Obama faces possible backlash by Hagel nomination
Pro-Israel Democrats voice criticism over possible selection of former GOP senator as secretary of defense.
Obama laughs with Hagel in Amman Photo: REUTERS/Majed Jaber
WASHINGTON – Among the voices criticizing the possible selection of former GOP
senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense are pro-Israel Democrats who worked
hard to reassure the Jewish community about White House support of Israel before
last month’s US election.
“He has one of the least pro- Israel records of
any senator in recent memory. He is a uniquely toxic figure for the pro-Israel
community,” said a Democratic pro-Israel activist who campaigned heavily within
the Jewish community for US President Barack Obama. “We pro-Israel Democrats
have no good explanation or response for people who criticize Hagel.”
added, “Many of the people who had questioned [Obama’s] record on Israel and
ended up voting for him in the end will feel betrayed were he to nominate
Some Democratic politicians have also begun to publicly
question the choice, with senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Barbara Boxer of
California and Carl Levin of Michigan all being quoted as having concerns,
particularly over Hagel’s quote that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of
people up here” on Capitol Hill.
Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada,
who has been one of Israel’s strongest defenders in Congress but is leaving at
the end of this term after losing her race for Senate, went so far as to put out
a statement opposing Hagel’s selection.
“The bottom line is that Chuck
Hagel’s dismal record on issues affecting the Middle East stands in sharp
contrast to the stated policies of our nation and he would be the wrong choice
for America’s next secretary of defense,” Berkley said.
supported Obama within the Jewish community feel an extra degree of
consternation that they would see their work undone and that Republicans who for
years have railed against the president’s stance on Israel would now crow “I
told you so.”
Pro-Israel activists on both sides of the aisle have
circulated objections to Hagel’s selection, including his past opposition to
stiffer Iran sanctions, call for direct US talks with Hamas and his
unwillingness to urge the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist
The activists have also started to send out criticisms
raised by other groups about the potential nomination, including feminists who
want to see a woman appointed to one of the top three cabinet posts.
Sen. John Kerry expected to be nominated for secretary of state after US
Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice removed herself from contention and wide
speculation that Obama will tap White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew for
Treasury, these groups would like to see the other rumored defense pick – former
defense under secretary for policy Michele Flourney – given the nod.
Jewish groups, however, have stood up for Hagel, including J Street and
Americans for Peace Now.
“Attacks on Senator Hagel for his record on
Israel and the Middle East are disconnected from Senator Hagel’s actual record,”
Americans for Peace Now said in a statement.
“These attacks appear to
reflect, more than anything, a desire to impose a very narrow ideological litmus
test on senior US officials – a litmus test that is in no way linked to their
abilities to carry out the responsibilities of the office for which they are
JTA contributed to this report.