The broad spectrum of responses that President Obama’s nomination of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has engendered from within the pro-Israel community is noteworthy. Not because there are variances of opinion on what his nomination means for the U.S.-Israel relationship, but precisely the opposite. Almost every major vocal pro-Israel organization and many individual leaders have strongly opposed Chuck Hagel’s appointment because of his stated principles and ideals. However, their reactions to his nomination have been quite different from one another.
The Zionist Organization of America has been straightforward and consistent on Hagel. They have always stood in opposition and are currently active in working to prevent his approval by the Senate.
The National Jewish Democratic Council sharply opposed Hagel in a 2007 post on its website, which it recently removed, before backing the President’s choice to nominate Hagel. High profile Obama backers Ed Koch and Alan Dershowitz both slammed the President’s nomination in interviews with The Algemeiner. While Koch labeled the pick a betrayal, Dershowitz maintained that the choice did not indicate a post-election change of mode for the President on Israel.
Significantly, AIPAC, America’s largest pro-Israel lobby has been silent. This despite Hagel’s evangelist opposition to the key, broad positions that AIPAC has advocated, over the last number of years, including and most centrally, sanctions on Iran.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also appears to have decided to sit this one out, even though their opposition was made clear when Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein strongly criticized the impending nomination in a recent radio interview.
The Anti-Defamation League made the most dramatic about-turn. First accusing Hagel of borderline anti-Semitism and then, after his nomination, ADL head Abe Foxman had this to say: “Senator Hagel would not have been my first choice, but I respect the President’s prerogative.”
J Street emphatically supported Hagel, but then again, their leader Jeremy Ben Ami has said that “Our No. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president’s blocking back.” I am not certain what about that agenda makes them pro-Israel.
The opposition to Hagel is clear and it comes from almost all quarters of the Jewish and pro-Israel community. Which leads one to the obvious question of why so many major Jewish representative bodies who vigorously opposed Hagel’s appointment have now lowered their guns? And if they are backing down now, in exactly what scenario would they not be prepared to concede?
For most it seems that the calculation revolves around whether they believe that the fight they are picking is one that they can win. Undoubtedly most believe that Hagel will be confirmed, with or without their opposition. Ed Koch used a similar line of reasoning in an interview with The Algemeiner earlier this week, explaining why he backed President Obama even though he suspected that he would renege on his pro-Israel overtures, “He was going to win! There was no question about it. I thought it would be helpful to have a Jewish voice there, being able to communicate.”
So the real big question, for the pro-Israel community, about Hagel’s appointment is whether strong activism even in the face of possible failure, is valuable or prudent?
There are of course times when prudence and diplomacy are called for, especially when dealing with nuanced, high powered and delicate relationships. But for Jews, the danger of allowing injustices to go unopposed has proven disastrous.
Hagel’s appointment should be vigorously opposed by all who have called his record into question for the following reasons.
For the pro-Israel community, a sober evaluation should be made of each relationship it embarks on, considering precisely what is at stake and who the involved individuals are and their intentions. When more is at stake, less risk can be allowed.
In the case of Hagel, with Iran on the brink of going nuclear and the Middle East trending Islamist, there is a vast amount to concern the pro-Israel community and the Western world in general. Therefore the risk profile of having Hagel in the Pentagon is simply unacceptable. This means his insistence that he is opposed to Iran possessing nuclear weapons and his even more outrageous claim to have been a friend to Israel are to be summarily dismissed.
Additionally, President Obama has presented a huge challenge to America’s pro-Israel community calling its effectiveness in advocating for its positions into question. Throughout the last four years many pro-Israel Obama opponents have claimed that whilst the President’s policies have often proven hostile, Congress has remained steadfastly in Israel’s corner. Now Obama is challenging that notion by sending Hagel to the Senate for confirmation. Without meaningful opposition to Hagel’s appointment, the pro-Israel community will have rendered itself obsolete
If there is a time for vigorous and pronounced leadership in America’s pro-Israel community, that time is now. America’s supporters of Israel must speak out loudly and in unison, so, to paraphrase Churchill, if this country remains Israel’s greatest friend for the next thousand years, men will say, “This was their finest hour.”