Chas Freeman: This time apartheid has western complicity

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 65 Comments

Impolitic as it is to mention this, in rejecting the analogy with apartheid in South Africa, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen is not only denying realities on the ground in Palestine but also the principal and most awkward difference between the two cases.  South Africa’s whites did not have a dedicated cadre of coreligionists or ethnic kin abroad who labored to protect them from the consequences of their deviance from the norms of humane behavior as defined by Western civilization at large.  Nor, despite open sympathy for South African whites in the American South and among ardent anti-Communists, did apartheid enjoy international ideological support outside the neo-Nazi fringe.  Israel’s policies are supported morally, politically, and financially by large Jewish communities and a vocal minority of Christians abroad, especially in North America, which is where global power remains concentrated.  Without that support and those subsidies, Israel manifestly could not act as it does.  The dependence of South Africa on external factors was far less direct or clear.

These differences between South Africa and Israel seem to me to be crucial both morally and politically.  Cohen is clearly in denial not only about the realities of the Israel-Palestine situation but more importantly about the moral question raised by his support and that of so many other Jews who identify with Israel not just for the existence of Israel but for for whatever it does: is Israeli pseudo-apartheid entitled to and does it enjoy the approval and support of world Jewry regardless of how inhumane it is to others?  If the answer to either question is yes, it follows that the Jewish Diaspora and its Christian camp followers are as responsible as Israel itself for the Jewish state’s increasingly blatant racist outrages against Palestinians and other Arabs.  The corollary to that is that the Diaspora has a responsibility to prevent actions by the state of Israel that threaten the moral standing of Jews outside as well as within Israel.  (The Christian Zionist element is relatively immune to such discredit.)

At some level, Cohen undoubtedly realizes that "whateverism" on the part of the Jewish Diaspora sets up a dynamic in which global anti-Semitism and the extension of the violent struggle against Israeli policies to world Jewry, not just antipathy to Israel, are the eventually inevitable results.  Thus, having been established to protect and secure the world’s Jews from harm by others, the aggressive amorality of the Israeli state is now the source of an accumulating threat to Jews everywhere–not to mention others who support the Jewish state, like Americans in general.  Cohen’s reaction to this irony is denial, but widening recognition of it, consciously or subconsciously, seems to me to account for the fact that the most courageous and outspoken protesters in the West against Israel’s behavior are — with few exceptions — Jews.  To declare "not in my name" is to assert the values of Judaism and to deny that Israel is acting on behalf of either oneself or the world’s Jews.  Doing so recognizes that Israel is a foreign country and affirms self-respect that accords with the strategic interests of world Jewry.   In a just world that would count for much.  But in the unjust world in which we live, irony will surely become tragedy — unless the moral flaw it embodies is overcome.

This brings me to what presumably agitated Cohen in the first place: the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel to combat "apartheid" there.  The arguments against boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions in the case of South Africa reflected very significant differences in the South African and Israeli situations and would be hard to make with respect to Israel. 

Afrikaner society was ingrown and largely detached from the broader world of the West; to boycott it was arguably to shame its amour-prôpre at the cost of deepening its isolation and reducing the active challenge to its erroneous policy premises.  Israeli society is among the most cosmopolitan and connected in today’s world; the impact of ostracism on it would be far less problematic.  In South Africa, under the Sullivan principles, foreign investors were committed to affirmative action programs to erode apartheid; their withdrawal had the immediate effect of worsening things for the individual victims of apartheid.  In Israel, there are no affirmative action programs to speak of, nor do foreign investors act to frustrate the expansionism of the settlers or to dissuade the state from supporting them. On the contrary, many of them are among the most vigorous supporters of the state’s abuses of its Palestinian subjects.  South Africa enjoyed no foreign subsidies. In South Africa, sanctions (outside the sports arena) were incremental and largely ineffectual until they finally embraced the financial sphere. Uncertainty about loans and the value of the rand had a sharp effect on business confidence and the lifestyles of the rich, which depended on access to foreign banking services that came to be seen as in jeopardy.  Israel is far more dependent on foreign financing, including subsidies.  The impact of carefully designed sanctions would be far more immediate.  That would not incidentally mitigate the negative effects of sanctions on the long-term economic structure, a problem that has bedeviled the ability of post-apartheid South Africa to compete internationally and to provide the growth in employment necessary to overcome past injustices.

Finally, had apartheid ended in tragedy, as it might well have, Euro-Americans could justly have been accused of a moral error of omission, in that we had failed to intervene to prevent our wayward offspring in southern Africa from perpetrating gross injustices that were ultimately intolerable to the region’s indigenous peoples as well as to the world at large.  But, if Israel’s policies are self-destructive and ultimately menacing to those who back them, North America and Europe are guilty of errors of commission.  We do more than wring our hands while sitting on them.  We are fully complicit in these policies.  Should tragedy ensue, what would those who actively aided and abetted Israeli conduct offer by way of an excuse?

