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Quick Thoughts: Chas Freeman on Israeli Espionage against the United States

[Israeli protesters carry a banner in March 2013 calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American who was jailed for life in 1987 on charges of spying on the United States. Image by Tsafrir Abayov via Associated Press] [Israeli protesters carry a banner in March 2013 calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American who was jailed for life in 1987 on charges of spying on the United States. Image by Tsafrir Abayov via Associated Press]

[Two successive reports by Jeff Stein in Newsweek this month (see here and here) sought to portray the full extent of Israeli espionage against the United States–including accounts of an Israeli agent hiding in the air duct of Al Gore’s hotel toilet and a level of snooping one congressional staffer characterized as "alarming . . . even terrifying." The reports have also sought to shed light on the degree to which political pressure from congressional politicians have stymied US counter-intelligence efforts. Jadaliyya asked retired US diplomat and former nominee for the chairmanship of the US National Intelligence Council Chas Freeman to elaborate on the political context and timing of these disclosures. The following was his response.]

Members of the US intelligence community, particularly those charged with counter-intelligence, have long resented the politically imposed exemptions that effectively allow Israel to spy in our country with impunity in all but the most egregious circumstances. They have tended to remain silent because they have been intimidated by the prospect that any comment critical of Israel or its policies would immediately cause them to labeled as anti-Semites. This is a career-threatening charge that rests on the absurd notion that Israel is somehow equivalent to world Jewry and that criticism of the state of Israel is therefore inherently indicative of prejudice against Jews. The profligate use of charges of anti-Semitism to silence critical thinking about Israeli policies, even policies that many in Israel itself fiercely criticize as unjust and misguided, is itself a source of resentment among American officials.  No one likes to be labeled as a despicable moral reprobate or person of prejudice.  Such labels tend to be indelible.

The real question raised by this story is why some members of the intelligence community have now broken their silence. I suspect that their willingness to speak out reflects resentment on their part of recent, renewed agitation for the exoneration and release from prison of [convicted Israeli spy] Jonathan Pollard on the grounds that spying for Israel is nothing to which US citizens should properly object, coupled with demands for visa-free entry for Israelis even though they meet none of the usual criteria for such treatment.  These demands for privileged treatment are reminders of Israel's virtually unchallenged manipulation of the Congress, which is deeply offensive—not to say humiliating—to US patriots.  The intelligence community is, almost by definition, very nationalistic.  It does not take easily to high-handed behavior and demands for privilege by foreign states, including Israel, especially when these are joined to hypocritical indifference to the demands of comity and the interests of the United States.

[Newsweek Contributing Editor] Jeff Stein is a first-rate journalist who deserves full credit for breaking this long-suppressed story. I do not believe the timing of his reporting reflects a decision by anyone in authority to air the issues he reveals. To the extent that those who spoke to him may have had political motivations for doing so, I speculate that these probably reflected a desire to counter the arrogance with which Israel and its lobbyists have been pushing the visa issue and covering up the counter-intelligence and legal issues that the very large number of Israelis already in the United States create.

Sadly, espionage between friendly states is nothing new. What distinguishes Israeli spying from that of others is not just its extent and intensity, which reportedly exceed the levels of all other states claiming friendship with the United States, but the attempt to excuse it as somehow different from similar violations of US law and security by other foreigners and unobjectionable or inconsequential because of some special status for Israel.  Other states that conduct espionage in the United States are characteristically contrite when caught at it.  Israel is demonstrably unchastened and undeterred, apparently confident that it can undermine the credibility of any and all charges against it by labeling those who voice them as anti-Semites and that its hammerlock on members of Congress will exempt it and its agents from punishment. Ironically, Israel's theft of US secrets is essentially the only factor stirring doubts about the loyalty of American Jews to the United States as opposed to the Jewish state.  For US counter-intelligence officials who are Jewish, this indifference by Israel to the consequences of its actions for Jews outside Israel and its implicit denial that Jews can legitimately place US interests above those of Israel are especially offensive.

As a final comment, I note that the strictures of political correctness with regard to criticism of Israel and its policies by US citizens seem to be loosening.  This is entirely a result of the insulting approach that the Netanyahu government and the political parties associated with it have taken to managing relations with the United States and to Israel's increasingly blatant rejection of all attempts to broker peace for it with the Palestinians and other Arabs.  These elements of Israel's behavior have cost it the blanket exemption from criticism it long enjoyed in the United States even if they have not ended the inhibitions that make such criticism relatively rare.

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