Senate Republicans are vowing to press former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel on his past comments about the “Jewish lobby” should the front-runner for Secretary of Defense be nominated for the position by President Barack Obama, the Weekly Standard reported.
In 2008, Hagel took a direct shot at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), telling former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller in a quote that appeared in Miller’s book, The Much Too Promised Land, that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Washington. Hagel has also said he is “a United States senator, not an Israeli senator.”
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Tuesday that he knows of no “Jewish lobby” and hopes Hagel “would identify who that is,” according to the Weekly Standard. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Hagel will “have to answer” for his Jewish lobby comment if nominated for defense secretary.
“I don’t agree with that statement [by Hagel],” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said. “If he is nominated, there’ll be a hearing. His entire public record and all his public pronouncements will be reviewed as a part of that process. And we’ll move on from there.”
Meanwhile, some Jewish Democrats in the Senate either defended Hagel’s candidacy or said it was too soon to rush to judgment on him. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Hagel would be “very well-qualified” for defense secretary, despite his disagreement with Hagel’s “Jewish lobby” comment.
U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said they have questions about Hagel, but that it is too soon to say whether or not they would support his nomination, The Hill reported.
Hagel’s criticisms of the U.S.-Israel relationship did earn a stamp of approval from at least one source—Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby, a 2007 book that has been panned by critics as prime fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In an online post for Foreign Policy, Walt counted the following among his top five reasons that Hagel should be chosen as defense secretary: “Unlike almost all of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill, he hasn’t been a complete doormat for the Israel lobby.”