For all these reasons, it seems to me, the case for both the appropriateness and the efficacy of foreign pressure for change on Israel is very much stronger than it was in the case of South Africa.  The question remains, however, at what point will those with the greatest stake in the reemergence of a humane Israel that burnishes rather than blackens the moral standing of Judaism and that discredits rather than invites anti-Semitism recognize that stake and act to secure it?  That’s such a tough question that I confess to a bit of sympathy for Cohen and others now so obviously struggling to sustain the comfort of collective denial.

65 Responses

  1. Shmuel
    March 3, 2010, 10:24 am

    Really excellent article.

    As Naomi Klein once wrote:

    Jews outside Israel now find themselves in a tightening vice: the actions of the country that was supposed to ensure their future safety are making them less safe right now. Sharon is deliberately erasing distinctions between the terms “Jew” and “Israeli”, claiming he is fighting not for Israeli territory but for the survival of the Jewish people. When anti-semitism rises at least partly as a result of his actions, it is Sharon who is positioned once again to collect the political dividends.

    It works. Most Jews are so frightened that they are now willing to do anything to defend Israeli policies. So at my neighbourhood synagogue, where the humble facade was badly scarred by a suspicious fire recently, the sign on the door doesn’t say, “Thanks for nothing, Sharon.” It says, “Support Israel – now more than ever.”

  2. Avi
    March 3, 2010, 10:25 am

    The other difference is the fact that Israel will always have the Holocaust to fall back on when it needs to excuse its policies and actions.

    At the same time, the farce that is the Global War on Terrorism plays into Israel’s and the United States’ hands. A Palestinian who is labeled “terrorist” has little recourse and few rights in both Israel and the US. Surely, no country in the so-called western world will speak up for that Palestinian. He is, they’ll say, a terrorist.

  3. Citizen
    March 3, 2010, 10:44 am

    Just look at how the Nazi regime cashed in on “World Jewry’s” world-wide declaration of economic war on Germany.

  4. Chaos4700
    March 3, 2010, 10:45 am

    “This time?!” Seriously? Three words, and then one name for you: International Freedom Foundation; Jack Abramoff. If you aren’t aware what the two have to do with each, and what they have to do with South Africa, then you’ve got some reading to do.

  5. David Samel
    March 3, 2010, 11:06 am

    I can see why there was so much pressure on Obama to drop Freeman, and I’m sure that those who applied that pressure are very glad they were successful. Freeman is so thoughtful, articulate and humane that he must have been absolutely intolerable to the pro-Israel crowd. I wonder if he was as candid and forthright as this before the appointment fiasco, or if those who discredited him had to dig deeper to find “fault”.

    In any event, he puts forth arguments for BDS that are simply brilliant, especially his comparison with the South African situation. But however moral BDS is, it seems to me that it can be effectively countered, at least in the short run, not just by the economic power of Diaspora Jews, but more importantly, by the US and other governments that provide so much economic, miltary and diplomatic protection for Israel — the very forces Freeman describes in his first pargraph. What chance does a BDS grassroots effort have against that kind of power? I ask not out of defeatism, but in the hope that someone could give an optimistic answer.

    I’m not sure I agree with Freeman’s analysis that many prominent critics of Israel are Jewish because Israeli policies tend to inflame worldwide anti-Semitism. I don’t think Jewish critics are worried about backlash as much as they are offended by acts committed in their name. Also, I tend to shrug off references to Jewish values being corroded by Israel, as if we Jews are the heirs to some special ethos that we should strive to protect. These are universal values that are being trampled upon. But that’s minor criticism. In fact, Israel gets a boost from anti-Semitism, and has often sought to encourage and exaggerate it. To Israel, an uptick in anti-S is a positive byproduct of its sadism to Palestinians, not a negative potential to be feared when weighing how cruel it can afford to be.

    Freeman’s essay should make us all even more disappointed that our Prez is a bright, handsome, thoughtful guy who is missing that most crucial ingredient – backbone.

    • Avi
      March 3, 2010, 11:10 am

      These are universal values that are being trampled upon. … In fact, Israel gets a boost from anti-Semitism….To Israel, an uptick in anti-S is…. not a negative potential to be feared when weighing how cruel it can afford to be.

      Very true.

    • Citizen
      March 3, 2010, 11:20 am

      “JAY: So for Americans who are concerned about this, what do they make of what Obama said, no more settlements? And what should the US be doing?

