Hagel and the lobby, the unending non-story

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How large a factor was Chuck Hagel’s criticism of Israel in the Republican Senate filibuster that successfully delayed his nomination to be Secretary of Defense yesterday? Here are some news reports on the battle touching on the Israel lobby’s role. Some suppress it, some address it directly.

Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post says Israel is a big factor, and the nomination is a battle over a more realist foreign policy:

“A number of senators have serious concerns with his lack of experience leading such a massive bureaucracy, in addition to his position on Iran and Israel,” said one GOP strategist. “And in some ways, this is part of a broader debate and effort to draw attention to the administration’s policies in the Middle East.  The longer this nomination is drawn out, the more attention is given to those issues.”

Todd Zwillich on PBS News Hour is also fairly direct about the Israel issue bulking large:

There are senators on the right who are asking questions about Chuck Hagel’s speeches over the years. What did he say in these speeches? Did he give more incendiary statements about Israel, about the Jewish lobby in Israel controlling the State Department, statements preferable to Iran?…

There is an understanding on Capitol Hill that the next 10 days will be for the real staunch conservative opponents of Chuck Hagel to go through those speeches that I mentioned, go through some of his past statements — there are videos, more videos coming out — to look for more incendiary statements.

Now, so far, Chuck Hagel saying less-than-nice things about the government or Israel or the influence of Israel on our diplomats, that’s things — those are things that people in Washington do not like to hear, but they are not new. So, Hagel gets in if, over the next 10 days, as Lindsey Graham said a couple times today — unless there’s a bombshell over the next 10 days, I will vote to go ahead with this nomination and Hagel will get through, not with his vote, but Hagel will get through.

So then the question is, who’s going to look for the bombshell and will they find it?

MSNBC says not a word about the Israel lobby. “First thoughts” from the MSNBC political team, on “The five lessons we’ve learned from the Hagel fight.”

… 1) Political betrayal is a worse sin than being a member of the opposing party… 2) Getting 60 votes remains the standard in the Senate… 3) Confirmation hearings DO matter… 4) For Republicans, when in doubt just say “Benghazi”… 5) Hagel has been wounded… Obama travels to GA to press for universal pre-K… The two splits inside the GOP… Building a better “likely voter model”… And don’t count on the “six-year itch.”

MJ Rosenberg says it’s all about Israel, “The Israel Racket,” and don’t let anybody fool you. Yes, the lobby pretended to be neutral, AIPAC laid low (as Elliott Abrams gaslighted us the other day on WNYC), but that’s bull:

If AIPAC decided that, as a lobby dedicated to the interests of Israel, it is inappropriate to dictate who is fit to be in charge of U.S. national security, all it would have to do is pick up the phone. It doesn’t do that. It chooses to keep the Hagel onslaught going in order to show who is in charge. “This is what we can do.” No doubt that message has been received in all the right places.

There is nothing to laugh about in any of this.

Nor is it funny that the media and blogosphere remain so terrified of the lobby’s power that virtually no journalists are telling their readers or viewers that the only issue that is holding up Hagel’s confirmation is that he is considered insufficiently devoted to the interests of the Netanyahu government.

Contrast this to the media’s handling of AIPAC’s twin, the National Rifle Association, which, powerful as it is, cannot intimidate the media into silence or anything even close to it. AIPAC can definitely teach the NRA a thing or two.

Then there’s the “Friends of Hamas” smear, that organizations with which Hagel was associated received money from such a group. David Weigel at Slate on the fiction, and how much traction it got. Notice the inherent logic of the smear, boldfaced:

… after the Atlantic Council released a list of funders, “Friends of Hamas” was nowhere on it. The point of the accusation is that Hagel has criticized Israel, so it’s only natural to ask if he’s receiving laundered terror money. As the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney put it in the Washington Times: “At this writing and absent the requested disclosure, it cannot be determined whether Mr. Hagel is literally associated with the ‘friends’ of a designated terrorist organization. The mere fact, though, that it seems entirely plausible — given the nominee’s record of hostility toward Israel and his affinity for its enemies (including Hamas’ longtime sponsor, Iran) — his refusal to make the sort of disclosure expected of all Cabinet appointees should be the last straw for Senate Republicans and Democrats alike.”
But the “Friends” accusation goes further than that. It supposes that a pro-terror group exists, and further supposes that the non-existent group would back Hagel somehow. This morning I wrote [Ben] Shapiro to clear up the accusation. “Have you found any more proof that this group exists?” I asked. “Is it just shorthand for some people who might support Hagel, or a real group?” [Shapiro offers no such proof]


Amazing that no one has brought up (beside Max Blumenthal, who sent it to me), the fact that the source of this fiction, Ben Shapiro, has the most primeval ideas about Jews and Palestinians. This argument for wholesale ethnic cleansing (from 2003) speaks for itself:

In the short term, the establishment of a “Palestinian state” based in Judea, Samaria and Gaza cuts Israel to the bone. …

there is certainly room in the spacious Muslim states of the Middle East for 5 million Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. If Germans, who had a centuries-old connection to the newly created Polish territory, could be expelled, then surely Palestinians, whose claim to Judea, Samaria and Gaza is dubious at best, can be expelled.

It’s time to stop being squeamish. Jews are not Nazis. Transfer is not genocide. And anything else isn’t a solution.

And this guy gets a hearing? Wow. From Rand Paul, among others. Daniel Larison at American Conservative:

Instead, Paul endorsed one of the worst, least credible anti-Hagel arguments of all, which is essentially the Ted Cruz argument that Hagel needs to “prove” that he is not in league with foreign governments or sympathetic with terrorists.

Update: More on the failure to directly address the lobby issue. WNYC host Brian Lehrer discussed Hagel this morning with Steven Dennis of CQ/Roll Call. Per my friend Ilene Cohen:

“No mention of Israel, just vague comment about the Middle East. Lehrer repeated several times that the hearing showed Hagel to be ‘incompetent.’ (Nothing about the crowd on the committee.) He kept asking why Obama chose and is sticking with Hagel– and concluded that they share a worldview about war with Iran, nuclear weapons. Lehrer had no information on Hagel’s history and background, the smart, if controversial, things he has had the courage to say (about Iran, about Israel–beyond the Aaron David Miller quote), etc. You’d have no idea from Lehrer’s report how concerned so many of the smart bloggers are about the Republicans; Lehrer made them sound reasonable. He asked his guest whether the Republicans might, with the extra time, not come up with something. The guest was quite skeptical. I have to conclude, though I can’t prove it, that this was subtle or unconscious Israel lobby stuff in Lehrer’s head–because he doesn’t talk about the outsize place of Israel that has dominated this story from its beginning in December (and including the 178 references at the hearing). Instead, he undermines the Hagel case by sounding reasonable, rather than like a Jennifer Rubin or the Emergency Committee for Israel.”

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