Opinion

Hagel must address ‘Jewish lobby’ comment

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

I believe a president — Republican or Democrat — almost always deserves to have the cabinet that he wishes, with the bar very, very high to oppose his choice. Thus, there should be a heavy presumption that President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, should be confirmed by the Senate.

Whether senators agree or disagree with Hagel’s past positions — on the Iraq war (for the authorizing resolution, then turned against the war), declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization” (against), engaging with Iran in negotiations more aggressively (for), engaging with Hamas in seeking a peace agreement in the Middle East (for) — these positions are known to the president, and he still has decided to nominate Hagel for the post.

In any event, President Obama’s policies will be carried out by the new Secretary Hagel, not former Sen. Hagel.

But: Hagel owes it to all Americans, not just to American Jews, to do more than apologize for using the expression “Jewish lobby” in communicating his concern about its power.

He must understand, first, that there is a difference between Jews who support Israel and the “Israel lobby.”

To suggest that there is a “Jewish lobby” is not only inaccurate, it is highly offensive to the American Jewish community.

First, as to the inaccuracy of the expression, here are a few indisputable facts:

Fact: There are many, many non-Jews who support Israel.

Fact: Most Americans, Jews and non-Jews (polls consistently show over 70 percent nationwide) support Israel because they see it as being in the U.S.’s national-security interests to do so — and because Israel is a democracy like ours, committed to the legal protection of civil rights, gay rights and human rights, including the rights of the more than 1 million Palestinian Israeli citizens.

Fact: Some of the strongest supporters of Israel are conservative Christians.

Fact: There are many Jewish Americans, including this writer, who are sometimes critical of the Israeli government’s policies and who strongly support a two-state solution, consistent with Israeli security interests.

As to why so many American Jews are highly offended by Hagel’s use of the expression “Jewish lobby,” if he doesn’t understand its historical association with virulent anti-Semitism and the scurrilous libel of “dual loyalty” used by anti-Semites against Jews, then I would ask him the following question:

Have you ever used the expression the “Catholic lobby” when describing pro-life lobbyists? If you did, would you understand why Catholics would be offended by that expression — because many Catholics are pro-choice and would be offended for you to invoke an expression describing their religion rather than their views on the abortion issue? Do you recall how offended John F. Kennedy was at the notion that he would have dual loyalty as president — to America and to the pope — a charge JFK vigorously denied and considered to be emblematic of anti-Catholic bigotry?