      RATNER: It does seem to me that no matter what people’s views are about Israel and about the existence of the state of Israel and about Zionism, that the idea that there’s one person living beyond what’s called the Green Line, which is to say the Occupied Territories, should not be allowed to happen, should never have been allowed to happen. And Israeli—unless when it becomes a country, yes, then Israelis can move there like any other immigrant can move to a country. Certainly that country’s laws, you know, provide for it. That should, of course, be permitted. But at this point the idea that Israel is using occupied territory to build settlements, there should be an absolute line drawn in the sand that says this can’t happen. I’ve always been amazed by it, because in my view people are going to have all kinds of different feelings, and I have certain feelings about Israel and Zionism and what happened in ’48 and etc., but no matter what one’s feelings are, no matter where you are on the spectrum, right, left, center, it seems to me that a bottom line has to be you can’t be building settlements, cities, in occupied territories that you’ve conquered during the war. It’s just a no-go. And the fact that the US continues to fund Israel to some $3 billion-plus a year while it’s doing this open and notorious act of building settlements and apartheid settlements is just unacceptable, and it should be. And Obama made a start and then just fell backwards. And he fell backwards who knows why. He fell backwards because there was too much opposition within the community in the United States, the Jewish community in particular. Who knows why?”

      Note: Michael Ratner is President of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York. He has taught at Yale Law School, lectured at Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.

      See the whole video & transcript:

      link to

      • Mooser
        March 3, 2010, 11:49 am

        RATNER:…” it seems to me that a bottom line has to be you can’t be building settlements, cities, in occupied territories that you’ve conquered during the war.

        Citizen, oddly enough I had a conversation about this very thing with an aquaintance, in between bowls. He is not Jewish, and a veteran of the US Navy(!) I explained that to him, that the occupied territories is land in the process of being stolen. We them engaged in a little Talmudic repartee, me and this non-Jew: he asked me, “And how did Israel get this land that these settlers are on?” I replied: “Why, this is territory they took in the ’67 war, and have occupied since.” He then said “See? Israel won this land in a war; it’s theirs! Isn’t that the rule?”
        And then of course, we went on to all the horrible things the Palestinians are doing to the Israeli settlers! You know, they won’t let them drive on the Pal-only roads, detain the Israelis at checkpoints…..
        True story, and it’s typical of what I hear.

        Nope, I don’t think the Israelis are too woried about my Jewish values. They don’t need me.

      • Citizen
        March 3, 2010, 12:41 pm

        In between bowls (of what? chicken soup or wooden pins?), did you wisely nod, and say, “Yeah, you’re right–that’s why I don’t see why the government is babbling about
        getting out of Iraq!” Gotta keep those acquaintances happy, so why spoil the
        shared fun? Rules is rules.

      • Chu
        March 3, 2010, 12:52 pm

        “Israel’s policies are supported morally, politically, and financially by large Jewish communities and a vocal minority of Christians abroad, especially in North America, which is where global power remains concentrated.”

        The crux of the problem with Israel and the US – even if we vote against Jewish Reps. to elected positions, Jewish money will continue to flow into the coffers of elected representatives. How do you stop the flow of capitol to Israel, as you say “Without that support and those subsidies, Israel could not act as it does.”?

        There seems to be no clear solution at this point -but BDS, grass roots involvement, new websites like Mondo, are exposing the ugly face of Israel. It’s seems inevitable that the greater public will begin to grasp hold of a growing minority that supports the rights of Palestinian sovereignty. A conscientiousness counter-movement against Zionism, will prevent the continued crimes of Israel.

      • Mooser
        March 3, 2010, 1:05 pm

        I most certainly did not, thank you. I earnestly, and I hope, simply and cogently tried to inform him of the situation as I understood it, that Israel had taken these lands in the course of a war, in 1967 (!), and stayed on them since, not to mention imposing an illegal and degrading (and so on) military regime on the people there, and to top it off, Jewish settlers came, protected by the army and blah, blah, blah. And all the time he and spouse looking at me like I had taken leave of my senses, I was actually daring to speak a different narrative then what they were used to, but having known me for years, many years, they were at least convinced I was harmless, if not amusing.

        That’s when he explained to me the right-of-ownership-by-conquest principle. By the time I picked my jaw up off the floor and steam had stopped whistling from my ears, the conversation had passed on to other topics, weather, crops, livestock, the usual pre-occupations of country gentlemens. I found my keys, which I had tossed behind the davenport when that “right-of-conquest” struck me and managed to drive home. Muttering, I might add, all the way.

      • Avi
        March 3, 2010, 1:44 pm


        I think the phraseology here is very important. Israel didn’t merely take those lands in the course of the 1967 war. Instead, Israel’s leadership at the time initiated the war in an effort to deliberately take over more land. Certainly, admissions by the likes of Moshe Dayan and Menachem Begin illustrate that very fact.

        Dayan stated that “greed for land” led Israel to provoke the Syrian army to shoot back so as to provide a pretext for an Israeli invasion of the Golan.

        He added, “I know how at least 80% of all of the incidents there started. In my opinion, more than 80%, but let’s speak about 80%. We would send a tractor to plow someplace where it was not possible to do anything, in the demilitarized zone, and we knew in advance that the Syrians would start shooting. If they did not start shooting, we would tell the tractor driver to progress farther until the Syrians in the end would get nervous and shoot back. And then we would use guns, and later, even the air force, and that is how it went….We could change the lines of the cease-fire accords by military actions that were less than a war. That is, to seize some territory and hold it until the enemy despaired and gave it to us.”

