Getting to know Chas Freeman


Laura Rozen does a good job over at ForeignPolicy of rounding up the Chas Freeman case, for and against.

A couple of points:

Laura correctly notes that Freeman is in no position to defend himself, and won’t ever be, should he get the job chairing the National Intelligence Council. In fact, unless scandal or major controversy erupts – the usual circumstance for the declassification of national intelligence estimates –  we’re not going to know what he brings to a job that requires silence. Even then, we’ll only be able to guess at which fingerprints are his.

This leads to two seemingly (but not really) contradictory conclusions: Those of us probing his connections with and apologies for Saudi Arabia need to be extra scrupulous; and someone with that past entering a slot like this needs extra scrutiny.

She also suggests that the 2005 JTA report on the offensive textbook published in part by Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council removes a quote from context; A source tells her it was a wrong answer on a multiple choice test.

I did not write that investigative series – I’ve ordered the textbook so I can have a closer look – but the American Jewish Committee’s report on the textbook, published the same year, is comprehensive, and treats the same three quotes (more than the one suggested by Laura’s source). I’m not sure which excerpt is supposed to be the "wrong answer" but nothing seems taken out of context. (Richard Silverstein also suggests that JTA has removed the passages from context.)

Here’s the full passage on Jerusalem, describing it as "Arab" and suggesting its Jewish residents are settlers:

When people talk of Jerusalem and consider the historic rights over the city and the claims to it, they are not talking about the European-type colonial suburb-turned-city which foreign Jews built next to the historic religious city-shrine, even though they called it Jerusalem too. They are talking about the walled city, fully built up, containing a small Jewish quarter, it is true, but almost exclusively a home to Christian and Muslim Palestinian Arabs. Yet the “Old City,” the Jerusalem that most people envisage when they think of the ancient city, is Arab. Surrounding it are ubiquitous high-rises built for Israeli settlers to strengthen Israeli control over the holy city.

"Foreign Jews built next to the historic religious city-shrine, even though they called it Jerusalem too." This clearly is a reference to the entire western city; Jews, it is true, have been calling it Jerusalem since its first homes were built – in the 1850s. The idea that the Jewish quarter was "small" and that the Old City was "almost exclusively" Christian and Muslm Arab is also false: first, what abot the Armenian quarter? Second, Ottoman censuses dating back to the 1840s report a Jewish plurality.

But that may be the point: The offense is not in Israel’s control of the whole city since 1967, it’s in its very Jewish plurality.

Other colonial suburbs were built by foreigners in Arab countries, but today no one suggests that Algiers, Tunis, Casablanca, etc., may be rightfully claimed by the Europeans who settled there during their colonial period of recent history. Only in the case of Jerusalem does colonialist thinking still predominate.

Their real problem here seems not to be with Teddy Kollek or Ehud Olmert or Rehavaam Zevi, but with Moses Montefiore, who built the first homes outside the walls to accommodate the Old City’s expanding Jewish population – families with ancient indigenous roots who in their time might have been at least a little baffled at being designated "Europeans."

This quote:

The Qur’an synthesizes and perfects earlier revelations.

is taken from a chapter called "The Qur’an: An Introduction.” It doesn’t seem to me to be an answer to a question nor does it seem to be, as Silverstein believes,  describing how Muslims perceive their religion – it is stating it as fact. Here’s more from the same chapter:

As the last link in a chain of revelation going back to time immemorial, even to the very origin of humankind, the Qur’an has the special function of recollecting the essential message of all revealed Books and distinguishing this from the opinions and reactions later interpolated into ancient texts whose original dispensation had taken place in remote and even unknown times.

So, yes, Jews, Christians, kind of got it right, but Islam wiped away the smudges.


Truman’s decision to push the UN decision to partition Palestine, ended in the creation of Israel. The questions of Jewish lobbying and its impact on Truman’s decision with regard to American recognition—and indeed, the whole question of defining American interests and concerns—is well worth exploring.

Again, this doesn’t look like the answer to a question. As I said in my story, what’s problematic here is not the role of Jewish influence on Truman, it is that it is cast against "American interests and concerns." More than that, though, it’s kind of monomaniacal: Silverstein gets his indefinite article wrong when he says it "correctly suggests that lobbying by American Zionists had an effect on Truman’s decision." Not just "an" effect; the decision "ended in the creation of Israel."

Really? Truman’s haberdashery partner did it all? What about the pre-state militias? What about Robert Maxwell smuggling Czechoslovakian weapons into the Yishuv? What about the Holocaust?

Back to Laura: She links to two people whose writings in this area I respect, Steve Clemons and David Rothkopf. Clemons, I think, goes slightly off the rails in balancing Freeman’s appointment with Dennis Ross. Ross has institutional links to the pro-Israel lobby and to Israel, yes, but I also have next to my desk Dennis’ 848-page tome, "The Missing Peace," that excoriates Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak for blowing peace with Syria and lambasts Benjamin Netanyahu – likely Israel’s next prime minister – as impossible to work with.

Rothkopf says Freeman "has zero fear of speaking what he perceives to be truth to power." Show me, show me, show me, an instance where he has defied the Saudis with the same vigor that Dennis has shown in taking on Israel’s leadership. Then, maybe, I’ll be convinced.

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