WASHINGTON - The National Jewish Democratic Council said it was confident that Chuck Hagel would follow what it called US President Barack Obama's "unprecedented" pro-Israel record.
The statement Monday morning came before Obama's formal announcement expected later Monday nominating Hagel, a former Republican senator, for defense secretary.
"President Barack Obama's unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the president," said the statement, which was not attached to the name of an NJDC official. "While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President's lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel -- on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran's nuclear program."
Jewish support for the potential Hagel nomination was not unanimous, however, as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a statement Monday asking for clarification on Hagel's positions on Iran and Hezbollah. "Senator Hagel would not have been my first choice, but I respect the President’s prerogative," said Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director.
Foxman also specifically highlighted Hagel's comments on the "Jewish Lobby," which he termed offensive to many in the Jewish community.
In 2007, when Hagel was considering a presidential run, the NJDC distributed an attack sheet on Hagel, noting his equivocation on such issues such as Iran sanctions and his criticism of some Israeli policies.
Hagel, after quitting politics in 2008, drew closer to his then-fellow senator, Obama, over a shared opposition to intensifying the U.S. presence in Iraq.
In 2009, NJDC's then-executive director, Ira Forman, said it would be problematic for the group if newly elected President Obama, as it was then rumored, would nominate Hagel for a top Cabinet post. Forman's successor as NJDC's top official, David Harris, had until Monday refused to weigh in on the matter.
A number of prominent Jewish Democrats, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), have suggested they would support Hagel, but others such as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have expressed reservations.
Others outright opposed to Hagel include Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee; former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a contender to replace Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for an interim spot should Kerry be confirmed as expected as secretary of state; and Susan Turnbull, a former vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who is active in the NJDC.
US president set to tap Brennan for CIA
Obama is also also set to announce the nomination of counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA, a move also likely to make waves in Washington.
Brennan was believed to have been Obama's top pick to lead the CIA when he took office. But human rights advocates contended that as a senior CIA official under President George W. Bush, Brennan was tainted by the agency's use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding that are widely considered to be torture.
Brennan denied any connection to the interrogation methods but removed his name from consideration.
Brennan, who has a close relationship with Obama, has since won praise for his role in helping to plan the 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, something his supporters hope will quell criticism and keep his nomination on course.