The last 24 hours have seen major support for Chuck Hagel as a possible Defense Secretary originating from many mainstream venues, including the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Chris Matthews on Hardball. The Times piece by James Besser, formerly of the Jewish Week, and the New Yorker piece by Connie Bruck are both ringing endorsements; if anything could convince Obama that the Jewish community has his back in naming Hagel, you’d think this kind of support will.
The theme of the mainstream pro-Hagel arguments is, Only the Israel lobby is against Hagel, but we’re against the Israel lobby! Because the Israel lobby is a rightwing fringe that supports the settlement process. Of course, this brings up a definitional question, What is the Israel lobby and what does it stand for? but I’ll get to that at the end.
First a wrapup. The opposition. The Log Cabin Republicans (gay organization) is running a full-page ad in the New York Times opposing a Hagel nomination. And Christians United for Israel is urging folks to write to their Senators to oppose Chuck Hagel.
The greatest threat to our security and that of our front-line ally Israel is a rising and potentially nuclear Iran. Yet Senator Hagel has demonstrated a troubling blind spot towards this threat. In the Senate, he repeatedly opposed economic sanctions on Iran intended to stop its nuclear program.
By the way, CUFI’s spokesman is named Ari Morgenstern, who tweets that Hagel is not an anti-Semite.
At the Atlantic, Robert Wright notes that Hagel has gotten a “second wind” and cites a long string of endorsers in the mainstream, including many in the “non-neocon right,” and says Hagel is a defining moment for Obama:
So it’s in Obama’s hands. There’s a lot at stake here–not just whether McCarthyite smears will be allowed to succeed, but whether Obama, in the wake of the Susan Rice episode, will now get a reputation as someone who caves whenever he faces resistance. Some people say Obama will abandon Hagel because he’s too busy dealing with the fiscal cliff negotiations. The truth is that if he doesn’t stand by Hagel he’ll have a weaker hand in the fiscal cliff negotiations, because no one will take his threats seriously. “Defining moment” is an overused term, but this is a defining moment for President Obama.
Now let’s get to the theme, people calling out the Israel lobby. Here is an excellent piece by Bernard Avishai at Open Zion, “Hagel and the Neo-McCarthyites,” in which Avishai attacks the rightwing Jewish establishment for destroying political careers for decades now:
I think it is time to acknowledge, bluntly, that certain major Jewish organizations, indeed, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations—also, the ADL, AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, political groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition, along with their various columnists, pundits, and list-serves—are among the most consistent purveyors of McCarthyite-style outrages in America today. Are there greater serial defamers of public officials in fake campaigns against defamation? Starting with Andrew Young and the late Charles Percy, and on to Chas. Freeman and (now) Chuck Hagel, the game has been to keep Congresspeople and civil servants who might be skeptical of Israel’s occupation and apologetics in a posture that can only be called exaggerated tact.
Fault Israel and you are accused of faulting Jews in our collective state, or, the same thing, overlooking the venality of our enemies—things only an anti-Semite would do and, of all times, in the wake of the Holocaust. This is not a charge anyone in public life wants to suffer or try to deny…
Avishai goes on from that point– “Fault Israel and you are accused of faulting Jews in our collective state”– to explain the semantic absurdity of destroying Hagel for using the words “Jewish lobby.”
Hagel had the brass to call this grass green: Congresspeople will tell you openly that AIPAC has become one of the most feared, and secretly loathed, presences on Capitol Hill. Hagel spoke with thinly veiled contempt—which he came by honestly—of efforts by the Israeli lobby to intimidate dissenting diplomats and legislators. Ah, but he spoke of the power of the “Jewish Lobby”—not the Israeli lobby—which was the opening the lobby’s hallelujah chorus needed to brand him a bigot.
Funny how you disapprove of Israel and you are told you are disapproving of Jews in the collective sense, but when you call the Israel lobby “Jewish” you have crossed the line.
The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck also calls out the Israel lobby in a piece titled, “Chuck Hagel and His Enemies.” Bruck baldly defines the opposition to Hagel as coming from the Israel lobby. When Chuck Schumer stepped away from Hagel last week, I asked why reporters didn’t point out that Schumer had called himself Israel’s guardian at an AIPAC conference. Bruck makes the point: “Charles Schumer (not known for his independence from the lobby) declined to say he would back Hagel…” More from Bruck:
From the moment, Hagel’s name was leaked as a possible nominee for Secretary of Defense—in what was, apparently, a trial balloon floated by the Obama Administration—Hagel’s most vocal critics have been members of what can be called the Israel lobby. Their enmity for Hagel goes back to his two terms in the Senate. A committed supporter of Israel and, also, of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, Hagel did not make the obeisance to the lobby that the overwhelming majority of his Congressional colleagues do. And he further violated a taboo by talking about the lobby, and its power. In his 2008 book, “The Much Too Promised Land,” Aaron Miller interviewed Hagel, whom he described as “a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values.” Miller also wrote, “Of all my conversations, the one with Hagel stands apart for its honesty and clarity.” He quoted Hagel saying that Congress “is an institution that does not inherently bring out a great deal of courage.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee comes knocking with a pro-Israel letter, Hagel continued, and “then you’ll get eighty or ninety senators on it. I don’t think I’ve ever signed one of the letters”—because, he added, they were “stupid.” Hagel also said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” but “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”
Bruck deploys two powerful Jews on Hagel’s behalf and against the lobby. She quotes Gary Ackerman and Dianne Feinstein. Note that Bruck does not object to the term “Jewish lobby.” Objecting to that term would be like objecting to the generalization that evangelical Christians oppose abortion: