Jewish Responses to Hagel Nomination Include Strong Opposition, Puzzlement, and Reluctant Acceptance
by Zach Pontz
Debate over Chuck Hagel’s history with Israel and the Jewish community has hit a fever pitch as anticipation mounts that U.S. President Barack Obama will nominate him for the position of Secretary of Defense. The Algemeiner has written extensively about Hagel’s controversial record on Israel, Iran and a whole slew of issues relating to the Middle East.
The opposition is promising to be strong. Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, said the organization is already taking action.”We’re on the Hill speaking to every senator or staffer that we can, to urge them to vote against Hagel as a man who is bad for America, bad for fighting terrorism, bad for stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, bad for good relations with Israel–that’s what we’re telling every member of the Senate.”
He added that he’s spoken to many politicians on both sides of the aisle and is getting the sense that Hagel is no shoe-in. “Prominent Democrats have already expressed a deep concern about it. They haven’t said it publicly, but they’re thinking about saying it publicly.”
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league was less emphatic in his opposition, releasing this statement:
“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.”
There has even been criticism from some unexpected corners. On Sunday Robert Reich, an economist who has served in the Ford, Carter and Clinton administrations, said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” that he didn’t understand Obama’s decision.
“There’s a real puzzle here. With all of the fights the president has coming up, why is he doing this? There are a lot of other people he could be putting up. Why is he expending political capital in this way? I don’t understand it.”
This sentiment echoes that of some who are close to President Obama. The New York Times wrote on Monday, “Some Obama aides had doubts about the wisdom of the choice, given Mr. Hagel’s frosty relationship with members of his own party, but officials said they were confident that they could corral enough votes from both sides of the aisle to win confirmation in the Senate.”
Meanwhile on the same program conservative pundit George Will expressed his support for Hagel, albeit hesitantly.
“I disagree with him [Hagel] on a lot of stuff, but I think he should be confirmed and will be because vast deference is owed to presidents in cabinet members, for two reasons. Their job is to carry out the president’s wishes and, B, they leave when the president leaves, which is why more deference is owed to that than, say, on Supreme Court nominees.”
Democrats, overall, continue to support Hagel. David Axelrod, former adviser to the president, tweeted on Sunday:
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement in support of the Hagel nomination on Monday, saying, “While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator 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.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition which has opposed Hagel’s appointment from very early on, released a strongly worded statement condemning the move, saying that the appointment “shows Obama’s true intentions with Israel.” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said, “This nomination is a blow to U.S.-Israel relations, to the President’s relationship with the American Jewish community, and to U.S. security in the Middle East. It signals that the President, having been re-elected, will now distance himself from Israel. We hope that when Senator Hagel’s weak record is laid on the table, Senators will rightly decline to support his nomination.”
Many prominent Jewish Democrats including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), have suggested they would support Hagel while Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has expressed reservations. Others outright opposed to Hagel include Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee; and former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).