        In discussing the Egyptian front, Avraham Sela’ wrote that the “Egyptian buildup in the Sinai lacked a clear offensive plan ….Nasser’s defensive instructions explicitly assumed an Israeli first strike.”

        Then there’s also Menachem Begin’s own admission at the National Defense College in Israel, when he stated: “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai do not prove that Nasser was about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

      • Citizen
        March 3, 2010, 3:32 pm

        Well if it’s any consulation I have many similar experiences.

      • Citizen
        March 3, 2010, 3:34 pm

        Did the sailor boy illustrate his golden rule of conquest rights with any historical examples?

      • Citizen
        March 3, 2010, 3:38 pm

        All true, Avi, but look who Mooser was yakking with at the bowling alley, and he was not even a friend, just an acquaintance.

      • Donald
        March 3, 2010, 3:41 pm

        Yeah, I’ve had a handful myself. One friend (a Christian Zionist) thinks Israel has the land “by right of conquest”. It doesn’t occur to him that even if there were a right of conquest, the people living on the land should then become citizens of the state which had conquered them, with equal rights, unless the conquerors want to set up an apartheid system (with heartfelt apologies to the delicate sensibilities of Richard Cohen).

        I’ve also had people conflate the Israeli Arabs (who are discriminated against, but have rights) with the Palestinians under occupation (with no rights to speak of). Sometimes this happens out of ignorance, I think. I’ve also seen it done by someone (online in this case) who I think was trying to score cheap points, hoping I didn’t know any better.

      • Shmuel
        March 3, 2010, 3:47 pm

        As long as we’re bitching, I get heaps of sympathy for Israel every time anybody finds out I’m Jewish. The extent to which it pisses me off is well compensated by the look on their faces when I give them the real dope. Confuses the hell out of them :-)

      • Danaa
        March 3, 2010, 5:51 pm

        Shmuel, glad to see I’m not the only one getting their kicks this [slightly perverse] way. Ain’t sowing confusion fun? beats gardening any day….not to mention milking cows (though there’s something to be said for Mooser’s style of fun – bowl for fish and chips with sailors passing in the night….)

  6. Citizen
    March 3, 2010, 11:25 am

    Freeman explains why he withdrew–judge for your self what he means:

    link to

    • Egbert
      March 4, 2010, 8:29 am

      The loss of Freeman was a great blow. The main article above was excellent. The main trouble with it is that at one level it is (literally) just words. It allows the Hasbara to dispute endlessly the meaning of words like ‘apartheid’ and so on and on. Israel lays great claim to ‘facts on the ground’. The article therefore should illustrate pictorially these facts on the ground. I suggest showing side by side an image of the West Bank e.g. the B’Tselem 2006 map showing the route of The Wall and a map of the Bantustans of South Africa. The similarity is stunning and undeniable.
      There is no longer a separate viable Palestinian state.

  7. marc b.
    March 3, 2010, 11:31 am

    What chance does a BDS grassroots effort have against that kind of power? I ask not out of defeatism, but in the hope that someone could give an optimistic answer.

    BDS alone cannot be expected to turn Israel around. A successful BDS movement will, however, further deligitimize and isolate Israel as it is currently constituted.

    • seafoid
      March 3, 2010, 3:37 pm

      BDS is key in the delegitimisation of Israel’s colonialism vis a vis the rump of Palestine. Israel is no monolith- if it were it wouldn’t need so many people to lie for it on a regular basis. There would be no need for hasbara if the question of the Palestinians were settled once and for all, if the 67 war had solved it. Zionism is ultimately quite fragile behind the flash sunglasses and the institutionalised cruelty.

  8. Mooser
    March 3, 2010, 11:32 am

    Great article, inspiring.

    “is to assert the values of Judaism “

    I still would like somebody to prove, by some survey of what the Jews do, or have done, or the weight of any facts that these values exist in a workable way, and are not just self advertisement or clever publicity. We all know how wonderful “Christian values” are, and I’m in a real sweat to keep up with my non-Jewish neightbors. So anybody can give me some examples how these Jewish values assert themselves, bring it on!

    Of course, we could always demonstrate our Jewish values by bringing down the Zionists in Israel! Gosh, we could make a really clever deal with them! They moderate and stop some intransigence, and we all announce our values have been satisfied! Win-win , for the Jews and the Israelis. And can we count on anybody else to do this? C’mon, you know they don’t have the values like us! Anybody can see that! After all, look how we handled that high-value Zionist project, we showed them they weren’t gonna do nothin’ which degraded our exalted Jewish values, huh?

