by M.J. Rosenberg
The American Jewish Committee was the latest Jewish organization to enlist in the battle to prevent President Barack Obama from naming former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. The onslaught is unprecedented. Never before has virtually the entire organized Jewish community combined to stop a presidential cabinet appointment because it deems the potential nominee insufficiently devoted to Israel. Of course, below the cabinet level, the lobby has been manning the barricades against critics of any Israeli government policies for decades.
The onslaught against Hagel is unique however because the reason for it is not merely that he opposes the rush to war with Iran and favors negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The reason is because he dared to refer to the existence of the Israel lobby. He said this in 2008 in an interview with former State Department official, Aaron Miller.
This [Congress] is an institution that does not inherently bring out a great deal of courage,” Hagel continued. “Most of the time members play it safe and adopt an ‘I’ll support Israel’ attitude. AIPAC comes knocking with a pro-Israel letter, and ‘then you’ll get 80 to 90 senators on it. I don’t think I’ve ever signed one of the letters.’
When someone would accuse him of not being pro-Israel because he didn’t sign the letter, Hagel told me he responds: “‘I didn’t sign the letter because it was a stupid letter.” Few legislators talk this way on the Hill. Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values. “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” but as he put it, “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”
That quote will likely doom Hagel’s candidacy because, if there is one institution that isconsidereduntouchable, it is the Israel lobby and its power.
Here is Wall Street Journal columnist Brett Stephens, a major neocon and Netanyahu supporter, on the implications of Hagel’s remarks.
Prejudice – like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations – has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” the odor is especially ripe.
Ripe because a “Jewish lobby,” as far as I’m aware, doesn’t exist. No lesser authorities on the subject than John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of “The Israel Lobby,” have insisted the term Jewish lobby is “inaccurate and misleading, both because the [Israel] lobby includes non-Jews like Christian Zionists and because many Jewish Americans do not support the hard-line policies favored by its most powerful elements.”….
Ripe because the word “intimidates” ascribes to the so-called Jewish lobby powers that are at once vast, invisible and malevolent; and because it suggests that legislators who adopt positions friendly to that lobby are doing so not from political conviction but out of personal fear. Just what does that Jewish Lobby have on them?
In short, Hagel is an anti-Semite because he stated that the “Jewish lobby” both exists and “intimidates…”
It is true that it is impolitic to use the term “Jewish lobby” rather than “Israel lobby” although the very same people criticizing Hagel for using the former term objected just as vehemently when Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer used the latter in their book on the subject. In any case, the term Jewish lobby is accurate when one refers to organizations like the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League, etc. They are Jewish organizations and not AIPAC, the registered Israel lobby.
As for the non-Jews and Christian Zionists that are supposedly part of the lobby, that is just silly. Having worked on Capitol Hill for 20 years, I can attest to the fact that the only voices that matter in Washington on this issue comes from Jews. The lobby contributes millions of dollars to candidates based on its determination of his or her devotion to Israel. No non-Jewish organization does that. The whole “Christian Zionist” thing is a joke and will be until John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel starts pouring money into our campaigns. And to BOTH parties.
Of course, the irony about the war on Hagel is that it has been launched against him because he says that the lobby acts as one to intimidate policymakers and legislators and the lobby screams that there is no such thing as an organized lobby that does these things.
Here is a list (not comprehensive) of those who have enlisted in the campaign against Chuck Hagel:
- American Jewish Committee
- The Anti-Defamation League
- Republican Jewish Coalition
- National Jewish Democratic Council
- The Israel Project
- The Zionist Organization of America
- Plus, Bill Kristol, Jennifer Rubin, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, Ed Koch
This list is only partial. Virtually all Jewish organizations, politicians and media figures are under pressure to condemn Hagel and many of them will. To its credit J Street is supporting Hagel and Israel Policy Forum has long been in the Hagel camp (it honored him for his support for Israel’s security in 2008).
But the others are all marching in lockstep to destroy a senator, a war hero (highly decorated Marine) and one of the most thoughtful public officials on foreign policy matters. I say “destroy” because the charge of anti-Semitism can and does destroy. If Obama decides not to pick Hagel (and he probably will so decide), this great American will be tarred forever by the charge.
The good news is that the lobby will be shown to be precisely what its critics say it is. It is an organized machine, dedicated to the interests of the Israeli right that uses its power to ensure that no one in our government ever challenges Israel’s government on anything. Of course, it is unlikely that the media will even report the story.
In the wake of last week’s horrors in Connecticut, the media is talking almost endlessly about the sickening power of the gun lobby. But the gun lobby doesn’t come close to AIPAC’s power to intimidate. After all, as I said, everyone discusses the NRA and what should be done about it. Virtually no one in the media discusses the Israel lobby. If Hagel is rejected by Obama, don’t expect David Gregory, Rachel Maddow, or any of the rest of them to explain why. They can’t. They are afraid. But they are not afraid of the NRA. Doesn’t that tell you something?
Fortunately, there is the blogosphere (again, most of the major bloggers are intimidated into silence on the lobby but not all) where the most prominent voice of all, former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan does have the guts to speak out. He says:
Like a kabuki dance, here it comes: the usual vile insinuations; the usual call for the Greater Israel Lobby to kill a nomination because a US Senator actually believe his job is to care first about the security and interests of the US, not Greater Israel; the reflexive equation of opposition to the Netanyahu administration or the settlements or the Gaza wars with pure bigotry. The phrases – “the odor is especially ripe” – are as preeningly self-righteous as they are toxic. You are not allowed, for example, to note that well-financed organized Washington lobbies “intimidate” lawmakers:
the word “intimidates” ascribes to the so-called Jewish lobby powers that are at once vast, invisible and malevolent; and because it suggests that legislators who adopt positions friendly to that lobby are doing so not from political conviction but out of personal fear.
It’s interesting to read this familiar, exhausted, ridiculous whine in the context of our current discussion about the NRA. The NRA is routinely called the gun lobby and it is described in exactly the same terms as AIPAC: “vast, invisible and malevolent” – because it is precisely as effective and relentless and as fanatical as AIPAC in wielding money, networking and political pressure in attaining its legislative goals. But we are forbidden from calling AIPAC what it is the way we call the NRA what it is – because telling the truth about it has been stigmatized as anti-Semitism.
It’s a useful ruse for bullies like the Greater Israel Lobby. It’s also an insult to those who have suffered and been murdered by actual anti-Semites. But for utopian fanatics, if casually calling honorable public servants anti-Semites helps them retain their dream of a Greater Israel, so be it. Which is why the president, if indeed he is contemplating an appointment for the Nebraska Republican, should not listen to the AIPAC thugs. He should what is right for this country, and not any other’s.
Sullivan leaves out one thing. The Israel Lobby is bad for the Jews. It suggests that Jewish Americans put the interests of a foreign country first which is a damnable lie. As every poll shows, Jewish Americans not only don’t vote based on Israel, they are not overly Israel centered at all. Moreover, those of us who do deeply care about Israel (although not more than we care about our own country) believe that the best way to support Israel is to work for peace with the Palestinians and to oppose war with Iran just as Hagel does. The lobby knows that but it has higher goals: making our government tremble, supporting Binyamin Netanyahu, and scaring Jews into donating more money to their respective organizations.
In short, the lobby is bad for America. But it’s worse for Jews.
How dare these hacks and lobbyists jeopardize our future in the best home Jews have ever had?
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