(JNS.org) Jewish groups are seconding the call of Senate Republicans for further review of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel before a vote is held on his confirmation.
A 58-40 Senate vote on Feb. 14 delayed a final yes or no vote on the former Nebraska senator’s appointment. Sixty votes were needed to proceed.
“Chuck Hagel has served this country, and his state, with distinction, as we have had the privilege to tell him in person,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris said in a statement Feb. 15. “But in light of his complex record in the Senate and controversial statements he has made since his public service on strategic and political affairs— notably grappling with the range of pressing Middle East issues—AJC believes that further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”
The Washington Free Beacon reported last week that Hagel said, “The [U.S.] State Department is an adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Minister’s office,” during a 2007 speech at Rutgers University. Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matthew Brooks demanded a response from Hagel to that comment, saying, “Senate Republicans are right to insist that final action on this nomination not be rushed.” Hagel previously came under fire after the revelation of 2008 remarks to Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here (on Capitol Hill).”
AJC’s Harris said regarding Hagel’s controversial comments, “We feel it especially important that Senator Hagel be given a full opportunity to clear the air, so that the Senate can have a more thorough picture of the nominee’s views.”
The AJC’s warning on Hagel is a sign that mainstream Jewish groups—not just partisan groups such as the RJC—are increasingly concerned about Hagel
“AJC is a strictly non-partisan organization,” Harris said. “We speak up now only out of concern for policies we deem vital to our nation and central to our organizational mission.”
Before the AJC’s statement, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Mort Klein last week called out Jewish groups, including the AJC, for not publicly opposing Hagel’s confirmation. Jewish organizations are “frightened of making an issue seem more important to Jews than others,” he told the Jerusalem Post.
Jewish groups have not made clear that they “oppose [Hagel] because he is horrible on Iran, he is horrible on terrorism, horrible on Israel, horrible on fighting radical Islam,” according to Klein.
“I was called by major Jewish leaders, personally called, and [they] told me to stop our campaign against Hagel,” Klein said.
One Jewish group outside of ZOA and RJC that did publicly voice concern about Hagel’s nomination early in the game—in a Jan. 9 statement—was pro-Israel education organization StandWithUs, whose CEO Roz Rothstein told JNS.org Feb. 17 that Hagel’s statement at Rutgers “implies that he may buy into very troublesome ideology that accuses Jews of controlling the government, the media, and so on.”
“One would expect that this raises a red flag, so I am sure he will be given an opportunity to explain exactly what he was thinking when he made such an egregious statement,” Rothstein said.