Hagel news: Abrams says lobby is mostly Christian, JVP wants Americans to say ‘apartheid’

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Chuck Hagel’s bid to become Defense Secretary has been endorsed by Republican Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, meaning that Hagel will be confirmed after the Congressional recess, in the view of several media outlets.

Other news on the Hagel front: The Israel lobby is now being openly debated. Elliott Abrams says that the Israel lobby has weakened Hagel, but the lobby is now a Christian lobby; while several critics of the Israel lobby say that the process has brought the media’s focus at last to Israel’s illegal occupation. And Jewish Voice for Peace is circulating a petition that makes the Greater Israel Lobby the enemy. 

Pundit Michael Cohen in the Guardian warns that the special relationship is fostering disaster:

[U]nquestioned support for Israel is basically unchallenged in US political debates. Indeed, in 2011, when President Obama stated that a final peace deal between Israel and Palestinians should be based on the 1967 borders, he was met by a furious pushback – even though this has been longstanding US policy.

The mere suggestion that Israel would have to make concessions for peace led to practically universal calls from Republicans that Obama had “thrown Israel under the bus”. Only the hint of divergence from the preferences and desires of Israel’s leaders was enough to spark a firestorm. There is no other US bilateral relationship where such a dynamic exists.

… a key tenet of US policy toward Israel is opposition to settlement construction in the West Bank, a position that has been endorsed by every US president since Ronald Reagan. And yet, Israeli settlement construction continues. In fact, late last year the Netanyahu government announced it would begin planning for new settlements in both East Jerusalem and the controversial E-1 section of the West Bank. This runs counter to both the spirit and the letter of US policy….

What has put Hagel in such hot water are the suggestions that the desperate plight of the Palestinians should be an issue of concern to the United States; that US diplomacy is negatively effected by perceptions of America support for Israel; that negotiations even with Israel’s enemies should be embarked upon; that progress on peace between Israel and the Palestinians is of vital importance; and finally, that America’s relationship with Israel cannot come at the expense of its relations with the Arab world. Since being nominated, Hagel has been forced to walk back or explain away all of these statements.

None of these are unreasonable positions; and none of them, if expressed in Israel, would be considered controversial. That expressing these views would lead to such furious opposition – even from members of his own party – is indicative of how constrained US debates have become about Israel. In fact, US policy is held hostage to political orthodoxy, dissuading any public official from departing from the accepted party line. This is, frankly, bad for democracy and bad for US national security interests….

So, while Chuck Hagel may pay a short-term price by being blocked from becoming Secretary of Defense, it is Israel, the United States and, above all, the Palestinians who will pay a much larger and disastrous penalty for America’s constricted debate about Israel.

Noam Sheizaf at +972 has a report on Elliott Abrams’s interview with Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth. Note that the words “Jewish lobby” are regularly used in the Israeli press:

Abrams opens by explaining why he believes Hagel is an anti-Semite, referring to Hagel’s past remark on “the Jewish Lobby” (by the way, this is the term Israelis use too, including most of the press. Examples: herehereherehereherehere).

Then Sheizaf quotes Abrams saying the lobby has weakened Hagel: 

Abrams: “Yes. I suppose he will be confirmed. But he will be a weaker secretary of defense. The fight against Hagel presents the Republican party as a very pro-Israeli party, which is a good thing. Second, it’s becoming clear to everyone that there is a strong pro-Israeli lobby that is relying mostly on Christians. This is not a Jewish lobby.”

Scott McConnell in The American Conservative– The Hagel Foes’ Self-Defeating Witch Hunt— lands on the fact that neoconservatives are exercised that Hagel reportedly used the word “apartheid,” then points out that former Israeli P.M. Ehud Barak issued the same warning:

“As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic.  If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

McConnell argues that by seeking to make Hagel’s reported “apartheid” line controversial, the Israel lobby groups are only calling attention to their own bankrupt but controlling agenda.

Here then is the problem for the Hagel haters. It is not simply that Hagel is being accused of saying thing like “the State Department sometimes acts like an adjunct of the Israeli foreign ministry”—which State Department officials actually do complain about, albeit off the record. He is being accused of saying things which Israeli prime ministers say on the record. And much as Commentary, Jennifer Rubin, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Free Beacon try to bend these remarks into supposedly damning evidence  of a viciously anti-Israel mindset, they can’t make their argument without quoting the alleged quotes. And almost any journalist must at least note that the “damning” quotes are extremely similar to what Israeli leaders say in public themselves. So by damning Hagel, they call attention to the Israeli occupation, which is in fact turning Israel into an apartheid state. I don’t really see any way around it.

The Hagel fight has already turned into an own-goal situation for the Israel lobby. The idea that Israel controls the U.S. government—the kind of thing which 20 years ago would be said by no one who wanted to hold a mainstream job—has now become a fairly widely circulated popular culture meme, openly joked about in a justly famous (if unaired) “Saturday Night Live” skit and riffed on by Bill Maher….

Now the Hagel foes, having succeeded in illustrating before a mass public the concept of the Israel lobby (without, of course, John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt’s exemplary precision) are starting to focus Capitol Hill media on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Could one ask for anything more?

JVP agrees with McConnell. It wants the apartheid label to stick; and it believes the Hagel process has allowed Americans to focus on the occupation, and on the dreadful “Lobby.” From Cecile Surasky’s appeal to members, to stop the McCarthyite campaign against that word.

Sign the petition: Using the term “apartheid” is acceptable in Israel – it should be acceptable in the U.S.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse—U.S. Senate Republicans and their friends in the Greater Israel Lobby are using classic McCarthyite smear tactics to derail the confirmation of former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham dug up an unsubstantiated report that Hagel once voiced concern over Israel “becoming an apartheid state”, and now the Lobby is making hay of the charge.

Unless we act now — we have until Tuesday when the Senate reconvenes — the Lobby could succeed in smearing a public servant for saying what many high-ranking Israelis, including former prime ministers Ehud Barak[1] and Ehud Olmert[2], have been saying for years. 

Join us and our partners at Just Foreign Policy now. 

Sign the petition now and find out who else in Israel uses the term “apartheid”:

Graham and friends fail to understand that a responsible Middle East policy must include recognition of the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule without basic rights, or inside of Israel as second-class citizens.

Only then can we hope to reach a lasting peace for both peoples.

Israel’s many public officials who have talked about apartheid — a formal system of segregation and discrimination — recognize this, but most Senate Republicans are acting as if unquestioning support of Israel’s illegal settlement policies is required for high level Cabinet positions.

Enough is enough! If you believe, as I do, that it’s time the Israel Lobby and its Republican allies stop turning reasonable criticism into McCarthy-worthy smear campaigns, then I hope you’ll join me in signing this petition to Senator Graham…

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