Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s April 23 visit to Israel has yielded some interesting fallout. Not least is the apparent puncturing of the image his opponents tried to paint of a sworn enemy of Israel. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev does a pretty nifty job of skewering the anti-Hagel crowd, suggesting satirically that the secretary’s effusive embrace of Israel and the huge new arms sale he announced (details of which are here and here) are meant to “lull Israel into a false sense of security,” which “will only make it easier” for Hagel, Obama & Co. “to fulfill their lifelong dream of ‘throwing Israel under a bus.’”
It’s a sinister plot, Shalev writes. Hagel couldn’t have changed his tune in response to the “intimidating” powers of the “Jewish lobby,” since we all know those powers are imaginary. The only other two possibilities are that he’s engaging in psychological warfare, to lower Israel’s guard—or that “Hagel’s critics were wrong.” But that last possibility, he concludes, “can’t possibly be true, because by now Hagel’s critics would have owned up to their mistake and profusely apologized, no?”
Also essential reading is this analysis of the Hagel visit by Bloomberg News columnist (and former Forward staffer) Jeffrey Goldberg (no, for the last time, he’s not me). The new weapons systems Israel is to receive, especially advanced long-distance radar systems, the KC-135 midair refueling tankers and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft (a combination helicopter and jet plane, never before sold to another country), all make it easier for Israel to attack Iran. But given Hagel’s longstanding opposition to attacking Iran, what does this sale mean? Goldberg makes two key points:
Once more, it’s the “Jewish lobby,” that troubling term that has Jewish leaders crying anti-Semitism while politicians from both sides use it to discredit their rivals.
For opponents of the administration, remarks by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the “Jewish lobby” that “intimidates” lawmakers in Washington, were seen as a hint — or worse — of anti-Semitism. The term, claimed the critics, invoked the notion of a powerful Jewish network influencing American politics behind the scenes. Hagel apologized for the offensive remarks, both in conversations with Jewish leaders and during his Senate hearing and eventually got confirmed as Secretary of Defense.
Now, liberals feel it is payback time. They are gladly pointing to a similar remark made by one of the Christian-right’s most well known activists. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a right-wing think tank based in Washington, was caught talking on his daily radio show about the “Jewish lobby” and on how American Jews fund Democratic candidates, all in the context of how bad a choice Hagel would be for Secretary of Defense.
It will be President Obama’s first State of the Union address in his second term and White House leakers are already promising an aggressive speech, designed to push Republicans ahead of the upcoming battle over budget sequestration cuts. It will also be a chance for Obama to outline a vision for his second term and to introduce two key issues which were largely ignored for four years: immigration reform and gun control.
Here are some of the Jewish issues you might want to look for in Tuesday night’s speech:
Guests: When camera’s cut to the balcony, take a good look at the invited guests and chances are you’ll see some Jewish faces. Each member is allowed to invite one guest to the speech and the First Lady traditionally invites several more. The idea is to bring to the event people whose life story demonstrates some of the themes in the President’s speech. This year, gun control is one of the key issues and among the guest will be many involved in the battle.
Democrats have invited families of Sandy Hook survivors and first-responders, as well as other key figures in the fight against gun violence. Republicans will have at least one pro-gun guest: musician and NRA member Ted Nugent. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has recently emerged as the leading voice for gun control legislation, will be sitting in the gallery alongside her husband Mark Kelly. This week, Giffords released the first video ad for her gun control super-PAC. “Take it from me. Congress must act. Let’s get it done,” she said, facing the camera.
Other Jewish gun violence victims will also be in attendance. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a leading voice in the gun control debate, invited Joshua Stepakoff, who in 1999, was shot in the attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center. Stepakoff, who was six at the time, was attending a summer camp at the JCC. He is now a student at California State University Northridge.
Chuck Hagel will step into the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning to face what is expected to be the toughest grilling any Obama nomination has yet to encounter.
It will be long, grueling, and could easily draw some sweat from the Vietnam veteran sitting across the room from his former Senate colleagues. But at the end of the day, if Democrats have done their math right, Hagel will be confirmed by the committee, and later by the entire Senate. Democrats believe they’ll have all of their caucus on board, which will provide for 55 votes, and some more votes from the Republican side, to make sure filibuster attempts, like the one suggested by Senator Lindsey Graham, do not succeed.
