States is served when free discussion and debate about foreign policy is stifled because people fear for the impact on their career of speaking openly.

Presidents and our country are best served by public officials willing to look critically at all sides of an issue that impacts the United States. In particular, those charged with gathering and sorting through intelligence to guide our foreign policy must be able to look at all sides of an issue.

I hope that the President and his team will ensure that subsequent choices for this and other sensitive intelligence and foreign policy positions have impeccable credentials and real independence. I further hope they choose people with the guts to speak truth to power and to force uncomfortable facts into foreign policy debates too often guided by political agendas.

Finally, I would say to friends of Israel that a litmus test for public service that rules out all those who have ever publicly questioned a policy or action of the government of Israel is of no service to the country you love. Without a hard look at the facts and the clock, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic homeland, is at grave risk.

– Jeremy

Jeremy Ben-Ami
Executive Director
J Street

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March 13th, 2009, 4:26 pm

 

27. Salma Al-Shami said:

From this week’s Economist:

http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13278609

Arab diplomacy and the Palestinians
Try to avoid embarrassment again

Mar 12th 2009 | CAIRO

Can the Arab world’s leaders stop bickering and help forge peace in the region?

[…]

Like America itself, its Arab friends would like nothing better than to wean Syria off its alliance with Iran. Such has been the subtext of a growing barrage of Western overtures to Mr Assad, including a visit to Syria by the most senior American envoys since George Bush withdrew his ambassador in 2004. Britain’s recent decision to open talks with Hizbullah is part of the same approach. Syria has so far denied any intention of distancing itself from Iran, judging that its strong ties, dating back to the 1980s, have served it well in strengthening its weak hand against Israel, which has occupied a slice of Syrian territory, the Golan Heights, since 1967.

But the sudden defrosting of Syrian relations with the Egyptians and Saudis, whose own rhetoric against Iran has lately become more vehement, suggests that a far-reaching realignment could be in the making. Syria’s attachment to Iran is tactical, not strategic, judges an Egyptian diplomat, pointing to the ideological disjuncture between Mr Assad’s secular regime and Iran’s aggressively Islamist one.

[…]

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March 14th, 2009, 6:19 pm

 

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