The Rape of Washington

Returning home from a very short visit to London, I found the country in the grip of uncontrollable emotions.

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 any excitement.

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.

So Katsav 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 interrupt.

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 peace”.

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 Saudi Arabia, 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 criticized Israel’s “high-handed and self-defeating policies” originating in the “occupation and settlement of Arab lands,” which he described as “inherently violent.”

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.”

Another 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.”

Naturally, 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.
Public 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.

The full meaning of this episode should not escape anyone.

It was 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 publicly humiliated.

The 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.

This has a significance which goes far beyond the already far-reaching implications of the affair itself.
Many 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.

Now 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.

It may 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 to London.

I went 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.”

Recently 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.

I 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.
It is 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”.
I believe that it is in the interest of Israel to support these groups – and that their activities are somewhat more important than Mr. Katsav’s exploits.

Uri Avnery is a peace activist, journalist, and writer. Read other articles by Uri, or visit Uri's website.

28 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Brian said on March 15th, 2009 at 9:14am #

    Just another reason I didn’t vote for Obama.

  2. Max Shields said on March 15th, 2009 at 9:24am #

    Along with what I think is the emptiness of Obamaism, is that the man, the human being behind the marketeering, is absolutely without spine.

    I’ve yet to see Obama stand firm on ANYTHING, unless it was basically ok’d by AIPAC or corporate/plutocract or some faction of the political right.

    Freeman is simply one of many examples of Obama the spineless mouse.

  3. Paul Meyer said on March 15th, 2009 at 1:35pm #

    It is not widely known that Mr. Avnery fought in the War of “Independence”, and fought a legal battle to retain the adjective “Zionist”. He has not disavowed the things he did to Palestinian Arabs in 1948, nor does he wish to compensate the refugees for the seizure of their land and property in 1948. He wants to “freeze” the aggression, allowing Palestinians the West Bank and Gaza. This may be a “peace activist” in your lexicon, but frankly not in mine. Justice requires addressing All of these issues.

  4. Barry99 said on March 15th, 2009 at 2:02pm #

    Avnery does great work as editor and columnist for Haaretz. He is by no means all he could be on the issue and he, as Paul states above, has a criminal past. By Israeli standards, he is a ‘soft’ zionist – and he attempts with each column to educate his readership accordingly. Avnery has come a long way since his arch-Zionist days which is why his columns can appear on DV. I do think he is capable of moving ever leftward as the political climate permits.

    I myself advocate positions that Avnery would presently object to (positions outlined by Paul). Still, Avnery effectively reaches more people on a weekly basis that I can ever hope to wish for. We can’t always fine-tune our allies. Palestinians wish there were ten-thousand Avnerys, not just one.

    And Max is right about what is increasingly evident – Obama’s spinelessness. While Freeman is rejected, a certified Arab-killing Israeli, Rahm Emanuel roams the halls of the White House. That is no mere coincidence.

  5. bozh said on March 15th, 2009 at 3:51pm #

    uri avneri is, to me, a mini [or soft] zionist just like so many ashk’m who protest israeli crimes.
    these kind of zionists want on one hand to reward ashk’c initial crimes by rewarding land robbers- with the intent to murder and expel an indiginous people- while on the other hand decrying later crimes; this time joined in criminal actions by ?arabs with judaic cult.

    in a sane, compassionate, fairer world a robber shl not be allowed to keep the theft or escape some reeducation/jail time.
    the actual world we live in is very wicked but is it my duty to help maintain or increase its wickedness?
    or, at least, say, Not in my name!
    it is because of the way i speak about this conflict that haaretz deletes my posts.
    no, not ever shld zionists be rewarded; instead they shld be hunted dwn and prosecuted.
    tx

  6. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 15th, 2009 at 4:56pm #

    USA is a country of bashers and trashers people create movement to destroy others, look at this site, its a site to bash Sarah Palin, why don’t they instead spend their energies at creating a united socialist workers party as an alternative and solution to US economic crisis. Instead of wasting their energies in this childish bashing against Sarah Palin:

    http:// http://www.palindeception.com

  7. Angela said on March 15th, 2009 at 6:10pm #

    I agree. If it’s tantalizing and it’s about someone else being trashed, you’ve got the eyes and ears of all America. People have put up websites, maintained blogs, and even posted this drivel in print newspapers and magazines and people eat it up. Why?

    Angela

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  8. Max Shields said on March 15th, 2009 at 8:09pm #

    Besides your comment, Tennessee-Chavizta, who said anything about Sarah Palin?

  9. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 15th, 2009 at 8:25pm #

    Max Shield: I am just talking about in general how most people in USA and in other countries as well, waste so much emotional energies at attacking personalities. The problems is that the whole world is collapsing, and people should spend positive energies, i mean emotional energies in trying to unite a United Socialist Front in most countries as a solution for this world chaos.

  10. Hue Longer said on March 16th, 2009 at 3:13am #

    TC,

    I like your posts but that generality doesn’t fit when you try it on DV. They DO allow supposed leftist articles which don’t stand up to criticism—but that is very valuable and the point.

