The Rape of Washington
RETURNING HOME from a
very short visit to London, I found the country in the grip of uncontrollable
No, it was not about the
looming danger of the radical right gaining control. It is now almost certain
that the next government will consist of an assorted bunch of settlers,
explicit racists and perhaps even outright fascists. But that does not evoke
Nor was there much
excitement about yet another interrogation of the (still) incumbent Prime
Minister in his various corruption affairs. That is hardly news anymore.
All the excitement was
about a “press conference” given by the former President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, after the Attorney General announced that he might
be indicted for rape.
Katsav, it may be remembered by those who remember such
things, was accused by several of his female staff of persistent sexual
harassment and at least one case of rape. He had to resign.
An Iranian-born immigrant
and a protégé of Menachem Begin, Katsav
had made a career based on a kind of affirmative action. Begin believed that, for
the sake of integration, promising young immigrants from Oriental countries
should be promoted to positions of responsibility. Katsav,
a rather nondescript right-wing politician with all the customary right-wing
opinions, became Minister of Tourism and then was elected by the Knesset to the
ceremonial post of President, mainly to spite the rival candidate, Shimon
Peres. Wags said that the Knesset was reluctant to spoil Peres’ (then) unbroken
record of lost elections.
Since his abdication two
years ago, the Katsav affair has dragged on and on,
almost to the point of farce. Revelations were leaked by the police, several
women disclosed lurid details, the ex-President made a plea agreement admitting
to lesser offences, he then revoked the deal, the Attorney General
procrastinated and now he seems to have made up his mind about the indictment.
called a press-conference in his remote home-town, Kiryat
Malakhi (the former Arab village of Qastina, now within reach of
the Qassams). It was an unprecedented performance.
The ex-President spoke solo for nearly three hours, airing his grievances
against the police, the Attorney-General, the media, the politicians and almost
everybody else. All this was, incredibly, broadcast live on all three of Israel’s TV
channels, as if it had been a State of the Union address. Katsav
rambled on and on, repeating himself again and again. No questions were allowed.
Respected journalists, hungry for scoops, were evicted if they dared to
So when I came back
yesterday morning, I found this feat dominating the front pages of all our
newspapers. Everything else was banished to the back pages.
BECAUSE OF this, Charles
Freeman got hardly a mention. Yet his affair was a thousand-fold more important
than all the sexual activities of our ex-President.
Freeman was called by
Barack Obama’s newly-appointed Chief of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis
Blair, to the post of Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. In this
position, he would have been in charge of the National intelligence Estimates
(NIE), summarizing the reports of all the 16 US intelligence agencies, which
employ some 100,000 people at an annual cost of 50 billion dollars, and composing
the estimates that are put before the President.
In Israel, this is
the job of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, and the officer in charge
has a huge influence on government policy. In October 1973, the then
intelligence chief disregarded all reports to the contrary and informed the
government that there was only a “low probability” of an Egyptian attack. A few
days later the Egyptian army crossed the canal.
Throughout the 1990’s,
the man in charge of intelligence estimates, Amos Gilad,
deliberately misled the government into believing that Yasser Arafat was deceiving
them and was actually plotting the destruction of Israel. Gilad
was later openly accused by his subordinates of suppressing their expert reports
and submitting estimates of his own, which were not based on any intelligence
whatsoever. Later, as the guru of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Gilad coined the phrase “We have no Palestinian partner for
In the US, the intelligence chiefs famously supplied
President George W. Bush with the (false) intelligence he needed to justify his
invasion of Iraq.
All this shows how
vitally important it is to have an estimates chief of intellectual integrity
and wide experience and knowledge. Admiral Blair could not have chosen a better
person than Charles Freeman, a man of sterling character and uncontested
expertise, especially about China
and the Arab world.
And that was his undoing.
AS A former ambassador to
Freeman is an expert on the Arab world and the Israeli-Arab conflict. He has
strong opinions about American policy in the Middle East,
and makes no secret of them.
In a 2005 speech, he
"high-handed and self-defeating policies" originating in the
"occupation and settlement of Arab lands," which he described as
In a 2007 speech he said that the US
had "embraced Israel’s
enemies as our own" and that Arabs had "responded by equating
Americans with Israelis as their enemies." Charging the US with backing Israel’s
"efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab
populations" and to "seize ever more Arab land for its colonists,"
he added that "Israel no
longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians.”
conclusion is his belief that the terrorism the United States confronts is due
largely to "the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli
occupation that has lasted over 40 years and shows no signs of ending."
the appointment of such a person was viewed with great alarm by the pro-Israel
lobby in Washington.
They decided on an all-out attack. No subtle behind-the-scenes intervention, no
discreet protestations, but a full-scale demonstration of their might right at
the beginning of the Obama era.
denunciations were composed, senators and congressmen pressed into action,
media people mobilized. Freeman’s integrity was called into question, shady
connections with Arab and Chinese financial interests “disclosed” by the docile
press. Admiral Blair came to his appointee’s defense, but in vain. Freeman had no
choice but to withdraw.
FULL meaning of this episode should not escape anyone.
the first test of strength of the lobby in the new Obama era. And in this test,
the lobby came out with flying (blue-and-white) colors. The administration was
White House did not even try to hide its abject surrender. It declared that the
appointment had not been cleared with the President, that
Obama had no hand in it and did not even know about it. Meaning: of course he
would have objected to the appointment of any official who was not fully
acceptable to the lobby. The portrayal of the power of the lobby by Professors
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt,
has been fully vindicated.
HAS a significance which goes far beyond the already far-reaching implications
of the affair itself.
people in Israel,
who view the establishment of the new rightist government with apprehension,
cite as their main fear the danger of a clash with the new Obama administration.
Such a clash, they believe, could be fatal for Israel’s security. But the
rightists deride such arguments. They assert that no American president would
ever dare to confront the Israeli lobby. The captive congressmen and senators,
as well as the supporters of the Israeli government in the media and even in
the White House itself, would sink on sight any American policy opposed by even
the most extreme right-wing government in Israel.
the first skirmish has taken place, and the President of the United States has
blinked first. Perhaps one should not rush to conclusions, perhaps Obama needs
more time to find his bearings, but the signs are ominous for any Israeli
interested in peace.
be too early to call this episode the Rape of Washington, but it is certainly vastly more
important than Katsav’s sexual escapades.
BY THE WAY, or not by the way, a word about my trip
there to lend support to a group of Jewish personalities, well-known in
academic and other circles, who have set up an
organization called “Independent Jewish Voices”.
they published a book called “A Time To Speak Out”, in
which several of them contributed to the debate about Israel, human rights and Jewish
ethics. The views expressed are very close to those current in the Israeli
peace camp. But when they offered their book for presentation in the Jewish
Book Week, they were rudely rejected. In protest, they convened an event of
their own, and that’s where I spoke.
believe that it is of utmost importance that such Jewish voices be heard. In
several countries, including the US, groups of brave Jews are trying
to stand up to the Jewish establishment that unconditionally supports the
Israeli Right. In the US,
several such groups have sprung up, some quite recently. One of them, called “J Street”, is
trying to compete with the formidable and notorious AIPAC.
important for governments and peoples to know that the unconditional support
for the Israeli Right does not represent the majority of Jews in the US, the UK and other countries. The Jewish
public is far from monolithic. The majority is liberal and believes in peace
and human rights. Until now this was a silent majority, out of fear of a repressive
establishment. It is indeed “a time to speak out”.
that it is in the interest of Israel to support these groups – and that their
activities are somewhat more important than Mr.