    • Psychopathic god
      March 3, 2010, 12:33 pm

      darn you Mooser, now I have to worry about you as well as my children when I lie awake fretting over the trajectory of the US-Israel-Palestine-Iran conflict. Why’d ya have to go and write that you don’t want Israeli zionists disrupting your life as a faithful Jew in the US?

      I worry about that.
      I hope nothing bad happens to you or to any peace-loving person.

    • MHughes976
      March 3, 2010, 4:53 pm

      Well, I would think that there was definitely some Jewish influence on the emergence of liberal Europe before and after WW1. This has to be set in the context of a general movement towards demythologised versions of religion – universal ethics, an overall feeling of faith without embittered dogmatism as advertised by Tolstoy, Wittgenstein and others. As Christian Europe increasingly accepted Jews it was increasingly moved in this undogmatic, liberal direction. Jews were naturally more ready to be critical of the bourgeois institutions which they had not had so much responsibility for constructing, naturally more ready to call for acceptance of outsiders. They also promoted an ethos of professionalism based on merit rather than on inherited privilege, merit implying dedication to public service. Freud argued that the benefits of Jewish presence flowed outwards into the Christian population, though paid for inwardly (Moses’ fault) by a terrible sense of guilt in Jewish minds, from which sentiment there emerges, like pearl from grit, mighty artistic and intellectual achievement.
      Without committing myself to this somewhat exotic idea, I think that Jews have something to be proud of – that is if playing a distinctive part in the formation of liberal Euro was a good thing. But perhaps there was a Hegelian dialectical trap in waiting: if (IF) Euro liberalism creates a morality in which everyone should be proud to share, the maintenance of a distinctive identity by any group within liberal Europe moves from being essential to being first redundant and then harmful.
      Laor’s ‘Myths of Liberal Zionism’ seems to bring out how much Israeli intellectuals hark back to, still really belong to, Europe – implying that their alliance with American fundamentalists, whom they must in their hearts despise, is utterly unnatural.

  9. marc b.
    March 3, 2010, 11:34 am

    BTW, great post at Lawrence of Cyberia re: on the nonsensical “land without people for people without a land.”

    link to

  10. Oscar
    March 3, 2010, 11:45 am

    Chas Freeman is an intellectual giant with a gift for incisive analysis. It’s a real loss to the country that the neo-cons prevailed in blocking his appointment in national intelligence. Had he been at the helm during the Bush years, the WMD and yellowcake canards would never have seen the light of day, and literally millions of lives would have been spared.

    • Psychopathic god
      March 3, 2010, 12:45 pm

      we mourn the death of William Odom, who did speak with similar clarity against US’s Iraq adventures; Freeman joins that pantheon. The neocons have had their Warhol moment; it’s past. The adults have been waiting in the kitchen for the helions to vent their rage and tire.

      Among the adults, find:

      John Tirman of MIT link to

      and John Mueller of Ohio State Univ. www foreignpolicy com/articles/2010/01/04/think_again_nuclear_weapons

    • Citizen
      March 3, 2010, 12:46 pm

      Yeah, but then Powell wouldn’t have been able to show how truly loyal he was to his
      career by his sworn testimony backing up the solid evidence Sadsack had WMD. Nobody’d ever really know what a great Prez he might have made.

    • Danaa
      March 3, 2010, 3:27 pm

      Oscar, Chas was blocked so as not to interrupt the push fro mayhem in Iran, which the powers-that-be suspected he would do. That was exactly the point of blocking not only his appointment but several others.

      We sometimes speak of Iraq as a debacle around here. But it wasn’t so for those who actually revel in a ‘thinning’ of undesirable populations. If you don’t believe me, have a conversation with some israeli, standard issue. You’ll find the level of compassion for lives lost unnecessarily astounding. The same attitude prevails in certain quarters in the US, as we know full well, as a cursory glance at Fox channel would reveal (not recommended. May result in serious indigestion). Among neocons – and their crowd of supporters, Iraq was – and is – considered a triumph, and they have every expectation that history will vindicate them. As to the cost to Americans and America – that was quite acceptable. After all, it’s not the chattering classes that put their lives on the line. To that kind of thinking, the extra dead and displaced in Iraq – millions of them – are simply a bonus. That much less trouble….

  11. Gellian
    March 3, 2010, 11:53 am

    Mr. Freeman, you bring a fantastic breath of fresh air to this whole debate. You voice what many of us have felt for a long time but are unwilling to say because we neither are nor want to be called antisemites. We are complicit by not fighting back — but we have no real way to fight back!

    • Citizen
      March 3, 2010, 12:48 pm

      And, apparently neither did Mr. Freeman judging by what he told PBS concerning
      his reason for stepping down.

      • Julian
        March 3, 2010, 4:56 pm

        Pretty obvious Freeman is a liar and was terrified of the rest of his resume getting out.

      • marc b.
        March 3, 2010, 5:13 pm

        Freeman’s resume is public knowledge as he has worked in government for most of his adult life. There’s nothing to ‘get out’. But don’t let the facts get in the way your really clever innuendo.

