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?