Jewish leaders not so keen on rumored Hagel nomination

Not just Jewish Republicans, either, according to BuzzFeed’s Zeke Miller, who heard from sources attending a White House Hanukah party that the group of Jewish political activists didn’t come entirely for the celebration.  Chuck Hagel’s track record on Israel and the Middle East has Jewish leaders across the aisle concerned about his potential nomination as Secretary of Defense, and one Democrat in the group predicted that the fight would dwarf the controversy that drove Susan Rice to withdraw her name from consideration for the top job at State:

On Thursday night, hundreds of American Jewish leaders visited the White House to celebrate Hanukah, but many also came with a less celebratory agenda: They were there to deliver a warning to President Barack Obama about the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel.

The buzz around former Republican senator from Nebraska — seen as a top contender to lead the Department of Defense — has Israel supporters worried. Hagel has been a frequent target for Jewish Democratic and Republican groups for more than a decade, even as he is close to Obama, having been a supporter in 2008 and an appointee to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

“He was one of these worst senators in his party in memory when it comes to Israel,” said one Jewish Democratic operative. “It’s a terrible idea.”

They went on record opposing Hagel once before during the Obama administration.  Miller recalls that Obama’s own campaign outreach director to Jewish voters told the Weekly Standard that they were leery about Hagel’s connection to White House foreign policy when he got appointed to the intelligence advisory board.

“If [Hagel] was taking a policy role, we’d have real concerns,” Ira Forman, the Obama campaign’s Jewish Outreach Director and the former Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told The Weekly Standard when Hagel was appointed to the intelligence board.

And this wasn’t just a passing mention at the party, either:

Several attendees at the Hanukah party said they witnessed or participated in reaching out to administration officials about the potential selection of Hagel, with one attendee saying “he was the talk of the party.”

One Democrat in attendance predicted the fight over Hagel would be “Susan Rice times 10.”

Miller writes that Hagel isn’t overtly anti-Israel, but the National Jewish Democratic Council disagreed with that assessment — at least in 2007, when Hagel mulled over a potential run for the White House.  They have since removed their point-by-point criticism of Hagel from their website, but Jeff Dunetz rescued a few of the details:

Why should supporters of Israel be worried about Hagel?  Don’t take my word for it, in an attempt to be bi-partisan below is what the the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) warned about Sen. Hagel’s lousy record on Israel in 2007.  (They took the page down when Obama began to express interest in Hagel for his administration…but I saved it here. Below are some of the details:

  •  In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
  • In October 2000, Hagel was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
  • In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 Senators who refsued to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yassir Arafat until his forces ended the violence against Israel.
  • In December 2005, Hagel  was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter to President Bush to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections.
  • In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.

One group did support Hagel’s approach to Middle East policy at that time, though:

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that everyone hates Hagel’s record on Israel. The same NJDC artic did cite one group that supported Hagel’s Middle East efforts–CAIR, the American organization created by the Muslim Brotherhood is a fan of Hagel:

“Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel …” [Council on American-Islamic Relations, 8/28/06]

Perhaps CAIR was impressed with Hagel’s analysis of domestic politics, too:

Says Hagel: “The political reality is that… the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” This audio should be heard to truly gauge his own feelings.

Obama might choose Hagel to offer a slim reed of bipartisanship to the media, which would give him some room for a harder stance on policy negotiations.  With this particular Republican, though, Obama might wind up doing more damage on his side of the aisle.  Still, if Obama nominates Hagel, I don’t see the Senate failing to confirm one of the former members of the club — but the confirmation hearing will certainly be contentious and potentially embarrassing for Obama among one of his party’s important constituencies.  That may be enough to have Obama looking elsewhere for a Secretary of Defense.