      • Julian
        March 4, 2010, 8:30 am

        Since it’s “public knowledge” where can I get a look at his tax returns for the last 5 years. I want to know how much money the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was paying good old Chas.
        I really don’t think old Chas wanted that info getting out.

      • MRW
        March 4, 2010, 9:00 am

        Julian, Freeman’s resume is impeccable. You are not even in his league where you would be allowed to make a judgment.

      • marc b.
        March 4, 2010, 12:10 pm

        The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an ally of US and Israel, as evidenced by the troika’s decades-long cooperative meddling in NW Asia and Pakistan. Some degenerate Saudi prince owns the largest stake in the parent company of Fox News outside of the Ruppert family, and FN is as staunchly pro-Israel as any US news organization. Freeman has never once made a comment that remotely questioned Israel’s existence as a ‘Jewish democracy’, he has simply suggested that in the context of post-Cold War power politics that Israel’s interests and those of the US are not coterminous. His positions are of the bland, stereotypical empire-building variety as someone has already pointed out. Only in the framework of shrill, unquestioning support for Israel is he the least controversial.

  12. Psychopathic god
    March 3, 2010, 12:29 pm

    Influence-shapers such as Barbara Slavin link to sumo wrestles the appellation ‘apartheid’ by using it to rationalize imposition of sanctions –“sanctions worked to halt apartheid in South Africa,” then applying the concept to Iran: “sanctions are legitimate to impose on Iran.”

    Except, of course, that Iran is not engaging in apartheid behavior.

    Israel is.

  13. James
    March 3, 2010, 1:29 pm

    “Should tragedy ensue, what would those who actively aided and abetted Israeli conduct offer by way of an excuse?”

    it is happening in regular doses already and we see how these same people aid and abet israel…. nothing will change if it is just a continuation of the same…. something extreme would have to happen to wake these same people up…. apparently it hasn’t been extreme enough for them, as they are not the palestinians living it daily..

  14. pabelmont
    March 3, 2010, 3:08 pm

    A perfect essay on the subject. Should be republished far and wide.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  15. pabelmont
    March 3, 2010, 3:30 pm

    Charles Freeman is far more valuable to the world outside the US government than inside it.
    Our earlier tears were misplaced.

    This essay should be read in every synagogue and church in America, published in every newspaper and magazine. Anyone who remains with J-Street after reading this will be remarkable indeed.

    And, again, we need a Jewish pro-peace, pro-human-rights, pro-Palestinian, pro-international-law LOBBY. We’ve had Palestine 1948, Palestine 1967, Lebanon 1982, Lebanon 2006, Gaza 2008-2009-2010, the occupation, and, coming soon perhaps Iran 2010.

    It is too much.

    • Julian
      March 4, 2010, 8:37 am

      Right. A guy who is blatantly on the payroll of the Saudis is going to be the spokesman for the anti Israel lobby. I can only hope hope that it happens.

      • MRW
        March 4, 2010, 9:06 am

        Julian, “blatantly on the payroll of the Saudis?”

        Freeman was US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and President of the US Middle East Policy Council, which is chock-a-block with Jews.
        link to

      • Citizen
        March 4, 2010, 12:36 pm

        Smear Campaign
        “In the days following Blair’s appointment of Freeman, the attacks grew more and more bizarre. For example, since the Middle East Policy Council had received some grants from some Saudi-based foundations, Freeman was accused of thereby being “on the Saudi payroll” and even being a “Saudi puppet.” In The New Republic, Martin Peretz insisted that Freeman was “a bought man.” But it’s certainly not unprecedented for presidential appointees to have worked with nonprofit organizations that have received support from foreign governments. Indeed, Dennis Ross, appointed last month as Special Advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia, is still listed as the board chair of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which is supported by the Israeli government.
        To set the record straight, Blair told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Freeman had “never lobbied for any government or business (domestic or foreign)” and that he had “never received any income directly from Saudi Arabia or any Saudi-controlled entity.”
        In another irony, the person identified as the principal orchestrator of the attacks against Freeman — including the charge that he was a Saudi agent — was Steven Rosen, former director of the right-wing American-Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Rosen currently faces espionage charges for transferring classified materials to the Israeli government. M.J. Rosenberg, a former colleague of Rosen who now serves as policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, said “you couldn’t have picked anyone less credible to lead the charge” against Freeman. But Rosen’s smear campaign was apparently credible enough to force Freeman to turn down the position.”
        link to

  16. Citizen
    March 3, 2010, 3:43 pm

    Speaking of Western complicity, there’s movement afoot internationally to spread just that message and attempt to do something about it:

    In case somehow it is not covered in the MSM
    news today:

    The first international session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine with a focus on the Palestinian right to self determination and the global responsibility of ending Israeli crimes against Palestinians has come to an end in Spain’s eastern city of Barcelona.

