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Jewish Response to Hagel Nomination Tepid to Furious

The best most pro-Israel leaders were willing to do was downplay the policy-making role of the secretary of defense.
Sen. Chuck Hagel in Iraq.

Sen. Chuck Hagel in Iraq.
Photo Credit: U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Casey Jones

As expected, yesterday, January 6, U.S. President Barack Obama nominated former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NB) for the position of Secretary of Defense.

The confirmation process ahead may be a bruising one, although many in the mainstream and “progressive” media are trying to paint the tepid announcements and refusals by centrist Jewish groups to officially oppose Hagel for the position as akin to a hecksher.  But not so fast.

In a Twitter world occupied by liberal media-types, the same people repeatedly retweeted each other’s statements with tepid comments about Hagel’s acceptability to Jewish Democrats, in an effort to create the appearance of a groundswell.

In what amounted to news for some,  Jewish organizations widely viewed as almost entirely peopled by Democrats issued statements harshly criticizing Hagel’s positions and statements on Israel and on Jews, but refraining from directly confronting their party leader by officially opposing the Hagel nomination.

For example, the press release issued by the Anti-Defamation League was a study in pretzel-twisting.  While recounting the many reasons why the ADL is unhappy about the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, the organization pulls back at the brink and does not  officially oppose the nomination.  Here’s part of their release:

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, said:

Senator Hagel would not have been my first choice, but I respect the President’s prerogative.

I trust that the confirmation process will provide an opportunity for Senator Hagel to address concerns about his positions, which seem so out of sync with President Obama’s clear commitment on issues like Iran sanctions, isolating Hamas and Hezbollah and the president’s strong support for a deepening of U.S. Israel strategic cooperation.

I particularly hope Senator Hagel will clarify and explain his comments about the “Jewish Lobby” that were hurtful to many in the Jewish Community.

The League previously expressed concerns with the Senator’s record on Israel and Iran, and said of his record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship that it was “at best disturbing and at worst, very troubling,” citing his remarks about the Jewish lobby and his voting record on Israel and Iran.

It seems as though the best most pro-Israel leaders who are reluctant to cross President Obama on his “prerogative,” were willing to do was to downplay the policy-making role of secretary of defense.  The National Jewish Democratic Council, which had also publicly criticized Hagel’s positions on Israel in the past, was willing to rely on their great faith in President Obama’s support and concern for Israel to let the Hagel nomination pass without an objection.  The NJDC statement:

“President Barack Obama’s unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the president. While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Sen. Chuck Hagel will follow the president’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel — on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran’s nuclear program.”

Israeli media sang from the same hymnal as Israel Channel 2’s foreign news editor, Arad Nir, pointed out, “Obama is still the commander-in-chief.”  That was unlikely to be much comfort for those for whom President Obama’s policies are a source of concern.

On the other side of the journalistic political spectrum, the Emergency Committee for Israel pulled off a coup worthy of the Merry Pranksters of the 1960’s, but 21st Century style.  ECI had obtained the domain name ChuckHagel.Com.  If you click the link you are taken to a website which provides information about the former Senator on various issues of importance including Iran, Israel, Syria, public statements made by politicians, both Republican and Democratic.  As the headline of the website clearly shows, ECI believes the information on the site shows that  Hagel is “not a responsible option” for the position of Secretary of Defense.

When Obama, a Democrat, announced Hagel’s nomination this morning, he said that his selection of a Republican “represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in Washington.”

Republicans roared back.

“He has long severed his ties with the Republican Party,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said Sunday. Graham called the selection “an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.”  Sen. John Conryn (R-TX) has already said he will vote against Hagel’s nomination, and predicted that many Republicans would join him in voting against Hagel.  “Some of Sen. Hagel’s positions would either render America weaker or create ambiguity in regard to our role in maintaining security and peace,” said Conryn.

It isn’t only the pro-Israel gallery that is troubled by Hagel’s nomination.  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) raised concerns about Hagel’s opposition to sanctions against Cuba, and some, such as Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), are alarmed by a potential secretary of defense who has referred to the U.S. miliary as “bloated” and in need of being ‘pared down.’

What’s more, many in the Republican party are simply furious by what they clearly see as Hagel’s traitorous ways.  As a Washington Post story put it

“He basically doesn’t have a single Senate Republican friend who served with him,” said one senior GOP Senate aide granted anonymity to speak candidly. The source added that Hagel had not only given cover to Democrats on a number of high-profile issues but that he had also badly alienated his colleagues with his strong endorsement of former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey in the 2012 Nebraska Senate race.

And then there are problems with those in the President’s own party.  Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is a critical political player to watch.  Schumer is considered to be staunchly pro-Israel and he is a Democrat; his constituency is unlikely to welcome a vote in favor of someone about whom there is so much negative information regarding Israel. In a recent appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, Schumer declined to endorse Hagel.

All eyes have been on Schumer and the press release he issued on the day of the nomination could not have been very reassuring to Hagel.  Rather than endorse the nomination, Schumer limply stated he “looks forward to fully studying his [Hagel’s] record and exploring his positions” on the issues.  Schumer was only able to muster enthusiasm for Hagel’s “right to nothing less than a full and fair process in the Senate.”

And what a process that portends to be.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com


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