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Powerline’s Scott Johnson reacts to the Glenn Greenwald interview and the creeping anti-Israeli movement among some Americans

Sunday, March 15, 2009
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HH: First, a conversation with an old friend of mine, Scott Johnson, who is a lawyer in Minnesota, one of the three founders and contributors to Powerline, www.powerlineblog.com. Scott, good to talk with you again, friend.

SJ: Hey, Hugh, thanks for having me on.

HH: Has winter passed yet for Minnesota?

SJ: We had a blast yesterday, but spring appears to be on the way today and tomorrow.

HH: Not soon enough. Scott Johnson, I asked you to join me to continue the conversation. I’m going to talk to you today and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic about the nomination and then withdrawal of Ambassador Charles Freeman to head the NIC. And you weighed in on this, as have a number of people. Yesterday, I interviewed Mark Steyn, the day before Christopher Hitchens, yesterday Glenn Greenwald, because to me, it’s fascinating what has happened in the space of a week, and sort of the underbelly of Washington that’s been laid open here. Summarize for our audience what you think has been going on.

SJ: Well, I think it’s been a very strange story. If you don’t consume your news on the internet, you can’t…or on the Hugh Hewitt Show, you can’t have any idea what’s transpired. But the former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles Freeman, was appointed, not nominated but appointed by the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to fill a very important intelligence position as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. But there were a couple of funny things about that appointment. One is that he appears to be one of the few American diplomats who supported the Chinese government in its role in the Tiananmen massacre, found great sympathy for the difficulties the Chinese government confronted with those protesters. And he doesn’t have any background in intelligence. And the third point I would make that was strange about the appointment was that he appears not to have been vetted before he was appointed. And you had Eli Lake on late last week, and I think this week as well…

HH: Yup.

SJ: Eli broke this great, long story in the Washington Times about the number of procedural pitfalls that were involved in his appointment. So I’d say with those things in the background, it was a very strange appointment. And as soon as he was appointed, people just started reading what…without a background in intelligence, he had a number of public positions he’d taken in his capacity as chairman of the Middle East Policy Council that was funded not only by the government of Saudi Arabia, which Glenn Greenwald grudgingly acknowledged yesterday, but Glenn left out the fact that he was funded substantially by Saudi princes.

HH: Now that, you know what, I just wasn’t ready for that dodge that Glenn used on me. I let him get away, didn’t I?

SJ: You know, you have to follow this at an obsessive level of detail, and there’s plenty enough else going on. But if you had been following, this whole debate has been so rife with dishonesty by supporters of Ambassador Freeman who are less supporters of his than I would say haters of Israel. And I, they are obsessed with Israel. I would put Glenn Greenwald in that category, I’d put Andrew Sullivan in that category. And it’s been a very unpleasant display that it’s brought out…

HH: And of course the two professors…

SJ: Mearsheimer and Walt?

HH: Yeah, I was looking for their names right here, Mearsheimer and Walt.

SJ: Well, yeah, I guess Freeman, one of his great claims to fame is that he published the unexpurgated essay version of the Mearsheimer and Walt essay attributing all that has transpired in American public life over the last sixty years to the nefarious role of American Jews in American public life.

HH: Well, I’m going to ask Jeffrey Goldberg this a little bit later. How much of the criticism of the critics of Freeman is anti-Semitism? How much of it is a non-anti-Semitic, but anti-Israelism? And how much of it is just simply badgering that goes with the people who are doing the badgering?

SJ: You know, I think we’ve learned a little bit more this week. There are two serious journalistic pieces that have tried to answer the question why was his appointment withdrawn. And one is by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenbal on the Newsweek site, and the other one is by Alexander Bolton on The Hill. And they both document the fact that the real Israel lobby in the United States, AIPAC, had absolutely nothing to do, took no position on Ambassador Freeman’s appointment, had nothing to do with his withdrawal. These folks are, you know, like Greenwald and Sullivan et al, are obsessed. And then join that with the two page, utterly bizarre, I would say deranged statement that Ambassador Freeman issued upon his withdrawal on Wednesday night, in which he said about six different way that the Jews did it.

HH: Yes, yes.

SJ: It’s just cuckoo.

HH: And as soon as you see that statement, you have to conclude he was wildly unqualified to be the chair of the NIC.

SJ: Hugh, and his statement prompted an editorial by the editorial board of the Washington Post yesterday which had not covered this story or any of the controversy online about his appointment, but that called it crackpot. And those are pretty strong words from an editorial board whose own news side hadn’t gotten around to covering this story. They found his withdrawal statement notable, and noted that if nothing else had disqualified him from holding high office in the United States American government.

HH: Now in terms, I want to go back to my subject matter, though, from whence comes the anti-anti-Freeman? Is some of it anti-Semitism? Is some of it virulent anti-Israeli? What is it?

SJ: Well, I would say all of the above, but if you get into the whole world that’s represented by Mearsheimer and Walt, they’ve played a very important role, I think, in that essay and in the publication of their book, and because of their academic positions at Harvard and the University of Chicago and making this kind of public anti-Semitism and the proposition that the Jews did it, that the Jews control it, that the Jews are running American government for their own benefit, that the Jews drove the United States to war with Iraq, or that the Jews put the interest of Israel first and foremost above those of the United States, if they have any loyalty to the United States at all, it’s Mearsheimer and Walt who kind of made that position and all the subtexts that go with it respectable in a way. And here comes, I would say, Charles Freeman in their wake, and Freeman’s allies. And the question that has to be asked is how representative that is of the folks whom President Obama is bringing into his administration, who already are holding high office, such as Admiral Blair, who’s director of National Intelligence.

HH: You know, I will make this point with Jeffrey Goldberg later, the number of people who are anti-Freeman goes from a number of senior Republican Senators to Bill Kristol to, then, Charles Schumer, and then you can get into Jonathan Chait. I just think the fact that Powerline and Jonathan Chait are on the same side of an issue is indicative that this is not an ideological issue, except that conservatives and liberals both understand Israel to be a democracy and an ally.

HH: One thing that it’s easy to lose sight of is I think that there was a very important letter with 87 signatories that was sent to Speaker Pelosi et al, by supporters of Chinese human rights, one of whom was my old Dartmouth teacher, a long time journalist on China, named Jonathan Mirsky. And the same observation you make with respect to human rights activists like Jonathan and the other signatories of that letter applies to all these people who found reason to oppose a China suck up and a Saudi Arabian suck up like Freeman for this very important position in the American government.

HH: Do you think the story dies? Or do you think there’s some interesting follow up here on the anti-anti-Freeman lobby and what they have done? And you alluded to it, there is a whole new legitimacy to the virulent anti-Israeli position in the United States. It hasn’t been here a long time.

SJ: You know, it should be a wake up call, and I think that what it will do is cause a number of people who might not otherwise have had their eyes open to be alert to other instances of the phenomenon. And I would say it just remains to be seen how significant it is, Hugh.

HH: Scott Johnson of Powerline, www.powerlineblog.com, thank you, my friend.

End of interview.

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