A group of anti-Israel activists and journalists are engaged in a coordinated campaign to stifle criticism of controversial secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel by attacking the former Republican senator’s critics, according to emails obtained by the Free Beacon.
Fenton communications chief executive officer David Fenton, the Atlantic’s national correspondent James Fallows, former diplomat Charles ‘Chas’ Freeman, Just Foreign Policy director Robert Naiman, and American Conservative founding editor Scott McConnell participated in a recent email exchange dedicated to silencing Hagel’s critics, the emails reveal.
The emailers targeted recent comments made by Elliott Abrams, a former Bush administration National Security Council adviser who said Hagel "seems to have some kind of problem with Jews," a sentiment that has been echoed by several lawmakers and Jewish leaders.
"Elliot [sic] Abrams is an ardent armchair Zionist who thinks that a commitment to Israel is an essential qualification for public service in the United States," wrote Freeman, a vociferous Israel critic who has dubbed Israel’s supporters in America a "fifth column."
"Abrams doubts that Hagel has such a commitment. Abrams thus ‘has a problem’ with Hagel," Freeman wrote, according to the Jan. 10 email chain obtained by the Free Beacon. "Abrams is a Jew. Ergo, he asserts, Jews have a problem with Hagel. Logically, therefore, Hagel has a problem with Jews. What slimy nonsense!"
"I am going to write something about this on the Atlantic’s site," the Atlantic’s Fallows later replied.
"I cannot at the moment think of a comparable case in which: someone with a comparably ‘reputable’ institutional pedigree (I am talking about CFR [Council on Foreign Relations], not Abrams personally, given his own varied background), making a comparably bald ‘bigotry’ charge in a comparably high-stake confirmation debate—and getting away with it," Fallows wrote.
Robert Naiman, a frequent Huffington Post contributor with a long history of criticizing Israel who has recently authored articles defending Hagel, asked if CFR has "some culpability by giving Abrams a credential and institutional affiliation that helps him gain access to mainstream media to do what he is doing."
"I think CFR should have some standards for its fellows about promoting civil, fact-based democratic public discourse on U.S. foreign policy," Naiman added.
Hagel’s allies in the worlds of media and public relations are coordinating efforts to combat and diminish opposition voices such as Abrams, the emails suggest.
Freeman, who serves with Hagel on the board of the Atlantic Council, notoriously blamed the American Jewish community for forcing him to withdraw his 2009 nomination to President Barack Obama’s National Intelligence Council. He did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment about the emails.
"Was there any single person who was as central to the ‘accusations’ in Chas Freeman’s case as Abrams and his wife, who’s centrally involved in Emergency Committee for Israel, have been in this case?"
Communications guru Fenton suggested Abrams "SHOULD have gone to jail" for his role in the 1986 Iran-contra affair.
Abrams pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors at the time and was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a $50 fine.
Fenton appears to have circulated the emails on a listserv maintained by the Committee for the Republic, a group of Washington insiders, including Freeman, who criticize neoconservative foreign policy views.
He copied Fallows and Naiman on his message to the listserv, which includes the various email messages quoted above.
None of those involved in the email exchange would comment specifically on the listserv or the emails contained therein.
"I won't comment on what anyone else might have said in an email exchange that has been given to you," Fallows said via email Monday. "My views on this case are, ‘in private,' the same as those I have expressed in" The Atlantic, he wrote.
"I do not know David Fenton or Robert Naiman," Fallows added. "I do know and respect Charles Freeman."
"I was going to say more about the flat-out anti-Semitism accusation that Elliott Abrams made on NPR a week ago," he said. "But I decided to wait to see whether the Council on Foreign Relations stood behind or distanced itself from that charge."
Abrams told the Free Beacon Monday that his critics are intentionally distorting his position for partisan gain.
"It's been a disappointment that people have not read what I've written, so they don't know what I've actually said about Hagel," Abrams said.
"What's interesting is that tactic of attacking critics of Hagel rather than defending Hagel," Abrams said when informed about the email chain obtained by the Free Beacon. "My views were made clear now in two articles and I'll stand by them."
Naiman said Abrams has "behaved in a way very inappropriate for someone who's a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations."
He told the Free Beacon that Abrams is "using that [CFR] credential to get into mainstream media like NPR and spread scurrilous charges that Hagel is an anti-Semite, which, as [CFR President] Richard Haas said one CNBC, is over the line."
Fenton, who did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment, has a history of working on behalf of anti-Israel causes.
Fenton Communications did public relations work on behalf of the anti-Israel Gaza flotilla and was instrumental in the formation of the fringe group J Street, which has launched an advocacy campaign supporting Hagel’s nomination, according to reports.
Fenton wrote a Huffington Post item last month attacking the CEO of energy giant Chevron on whose board Hagel sits.
Additionally, Fenton’s firm "signed two contracts with the Arab state of Qatar to develop a campaign to essentially delegitimize Israel by orchestrating an international anti-Israel campaign aimed at breaking the blockade of the Gaza Strip," according to a report in the Algemeiner.
The pro-Hagel activists also exchanged an Open Zion article detailing "Abram’s Truth Problem." Open Zion is the Daily Beast blog sponsored by the New America Foundation and edited by a former New Republic staffer named Peter Beinart.
The full emails can be seen here.