Here are few things to watch for as the Senate Arms Services Committee begins the confirmation process.
There are two of them on the committee: chairman Carl Levin from Michigan and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and both have made clear they back Hagel. As chairman, Levin gets to ask the first round of questions and he could use this privilege to defuse the contentious Israel-related issues by throwing Hagel some soft balls. Hagel’s critics will, of course, get their chance to pose tough questions on these issues, but Levin could help set the tone at the outset of the hearing.
It could come down to a tale of two Chucks.
Chuck Hagel’s chances of getting confirmed as Pentagon chief could hinge on whether Sen. Chuck Schumer is satisfied with Hagel’s stance on Iran.
Schumer, perhaps the most influential Jewish senator, is not pleased with Obama’s choice of Hagel for Secretary of Defense and has yet to decide whether to vote in favor of the nomination, Politico reported. Supporting Hagel, Schumer reportedly said, would be “very hard.”
Schumer, according to the report, expressed his misgivings about Hagel in private conversations and in discussions with Jewish leaders. But the New York senator would not make any direct comments on the issue and has pointedly refused to commit to supporting Hagel.
Given his position as the third ranking Democrat in Senate and his standing in the Jewish community, a refusal by Schumer to back Hagel could set the tone for other Jewish and pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate and potentially derail the nomination.
The debate over the possible nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel for defense secretary is not dying down.
The White House has yet to formally announce whether Hagel will be its pick for the top Pentagon post, although President Obama has signalled to insiders that he is the likely choice. And the president did come out in Hagel’s defense in his Sunday Meet the Press interview, calling the Nebraska Republican “a patriot”.
Where does the Jewish community stand on Hagel as Defense Secretary? All over the map.
Leading the detractors is, of course, Abraham Foxman of the Anti Defamation League whose remark that Hagel’s comments on the pro-Israel lobby “border on anti-Semitism” triggered the entire debate. The American Jewish Committee’s David Harris weighed in on the same side with an anecdote reminding the public of Hagel’s refusal to sign a letter condemning anti Semitism in Russia. Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed “concern” over the possibility that Hagel will take over as defense secretary, although he did add that such a nomination will be something “we will work with.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition was first to criticize Hagel, calling his nomination “a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel.”
In a two-page document titled “Facts on Chuck Hagel” supporters of the former Nebraska Senator are fighting back against claims he is anti-Israel.
The paper, unsigned and circulated among reporters, attempts to refute claims raised against Hagel by some in the pro-Israel community and statements, including in a Washington Post editorial, that he is not the appropriate choice for Defense Secretary.
The paper quotes from Hagel’s book America: Our Next Chapter in which he writes that “at its core there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel” and that any agreement with the Palestinians “should not include any compromise regarding Israel’s Jewish identity.”
Hagel’s supporters bring two former U.S. diplomats, both Jewish, Daniel Kurtzer who was ambassador to Israel and Aaron David Miller, a Middle East adviser at the State Department, to vouch for Hagel’s support for Israel.
On the issues, the paper notes that Hagel’s support for talking with Hamas was in the context of “inducing Hamas to modify its behavior” and mentions that he was an original co-author of a bill urging the international community to boycott Hamas.
A number of Jewish community activists are sending warning signals to the White House about a leading candidate to become President Obama’s choice for the next Secretary of Defense.
Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who reportedly is President Obama’s top pick for replacing Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, has a long record of tensions with the pro-Israel community. And now, after a period of rumblings below the surface, a high-profile Jewish communal leader has fired off a strong salvo in opposition to Hagel’s prospective selection.
“Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman told Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin December 18. “His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling. The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, and former president Jimmy Carter.”
Foxman’s comments follow several attacks on Hagel from Jewish activists on the right of the political spectrum, such as Noah Pollack of the Emergency Committee for Israel, as the possibility of his nomination has emerged. But even beyond the hardcore right-wing, Hagel has not been viewed as a strong supporter on issues of concern to many who align with the positions taken by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the large, establishment pro-Israel lobby.
Media reports are full of examples of his departures from AIPAC’s views: Hagel opposed Senate legislation toughening sanctions on Iran; he called for increasing efforts to negotiate with Tehran; and, in general, refrained from supporting the use of sanctions as a means to pressure other nations.