As I wrote a few days ago when many were whispering that Chuck Hagel’s chances of becoming secretary of defense had died, what does it matter whether it’s the Israel lobby or the Jewish lobby? When you get a knife in the back, it doesn’t matter who’s putting the shiv into you. In Chuck Hagel’s case, he’s getting stabbed in the back by Aipac and its true believers. It’s an unsightly, unsavory bunch including Likudists like Jennifer Rubin, Brett Stephens, Bill Kristol, Eli Lake, and Jewish apparatchiks like Abe Foxman. You won’t see Aipac’s fingerprints on the knife because it doesn’t work that way. If you’re going to be jumped in a dark alley, Aipac will make sure you can’t see the face of your attacker. They’re the whispering kind. They plant rumors, tell lies, all without attribution.
It reminds me in an ironic way of the Dreyfuss Affair. A decorated war hero is accused of betraying his country (or in Hagel’s case, his Party). The victim is accused falsely, but the smears stick and he is punished for the effrontery of his independence and fearlessness. The difference between Dreyfuss and Hagel is, of course, that Dreyfuss was Jewish and his attackers were anti-Semites. In Hagel’s case, his attackers are Jews. But they are using unsavory tactics that are little different than those used against Dreyfuss.
The Israel lobby has performed a typically neat trick in their campaign against Hagel. They know they can’t attack him for being anti-Israel (though they’ve even whispered of this sin in hushed tones). So they trot out the “A” word, the trump card that silences every debate regarding Israel: anti-Semite. His opponents know that Hagel isn’t anti-Semitic. But rather that he refuses to toe the line on Israel. Not, chas v’chalilah that he’s anti-Israel. But insufficiently obeisant. He was the nail in the U.S. Senate that refused to be hammered down by the Lobby. When you stick out in this way, when you maintain your independence in the face of tremendous pro-Israel pressure, you’re going to get hammered. Literally (and figuratively).
So this campaign is payback. The chance for the Lobby to show its muscle. It must kill Chuck Hagel’s nomination in order to set an example for current and future legislators who may contemplate maintaining the sort of independent profile Hagel did. They’re gonna get this sucka and get him good. They’re going to fix his hide.
Anyone with the guts to say this must, like John Barleycorn, die:
Congress “is an institution that does not inherently bring out a great deal of courage.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee comes knocking with a pro-Israel letter, Hagel continued, and “then you’ll get eighty or ninety senators on it. I don’t think I’ve ever signed one of the letters”—because, he added, they were “stupid.” Hagel also said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” but “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”
But what’s especially appalling is that liberal pro-Israel senators like Carl Levin and Chuck Schumer (both of whom know their bread is buttered by Aipac) have either refused to offer Hagel support or offered only tepid encouragement. This is how the Lobby works. It gives pause to even those who should naturally back you. Theirs are not exactly Profiles in Courage. More like sticking your finger in the wind to see which way the wind’s blowing. If it’s that hamsin wind blowing from the hills of Judea, you know to duck and cover.
J Street has supported Hagel, but that’s no surprise for the group I call Jews for Obama. If Obama said the sun rose in the west, Jeremy Ben Ami would have an op-ed in Haaretz the next day dutifully affirming the fact.
I’m delighted to say that Tom Friedman, whose columns I’ve praised perhaps once or twice in the entire history of this blog, wrote a sterling piece defending Hagel.
It’s especially ironic to watch opportunists like Bill Kristol become gay rights advocates when it suits them. Because Hagel made an anti-gay statement 15 years ago (1998), the neocon, who has no previous history of being a friend of gays, all of sudden becomes holier than Stonewall. There is no doubt that Hagel’s comment in which he used the phrase “aggressively gay,” was objectionable. But that was a different era. Does anyone seriously want to tell me that we can’t find 20 then-U.S. senators who made similar comments about gays in that era?
Someone has to tell me how a homophobic comment made in 1998 disqualifies someone from being secretary of defense today. Are they arguing that he’ll backtrack on gays in the military? No, of course not. Hagel, a military man himself, knows that he’s in a chain of command in which the president is the commander-in-chief. Being a cabinet member is not the same as being a senator. Hagel knows this.
There is much that is dysfunctional about American government. Just watch the moronic debate over the “fiscal cliff,” or abortion, or gay marriage. But foremost in toxicity in Congress is the stranglehold the Lobby holds over U.S. policy toward Israel and the frontline states (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan). I’m not saying this out of animosity toward Israel and its interests. Precisely the opposite. The Lobby doesn’t act in Israel’s interest. It acts in the interest of the Lobby. Hell, half the time positions advocated by the Lobby are far to the right of Israel’s official policy. The Lobby wants power for power’s sake. Power is its primary means of self-preservation.
That power does not help Israel. It hurts. Yes, it supports the short-term interests of an extreme right-wing Israeli government–today. It supports settlements. It opposes Palestinian statehood. It supports regime change against Iran. But what about Israel’s long-term interests? What about promoting real solutions? Does anyone seriously argue that protecting the Occupation, as the Lobby does, offers a real long-term solution?
That’s why the Lobby is toxic. Not just within a Congressional context, but for Israel as well.
Chuck Hagel is a realist. He’s not a wild-eyed radical or anyone’s fool. He’s not going to carry water for Israel or the Lobby or the Palestinians for that matter. He’s going to represent America’s interests as he sees them. At times that will mean supporting Israel and at times it will mean criticizing Israel. That’s just what American Jews and Israelis themselves do. So why should we deny Chuck Hagel a cabinet job for debating the same points that are heard every time Diaspora Jews or Israelis talk about Israel?
There’s little doubt that Bibi Netanyahu too doesn’t want Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. The latter is built more in the mold of James Baker. If you’ll recall Baker had the chutzpah to use the “F” in calling out Israel. He was the one who mockingly called out the White House phone number at a press conference and dared Yitzhak Shamir to call when he was ready to be serious about peace. Bibi needs a James Baker at DoD like it needs a hole in the head. Instead he prefers a malleable functionary to fulfill that role. Someone like John Kerry or Leon Panetta or Barack Obama (oops, even an Obama made out of silly putty is too feisty for Bibi and the Lobby).
Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community.
This article appeared at Tikun Olam.