    The participants at the three-day event concluded that the EU has been complicit in aiding and abetting Israelis to carry out their horrendous crimes. They pointed out that Israel is clearly guilty of major crimes of domination, subjugation and called on the EU member states — especially France, Germany and Romania — to strop selling weapons to Israel. They also demanded a ban on import of Israeli products, which are made in the occupied Palestinian territories.

    The Tribunal includes 4 sessions; remaining will be in London ( to scrutinize the complicity of corporations in normalizing and continuing Israel’s violations of international law), in S Africa (to consider apartheid in Israel, and finally, concluding in the US next year to
    go through the role of Washington within the UN & evaluate the decision-making processes used to deal with violations of international law).
    link to

  17. Julian
    March 3, 2010, 4:54 pm

    How the mighty have fallen. After being a well paid shill for the most repressive regimes on earth he writes for Mondoweiss.
    This was the guy all the anti Zionists said was going to stand up to the “lobby”. The mighty Walt, who never gets anything right stated, “Fortunately, the screeching of Freeman’s critics has not worked; Freeman will be the head of the National Intelligence Council.”

    • Citizen
      March 3, 2010, 5:22 pm

      Yeah, right, all those repressive regimes Freeman has “shilled for” have been occupying, imprisoning, abusing whole populations of foreigners for decades now.

      • Julian
        March 4, 2010, 9:00 am

        Did you forget about Tibet? The Saudis do it to their own population.

      • Citizen
        March 4, 2010, 12:25 pm

        To the extent Tibet is an occupied country, it is China that’s doing the occupying.
        link to

        Lots of countries do it to their own population. Israel stands alone in doing it
        for over 40 years to the Palestinian people.

  18. Keith
    March 3, 2010, 5:22 pm

    Based upon the posts that I have read so far, I’m probably going to take some flack for this, but I feel it needs to be said, so here goes.

    Chas Freeman is a faithful servant/architect of Empire from the Zbigniew Brzezinski school of realpolitik. His critique centers on the rising tide of opposition to Israel’s overt militarism, brutality, and human rights abuses. He compares the situation to South Africa, where he notes “…had apartheid ended in tragedy….” there would have been grounds for justifiable criticism for those supporting the South African regime. He obviously feels that it didn’t end in tragedy. Instead, political apartheid was replaced by economic apartheid, and the Empire was pleased. He seems to be advocating a similar solution for Israel/Palestine. Israel should back off the heavy handed coercion and take a more business-like approach.

    He doesn’t appear to oppose Zionism, per se, counting himself among those who “…support the Jewish state….” He talks of the “…reemergence of a humane Israel…”, by which he means a less blatant human rights abuser. He acknowledges that “We are fully complicit in these (Israeli) policies.” Whose “we”? “Israel’s policies are supported morally, politically, and financially by large Jewish communities and a vocal minority of Christians abroad, especially in North America, which is where global power remains concentrated.” Anybody missing? Hello, Uncle Sam, are you there? Empire, oil reserves, geo-strategy, none of this is discussed by this spokesman for Empire. In other words, the Empire would be better served if AIPAC lost some of it’s clout and folks like him had more of a say so.

    He contends that Jewish and Christian support for Israel makes them complicit in Israeli crimes (true enough). Notice that he emphasizes Jews and not Zionists. He then holds up the specter (threat?) of increased anti-Semitism. Apparently he wishes to compete with the Zionists for Jewish support. More importantly, he never mentions (God forbid!) that U.S. support for Israel makes America complicit in Israeli crimes, not to mention other crimes around the globe too numerous to mention.

    Would his policy recommendations be an improvement? Probably. Would they represent a fundamental change? No, which is why I have difficulty understanding the enthusiasm of Mondoweissers for the latest Mondoweiss Pied Piper du jour. If and when Chas Freeman calls for the end of empire, then I’ll sing his praises, not before.

    • pulaski
      March 4, 2010, 12:48 am

      Keith: Well said.

    • Shmuel
      March 4, 2010, 2:32 am

      Well said, Keith, but …

      I find myself relating to the world on two different levels. There is the fundamental level, on which I share your perspective, but there is also the mundane, make-believe level on which I suspend my disbelief in the entire system in order to communicate specific messages to a world that, for the most part, thinks everything is ok except for A, B and C. On the make-believe level, Goldstone, Freeman, etc. are brave heroes who will bring about real change. On the fundamental level, I wouldn’t trust them as far as I can throw them. Both perspectives are useful – not only for making friends and influencing people, but also for maintaining my own sanity. The trick is in knowing which approach to adopt in a given situation and never forgetting the difference between them.

      • James Bradley
        March 4, 2010, 3:20 am

        It can be hard to express the feeling that you just conveyed Shmuel.

        Because quite frankly I often feel the way you do when it comes to these kinds of matters.

        Goldstone and Freeman represent positions which are still far from what I believe to be ideal, yet I get incredibly excited when I see them get any airtime in the MSM.

