With today's Senate confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel as US
secretary of Defense, it is worth taking a moment to review the fall
and rise of Mr. Hagels nomination.
It is a welcome, if overdue, sign that daylight between American
and Israeli policies may be becoming more politically acceptable in
When rumors of the nomination first arose in December, there was
a flurry of attacks against the former Republican senator from
Nebraska, and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that his
nomination was doomed.
Jewish advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League claimed
Hagel might be anti-Semitic, based mostly on his injudicious use of
the term Jewish lobby. Elliott Abrams, the Republican foreign
affairs official of Iran-contra infamy, outright leveled the charge.
But the real fear of many Jewish advocacy organizations was
actually Hagels independent positions on Israel-related issues from
Iran to the Palestinians. All the substantial weight of a long list
of Jewish institutions was brought against the nomination.
It has been essentially unacceptable in Washington to acknowledge
that the United States may at times have different priorities than
Israel. Remember, for instance, the October presidential debate,
when Mitt Romney criticized President Obama by saying, The president
said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel.
But when even Jon Stewart joked this month about the absurdity of
the no-daylight requirement, its clear that Americans or at least
the younger generation are getting tired of such an unquestioning
Other well-known figures from Thomas Friedman to Colin Powell
came to Hagels defense, groups like mine mustered grassroots
support, and the president stood his ground. When Sen. Charles
Schumer the Democrat from New York who is widely seen as a decisive
vote in the confirmation hearings declared his support for Hagel,
it became clear his appointment would go forward.
Since Mr. Obama announced his decision, the influential American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, has studiously avoided
publicly opposing Hagel. Its choice to stay out of a fight it
couldnt win indicates a recognition that political realities are
Could it be that holding Israel accountable for its illegal
settlements, its demolition of homes, its killing of nonviolent
activists another Palestinian, a young woman, was shot and killed
by Israeli soldiers this week in the occupied West Bank and its
repression of the Palestinian people will be next?
Not so fast. While it is heartening to see the parade of support
for Hagel and the Israel lobby in retreat, the Obama administrations
defense of him has revolved entirely around the argument that he
would continue current US policies toward Israel.
The National Jewish Democratic Council put it this way, we trust
that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the
Presidents lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel on
strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the
world against Irans nuclear program. …