FREEMAN: Mr. bin Laden’s principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point.
Then another from 2004
FREEMAN: The heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was told by Saudi friends that on Saudi TV there were three terrorists who came out and spoke. Essentially the story they told was that they had been recruited to fight for the Palestinians against the Israelis, but that once in the training camp, their trainers gradually shifted their focus away from the Israelis to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and to the United States. So the recruitment of terrorists has a great deal to do with the animus that arises from that continuing and worsening situation.
Kramer is enormously pleased with himself for having unearthed these passages, accusing Freeman of “touting precisely the sort of nonsense he had previously dismissed out of hand.” But any fair and educated reading of the statements reveals no contradiction at all between them.
It’s clear that the original concern of bin Laden was the presence of the U.S. military in “the land of the two Holy Mosques” and U.S. support of the “corrupt and tyrannical regime” that rules there, as Freeman indicates. But bin Laden has always been careful to pay lip service to the Palestinian issue (his 1996 fatwa mentioned Palestine seven different times) for the simple and obvious reason that it is a deeply resonant issue in the Middle East, a well of resentment and poison from which any Islamic extremist — whether or not he in fact really gives a damn about the Palestinians — can quickly and easily draw some jihadist cred.
The second quote actually demonstrates this point pretty well. According to Freeman, rather than peddling the anti-Saudi/American jihad up front, terrorist plotters baited recruits with the Palestinian cause. Why? Because they knew they’d get takers. Because the Palestinian issue makes a lot of people angry in the Middle East. There’s no contradiction at all in saying that bin Laden’s “principal point has nothing to do with Israel” while acknowledging that bin Laden has exploited Arab and Muslim anger toward Israel to power his larger cause. This is not complicated.
Nor is it some kind of marginal view, Kramer’s hysteria nothwithstanding. Back in May, then-Senator Obama recognized the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a “constant sore” that “infect[s] all of our foreign policy,” saying that “the lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions.” Unsurprisingly, the same people who dishonestly tried to paint Obama as an anti-Israel extremist are now after Freeman, and for the same reasons: He voices some inconvenient truths about the Israel-Palestine conflict, and represents a challenge to the treasured neoconservative myth that US and Israeli interests are identical.
The fact that Islamic extremists have made use of the Israel-Palestine conflict as a recruiting tool is not, in itself, an argument for changing U.S. policy on Israel. It is, however, a cost that clearly merits consideration when determining that policy. Many of those attacking Chas Freeman would simply like to pretend otherwise.