        Which sucks, but at the same time highlights the obscenity of the situation. The Zionutters and neocons that have American foreign policy on the Middle East with a vice grip to the balls have such a warped view of the world that seeing the opinion of Zbrigenski’s acolytes actually makes me feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.

        This is despite the fact that these people don’t advocate a change in the status quo, don’t really care if suffering gets swept under the wrong, and won’t do anything to highlight or challenge the great disparity that effects the world due to the policies of American Empire.

        People like Freeman and Goldstone sound like angels to us because they challenge the neocons and ardent Zionists who insist on viewing the world as a Tolkien fantasy novel.

      • Avi
        March 4, 2010, 6:40 am

        Shmuel and James,

        So would it be fair to characterize Goldstone and Freeman as “providing balance”? They may not necessarily challenge the status quo as you have pointed out, but they provide a certain balance much in the same way the Soviet Union did when the US empire was on the rise.

      • Shmuel
        March 4, 2010, 7:13 am

        No, Avi. I don’t think that “balance” does it. It is both more and less than that. Having once been rather religious, the analogy that comes to my mind is that of logic within a religious system (Jewish Orthodoxy, in my case). The rules of logic and human reason apply, but only within the framework of a set of irrational axioms. Goldstone and Freeman make complete sense, within a nonsensical structure. On that level, I agree with them and identify with them rather wholeheartedly (give or take a reservation or two). They are the good guys. Knights in shining armour. Step out of the asylum for a minute though, and you start asking yourself what’s the point and what difference does it make – which may be perfectly true, but generally fails to contribute in any meaningful way to your happiness or to that of others.

      • David Samel
        March 4, 2010, 9:37 am

        Shmuel and James, You make some excellent points. The way I look at it, if the debate were between Ali Abunimah and those who want one state with equality for all, and Freeman and Goldstone, who want to preserve the “integrity” of the Jewish State, I would be with Ali. But from where we are now, people like Freeman and Goldstone hold out the promise to alleviate the more acute misery felt by millions of people. I don’t share their ultimate vision, but I do not consider them hypocrites or racists. They are basically honest and well-meaning people who are unafraid to publicly heap blame where it belongs. They have braved vitriolic condemnation from many who were in their community (Goldstone especially) and deserve a great measure of respect for their efforts, which I think are genuinely selfless. They are taking the debate not only in the right direction, but way out there, and in this moment, at least, it doesn’t seem productive to note their possible shortcomings.

        In fact, I think Keith is very harsh on Freeman, even to the point of misinterpreting him and unfairly condemning him for his omissions. I don’t think Freeman intended to, or did, exempt Uncle Sam from complicity, and his “failure” to talk about oil reserves and “geo-strategy,” while extolling the potential of BDS ( a very strong position) is nit-picking at its worst. My own world view might resemble Keith’s more than Freeman’s, but at the moment, I’m more impressed with the latter.

      • Avi
        March 4, 2010, 10:32 am

        …the analogy that comes to my mind is that of logic within a religious system … The rules of logic and human reason apply, but only within the framework of a set of irrational axioms.

        I see what you’re saying.

        It almost sounds like the concept of suspending one’s disbelief while watching a play or a movie.

      • Citizen
        March 4, 2010, 12:11 pm

        I did not read Freeman as exempting Uncle Sam or the American people from complicity.

      • Keith
        March 4, 2010, 4:34 pm

        SHMUEL- I agree. In the real world of realpolitik, it is probably better to have someone like Chas Freeman in a position of power than some Zionist crazy. Perhaps he could provide some restraint to the increasingly militaristic, confrontational trajectory to U.S. foreign policy. But then again, who knows?

        The point of my post was to provide a deconstruction of what Freeman actually said, and its implications. I felt that most of the previous posts had projected what they wanted to believe onto what Freeman actually said, and who the man actually is and what he represents. Wishful thinking only leads to disappointment. In that regard, I think my post was successful in that subsequent posts appeared to me to be much more analytical and well thought out.

        In my posts, I try as much as possible to bring a global, geo-strategic perspective to the discussion. This is the way the managers of Empire think, and we need to evaluate local events from that perspective. In this regard, I think we need to be aware of the relationship of Israel and Zionism to Imperial strategy. Also, as the American Empire transitions to a form of transnational corporate empire linked by financial controls, how this will effect Israel/Palestine.

    • pulaski
      March 4, 2010, 11:18 am

      Good discussion. Those are excellent points, Shmuel and James. I think all human rationality works within the sorts of boundaries you described. I know many people who are smart and rational within one system, yet have completely nutso beliefs if you draw those boundaries or “rules” slightly differently.

      I agree, I’d rather that Goldstone and Freeman exist than not!

      And there is the issue of allies. To the extent that the goals of improving lives and justice in Palestine is in concordance with the interests of the elite and the views of sane imperialists, it is good to have folks making the argument.

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