Posted on March 06, 2009 in Washington Watch

On three consecutive days last week, major U.S. newspapers and popular websites featured stories about condemnable Israeli behavior toward Palestinians during and after the recent assault on Gaza. There was a report on testimony from Israeli soldiers describing excessive violence and unwarranted shootings of Palestinian civilians. Another story featured disturbing reports of extreme rabbis assigned to IDF units instructing soldiers “to get rid of the gentiles that are interfering with our conquest of the land.”

And there were pictures of outrageous t-shirts being worn by IDF veterans of “Operation Cast Lead” featuring a pregnant Palestinian woman in the cross-hairs with the logo “1 shot kills 2.”

In the middle of all this came a front page story in The New York Times headlined “More Allegations Surface in Israeli Account of Gaza War,” which discussed Israel’s post-Gaza image and the negative impact of the testimony of the IDF soldiers.

None of this is new. Back in the 1970s, I ran a Washington-based group, the Palestine Human Rights Campaign. As part of our work, we distributed a monthly report from Dr. Israel Shahak (then-Chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights). Shahak’s reports largely consisted of translated articles from the Hebrew press, which detailed stories of torture, collective punishment against Palestinian civilians, rantings by extremist rabbis who termed Palestinians “strangers who must be driven from our lands” and arguing that “because the souls of gentiles are not fully human, the commandment against killing does not apply to taking their lives.”

Israelis reported these stories and debated them. But this information did not break through into the U.S. press. And now here it is, three days in a row, and on the front page of the Washington Post and The New York Times.

L’affaire Freeman

When Ambassador Chas Freeman withdrew from consideration as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, some might have thought that the story was over.

It was not.

Freeman has been clear in maintaining that he was not forced out of his position by President Obama. He says the decision was his. He withdrew, he asserts because the controversy created by the pro-Israel lobby would make it impossible for him to carry out his responsibilities. His charge that hard-line supporters of Israel would not tolerate debate on critical Middle East policy matters has been met with two contradictory responses.

On the one hand, there was the predictable outcry from the very same elements that had mugged Freeman, maintaining that they had nothing to do with the matter. How strange then, that Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Steve Israel (D-NY)would both issue statements taking personal credit for upending Freeman. Notorious anti-Muslim bigot Daniel Pipes has made the same boast – since it was on his blog site that disgraced former AIPAC official Steve Rosen launched the campaign against Freeman. (Rosen currently stands indicted for leaking U.S. intelligence data to Israel.)

On the other hand, both the right and left have kept the story going, maintaining a discourse about the unseemly way l’affaire Freeman played out. This is a reflection of the growing concern that the charges made by the former and distinguished Ambassador was right when he observed: “[T]here is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any other view than its own from being aired.”

A Debate

The Doha Debates is a BBC program (usually taped in Doha) in which Tim Sebastian, of “Hard Talk” fame, hosts an Oxford Union style debate on critical Middle East issues. Now in its fifth season, the debate is coming to Washington.

When, a few months back, debate organizer Ali Willis, announced that the topic for the U.S.-based episode would be “The House believes that it is time for the U.S. to get tough with Israel,” some thought it was too hot for the nation’s capital.

Given the events of the past few months, however, it now appears that the debate topic is, as the British would say, “spot on.”

What might not be right are the debaters. On the negative side are: Alan Dershowitz (famed criminal defense attorney for the likes of Claus Von Bulow, O.J. Simpson and all things Israel), and Dore Gold (an Israeli hard-liner who served as Israeli Ambassador to the UN during Netanyahu’s first stint as Prime Minister). Arguing for the proposition will be Michael Scheuer (a former CIA officer and “anonymous” author of the acclaimed book Imperial Hubris), and Avram Burg (a former Labor Speaker of the Israeli Knesset).

A strange brew for a hot topic.

As per Oxford Union rules, as the debate’s end, a vote was taken. The Affirmative side won by a huge 63% to 37% margin!

FBI-CAIR Kerfuffle

It all began rather cryptically with the FBI noting the Bureau would, henceforth, “limit its formal contact” with CAIR – a U.S. Muslim civil rights group. The most that the FBI would acknowledge about the reasons behind this action was that “certain issues” needed to be addressed, and that “CAIR’s leadership is aware of this.”

CAIR cried “Foul!” and has organized some of its affiliated groups, issuing a statement to the effect that they were considering “suspending relations with the FBI.”

All this has been to the delight of anti-Muslim advocates who have written letters to the FBI praising the move and calling on the bureau to expand their disengagement to other Muslim groups, as well. Also weighing in are a number of mainstream Muslim groups concerned by CAIR’s display of brinkmanship.

The former Chair of CAIR, Purvez Ahmad, has expressed concern with both the FBI and CAIR’s handling of this matter, calling on both to display greater “transparency and accountability.”

This week on Viewpoint, my weekly program aired on Abu Dhabi TV, I will host John Miller, Assistant Director of the FBI, in an effort to learn more about what lays behind this controversy.

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