Critic of Israel on verge of landing top intelligence post

washington  |  A former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who has been a longtime critic of Israel government policies reportedly is in line for a top intelligence post in the Obama administration.

Charles “Chas” Freeman, the U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, is slated to chair the National Intelligence Council, according to the Cable, a blog at Foreign Policy magazine that has been unerring in reporting Obama administration national security appointments.

Sources acquainted with Freeman and his putative boss, Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, said earlier this week that Freeman is under consideration, but nothing was final. An acquaintance of Freeman’s in the Middle East policy community said the appointment largely derives from Freeman’s close friendship with Blair.

Freeman is president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Saudi-funded think tank. A JTA investigative series in 2005 exposed how the council, led by Freeman, joined with Berkeley-based Arab World and Islamic Resources in peddling the “Arab World Studies Notebook” to U.S. schools.


USjta freemanCharles “Chas” Freeman addresses the Los Angeles–based Pacific Council on International Policy in 2007. photo/jta/pacific council

In the version examined that year by JTA staff, the book described Jerusalem as unequivocally “Arab,” deriding Jewish residence in the city as “settlement”; cast the “question of Jewish lobbying” against “the whole question of defining American interests and concerns”; and suggested that the Quran “synthesizes and perfects earlier revelations.”


Freeman’s reported appointment set off a firestorm among Middle East policy bloggers, with some on the dovish side welcoming it as refreshing injection of “realism” after the neo-conservatism that defined the Bush administration, and others expressing alarm at pronouncements of Freeman and the council that have been relentlessly critical of Israel.

“Freeman is a strident critic of Israel, and a textbook case of the old-line Arabism that afflicted American diplomacy at the time the state of Israel was born,” Steve Rosen, a former top official of AIPAC,  wrote on his Obama Mideast Monitor blog.

Rosen, who is facing trial for allegedly relaying classified information during his AIPAC stint, wrote that Freeman’s “views of the region are what you would expect in the Saudi foreign ministry, with which he maintains an extremely close relationship.”

M.J. Rosenberg, an analyst for the Israel Policy Forum, countered at the liberal Talking Points Memo, “So what if Freeman is close to the Saudis. Why should that disqualify him for the intelligence post? Unless he has done something unethical or illegal, these smears are more evidence (if any more is needed) that being deemed overly critical of the occupation is today’s equivalent of being called a Communist in 1953. It’s a career killer, used to ensure that policymakers adhere to the neocon line.”

The National Intelligence Council describes itself as “a center of strategic thinking within the U.S. Government, reporting to the Director of National Intelligence and providing the President and senior policymakers with analyses of foreign policy issues that have been reviewed and coordinated throughout the Intelligence Community.”

AIPAC and other Jewish groups would not comment on Freeman before his appointment was made formal.

Academics associated with the Middle East Institute, which has received Saudi funding, are regarded in Washington as often critical of Israel but fair and unafraid to question Arab pieties about the region and Saudi Arabia.

 However, Freeman’s writings have tended less toward analysis and more toward advocacy — and not simply of a line of thought that defends Arab interests, but one that demonizes Israel and its advocates.

In a 2006 interview with the Saudi-U.S. Relations Information Service, Freeman cast as martyrs Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the academics and best-selling authors whose careers have flourished since they pilloried what they called “the Israel lobby” as indispensable in the drive to war with Iraq.

Freeman often soft-peddles criticism of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

“The Saudis are clearly winning their struggle against violent extremists,” he told the National Council on U.S.-Arab relations in 2005, although it is now known that in recent years the Saudis released suspected terrorists, who subsequently committed new attacks.

In the same speech, Freeman said Israel’s occupation of Arab lands was “inherently violent” and blasted then–Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for dealing unilaterally with the Palestinians. Both criticisms would not be seen as unfair in mainstream policy circles, but he did not mention Palestinian terrorism, nor did he note the emergence of Hamas, a group that unilaterally rejects Israel’s existence, as a major force.

Freeman also chairs Projects Inter-national, a consultancy that depicts itself as “understanding the dynamics of international business ventures.” It lists seven recent ventures in Saudi Arabia, including creating marketing strategies for U.S. defense contractors in the kingdom.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.