President Obama’s disappointing nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense has been compounded by disappointing behavior from expected Hagel opponents.
Several supposedly pro-Israel Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, will most likely vote for Hagel’s confirmation. Worse, AIPAC — the most influential pro-Israel organization in the United States — is taking a backseat to the entire process rather than publicly expressing their obvious concern over Obama’s pick. AIPAC spokesman Marshall Whitman: “AIPAC does not take positions on presidential nominations.” This appears inscrutable, considering Hagel’s dangerous views on Iran, lack of support for Israel, and the critical role the secretary of Defense plays in America’s foreign policy.
However, AIPAC’s decision to stay quiet says more about Obama than it does about AIPAC. Specifically, that his support for Israel is questionable enough to make such a strategy seem wise to some.
According to Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner:
Over the course of his career, Hagel has shown hostility toward the state of Israel in general, and toward AIPAC specifically. … Choosing Hagel as Secretary of Defense is the equivalent of Obama extending his arm and pointing his middle finger at AIPAC.
While Senator, Hagel was one of the few who refused to sign on to even the most generic, watered-down, pro-Israel resolutions. In 2006, when Israel was defending itself against Hezbollah terrorists operating out of Lebanon, Hagel said: “This madness must stop.” He accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend — the country and people of Lebanon.”
There are many more examples of Hagel’s anti-Israel sentiments, too many to review in a short article. So why won’t AIPAC push back?
Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic writes:
The people who run AIPAC aren’t stupid: They know that if they foment strong opposition to Hagel on the Hill, they will earn President Obama’s enmity, whether or not they succeed or fail.
But Barack Obama’s an adult, and has stated he is a staunch supporter of Israel, right? Shouldn’t a little pushback from AIPAC be expected regarding this pick, and shouldn’t his staunch support for Israel not be threatened by a row with AIPAC? How thin-skinned and fickle is he?
Well, AIPAC believes his convictions are so weak, they are staying quiet about Chuck Hagel.
By not fighting this nomination, AIPAC has taken the stance that the president’s pro-Israel position is so tenuous that any criticism of him could prove harmful to the America-Israel relationship. By keeping quiet, AIPAC infers a belief that Obama’s pro-Israel views are unprincipled, and therefore he must be pandered to so that he doesn’t turn petty. That AIPAC is so afraid to voice any disapproval of a blatantly anti-Israel nominee for secretary of Defense – again, we are talking about Chuck Hagel, exactly the type of fight that should justify AIPAC’s existence — speaks volumes about how much they distrust Obama.