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December 19, 2012 11:57 am

Senators Plan to Press Potential Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on ‘Jewish Lobby’ Comment

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Chuck Hagel in Kuwait.

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.”

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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.”

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