  11. Jeff said on March 16th, 2009 at 6:42am #

    The appointed Vice President of the United States (not the United States of America) said that you do not have to be jewish to be a zionist. Well, should that be the case, all jews then are zionists. Would this then mean when those jews whom say they are looking for peace are only masquerading as the counter aurgument for zionism. If you cannot see the blatant attempt of divide and conquer here people, your america will just keep spinning into oblivion.

    Just a thought, the jewish homeland was created in 1947.

    Leave us alone. Go home. Without a zionist lobby in Washington, americans would once again live in peace.

  12. Barry99 said on March 16th, 2009 at 4:07pm #

    Jeff – Well, there is such a thing as a Christian Zionist. And many Jews are non- or anti-Zionist. But I think Biden is merely sticking his head way up the asses of those who help make his past campaigns.

    Almost all cognizant Jews say they are interested in peace. That’s an easy thing to say. But are they interested in peace with justice? That usually raises their eyebrows because they know that means something less than a ‘Greater Israel.’

    I don’t see an attempt to divide and conquer by Avnery – he’s being honest. He’s merely a soft zionist. They only go so far. It takes an Ilan Pappe to go all the way to anti-Zionism. You can’t expect that from every Israeli. But they will all bend over time.

  13. Brian Koontz said on March 16th, 2009 at 5:25pm #

    In reply to Tennessee-Chavizta:

    “Max Shield: I am just talking about in general how most people in USA and in other countries as well, waste so much emotional energies at attacking personalities. The problems is that the whole world is collapsing, and people should spend positive energies, i mean emotional energies in trying to unite a United Socialist Front in most countries as a solution for this world chaos.”

    Creation requires destruction – a new building requires empty land (the destruction of the old building).

    Without destroying the existing power structure, that power structure will use it’s vast resources to destroy any fledgling movement that threatens it. Therefore the *first* task for any revolutionary movement is to weaken the existing power structure.

    One way to weaken the existing power structure is to ridicule, clarify, and denounce the power players of that power structure, so that the people turn against them.

    If it wasn’t for this kind of work, movements like the “United Socialist Front”, if they were taken seriously by the existing power structure, would be easily destroyed.

    There are a lot more revolutionary forces even in the United States than most people think. If a successful revolution happens here, we will have millions of Americans across several generations to appreciate for their contributions.

  14. Jeff said on March 16th, 2009 at 6:14pm #

    Barry99, a soft zionist is still a zionist.

    That is like saying jew is not jewish.

    Come on.

    I am white. I am not anything other.

    You bring up christianity.

    Jesus of Nazareth was murdered for exposing the very thing that is now about to make your paltry existence a living hell.

    Got nothing to do with any kind of religion, has everything to do with teaching ‘truth and knowledge’.

    Where you wish to put yourself on the “understanding” list is up to you, only you.

    Learn hebrew. Only then will you encounter true evil of men!

  15. Ricky said on October 22nd, 2009 at 12:59pm #

    Is this about London or Washington???

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  16. The Floor Steam Cleaner said on October 24th, 2009 at 9:21pm #

    Ricky, it has nothing to do with London except for the first sentence. You should read the article first! What the author is talking about is the amount of control and influence Israel has over U.S. politics. Basically, the appointment of Freeman caused a tremendous backlash among the Israeli Government, and Obama backed down, stating that he did not approve Freeman’s appointment. This whole incident is politics at its finest… a whole lot of promises and banter with no real possible solution because nothing can be accomplished when your catering to every side. Anyhow, I wonder if self-proclaimed Blackberry addict Barack Obama has seen the new Blackberry Bold 2 yet. We all know that cellphone addiction takes top priority over Middle East issues these days. I kid, I kid!

    -Charley, the Floor Steam Cleaner and Bosch Vacuum Aficionado.

  17. Diablo 3 Download said on November 8th, 2009 at 9:21pm #

    Obama is spineless!


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  18. seo marketing said on November 18th, 2009 at 3:51pm #

    crazy stuff….nothing good can ever come from war.

  19. webgirl said on November 20th, 2009 at 12:17pm #

    This article it a little harsh but there are some great points.

  20. Zeo said on November 21st, 2009 at 3:17pm #

    Being in the Army I have seen a lot of bad things this article has some truth to it
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  21. Back Muscle Pain said on November 23rd, 2009 at 1:30am #

    I have many military friends. Many of whom spent time in Iraq. Some of the stories they have told me I couldn’t even believe. My respect goes out to anyone in the military or thinking of joining the military.

  22. Hue Longer said on November 23rd, 2009 at 3:49am #

    spamtastic!

  23. Leaflet Distribution Jobs said on November 29th, 2009 at 10:22am #

    Many men have laid lives for our nation and politics take power and money when average men loose out
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  24. Michael said on December 4th, 2009 at 6:06am #

    I agree. War is not the answer.

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  25. braun toothbrush heads said on December 6th, 2009 at 5:33am #

    War is most certainly not the answer.

  26. Kenya Orlandi said on December 6th, 2009 at 10:08am #

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  27. Martha Jones said on December 16th, 2009 at 6:00pm #

    “and people eat it up. Why?”

    Angela, it is because people love gossips, scandals and enjoy when someone else is thrashed. It is a universal truth, so to speak! :)
    Martha

  28. keilinezx said on December 23rd, 2009 at 3:26am #

    that would be horrible. then people would be looting like the end of the world is near because of everything.
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