Hoenlein says Obama will pick Hagel for ‘Ministry’ of Defense — whoops, make that Defense Department

Israel/Palestine
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Politico reports that Obama hints that Chuck Hagel is in the running for Secretary of Defense, in speaking to David Gregory on Meet the Press today:

President Barack Obama says he hasn’t decided on a nominee for defense secretary, but suggested former Sen. Chuck Hagel is still in the running.

Asked by NBC’s David Gregory if anything disqualified the Nebraska Republican from the post, Obama said “Not that I see.”

“I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot,” Obama said during an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s ”Meet the Press.” ”He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam – and is somebody who’s currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job.”

People are buzzing about Malcolm Hoenlein’s statement last night during a radio interview that Hagel will be nominated for Secretary of Defense by Obama on Monday. Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray tweeted last night: “couple sources indicate that Malcolm Hoenlein told this Hagel thing to attendees of the Agudah convention tonight in Jersey.”

Below is a partial transcript of the interview of Malcolm Hoenlein, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, by Zev Brenner, a Jewish talk show host.

Notice that Hoenlein refers frankly to the “Jewish lobby,” a term that Hagel has been lacerated for using, and says that the Jewish lobby took no official position visavis Hagel. Hoenlein identifies the Defense Department as the Ministry of Defense before correcting himself. The Ministry of Defense is in the Israeli government. 

Also notice that in the latter part of the interview (which I only began to transcribe below), Hoenlein’s entire focus is Iran and the changes in the Middle East, and how these matters affect Israel.

Also notice that he believes Tom Friedman has alienated himself from the community, meaning the Jewish community, through his criticism of the Israel lobby. But that Friedman maintains establishment credibility. 

The interview:

Hoenlein: It’s not a scoop, I’m saying that it’s most likely on Monday they will announce that Hagel will be the choice…. It’s something that raised a lot of concern.  [because Defense is independent.]  I think it is something that you know we’ll live with and we’ll work with, whoever is in office. The concern is…. not just Jewish issues, but American issues…

Brenner: Tom Friedman said it’s the pro-Israel lobby that opposes Hagel.

Hoenlein: I think Tom Friedman has gone off the cliff… the political cliff. I think his columns have increasingly become hostile and frankly unjustifiable. You can differ with a view on Israel. But his position– it was not the Jewish lobby– unfortunately one of the early articles in a major publication spoke about this as the Jewish problem, when many other groups and many people because of [Hagel’s] positions on the military… raised many more concerns than this…

There’s no reason why Jews as Americans can’t express their views. But it was never a Jewish campaign, it was never intended to be. And the lobby actually I think was pretty silent, the quote official lobby was silent on this. It was an unfortunate characterization.

[But in wake of Friedman column] At that point I understood that Hagel would get the job.

It comes from Friedman so they think it has credibility, even though I think his credibility in the community has diminished a great deal.

It’s very important who gets the Ministry of… the Defense Secretary’s position. The Department of Defense is critical on a lot of issues, and with the challneges we’re likely to face in the next year.. it makes it all the more important. Obviously I’m referring to Iran, and decisions on Iran, where in the past, he [Hgael] has not been let us say in line with a lot of positions of other members of the Senate, and people I think who have taken the right positions. There will be other decisions vis a vis what’s happening in the Middle East. The changes in the Middle East, the new technologies, the relationship with Israel. I think ultimately the relationship with Israel will maintain. I think that as Secretary of Defense he will see the realities of the importance of Israel to the United States, the commonality of interests that they have.

But individuals do make a difference, in terms of the tone and the attitudes that they take.

Meantime, Glenn Greenwald has a post up at the Guardian saying that the full-page ad against the Hagel possibility signed by the Log Cabin Republicans was funded by outside donors. Greenwald hints that these are pro-Israel donors surreptitiously using the gay issue against Hagel–Hagel’s 1998 anti-gay slur, for which he has lately apologized.

As a result, I posed several questions to LCR about the funding and motive behind this ad. In response, the group’s Executive Director, R. Clark Cooper, confirmed that LCR did not pay for the ad out of its existing funds. Rather, he said, the ad campaign “is being funded by a number of donors”. But he not only refused to identify any of those donors, but also has thus far refused to say whether those “donors” are from the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” community and/or are first-time donors to LCR: in other words, whether these donors are simply exploiting gay issues and the LCR to advance an entirely unrelated agenda as a means of attacking Hagel.

As for why LCR would suddenly object to the anti-gay record of Hagel despite a history of supporting more virulently anti-gay Republicans, Cooper claimed that “LCR is particularly concerned about Chuck Hagel as a potential Defense Secretary because of the role he would play in continuing to oversee the implementation of open service of the military.” But he did not respond to my follow-up inquiry about why, then, LCR endorsed Mitt Romney – who has long supported Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and other anti-gay measures – as President.

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