The entire national security community has been roiled by the affair of Chas Freeman, whom the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, picked to lead the National Intelligence Council. The NIC advises Blair and vets the collective opinions of the intelligence community in the important National Intelligence Estimates.
Defenders of Freeman -- a man that many members of the foreign policy community and the press know and respect -- say he was unfairly maligned; some of his defenders, and Freeman himself, have said he became a target for the so-called "Israel Lobby," an amorphous collection of groups and individuals whose views on Israel tend to align with those of Israel's harder-line political parties. Other defenders have said he was targeted by a mob.
The moderators of this blog -- National Journal reporters and editors -- don't like, and try not to use, the term "Israel Lobby." It is our perception that it is not a useful shorthand, and it drifts toward something ugly. We try to avoid sloppy, loaded phrases like abortion lobby, gun lobby, Christian lobby or China lobby.
Many groups advocate on behalf of Israeli interests: AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Peace Now, The Israel Project and the new J-Street all push Washington's levers for Israel, but they rarely advocate the same positions. Still, the influence of these organizations is real, as is the influence of groups advocating on behalf of Wall Street, churches, unions, mosques, gun-owners and every other aspect of America's civic life.
The larger question is one Freeman pointed to in his withdrawal message: "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."
It seems that Washington cannot have a no holds-barred discussion of policy toward Israel and Palestine -- like Israel's politicians and press do domestically every hour of every day -- without someone here being labeled an anti-Semite terrorist sympathizer on the one hand, or a toadie for a brutal and apartheid-like system run by right wing nuts in Tel Aviv, on the other.
U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been frozen for years, maybe decades. It will fall to President Obama to make some hard decisions on Middle East policy. So our question to you, is what is the way forward?
What are the specific steps President Obama, leaders of Congress, the State Department and yes, those of us on this blog, can take to ensure that a rational discussion, and a possible consensus, can be reached on U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine?
-- Corine Hegland, NationalJournal.com
Note from NJ:
We apologize to our expert bloggers and to readers of this blog for a mistake we made on Monday. A longer version of this question was in fact sent to our experts on Monday via email for them to respond to. But because of a miscommunication among the NJ staff, it was considerably shortened from that original when it was placed at the top of the blog on Monday morning. The question that you now see here is the original we sent to our experts. We apologize for the confusion.
Patrick B. Pexton