Pro-Israel Lobbies Split Over Hagel

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President Barack Obama shakes hands with former Sen. Chuck Hagel during a personnel announcement in the East Room at the White House, on Jan. 7, 2013 in Washington.

“The Jewish lobby,” as former Sen. Chuck Hagel once called pro-Israeli forces in Washington, is divided over his nomination for secretary of defense.

Political action committees describing themselves as pro-Israel were on opposite sides of several high-profile congressional races. Now they’re at odds over President Barack Obama’s decision to nominate the Republican from Nebraska to run the Pentagon.

The Washington Political Action Committee, for example, contributed to the campaigns of four Republican Senate candidates, then-incumbent Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Reps. Heather Wilson of New Mexico and Allen West of Florida.

J Street’s PAC financially supported the Democrat in all four races, Harvard University professor Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Rep, Martin Heinrich in New Mexico, and Patrick Murphy in Florida. All four won.

The founder of Washington PAC, Morris Amitay, says that if he were a senator, he wouldn’t vote to confirm Hagel.

“It’s a poor choice not only regarding Israel but it’s a poor choice for national security,” Amitay said. “Someone who basically has been fairly soft on strengthening Iran sanctions and who seems to feel there can be major cuts in the defense budget is very poor choice for the United States.”

J Street, though, is behind Hagel, urging supporters to call their senators and ask them to confirm him, noting his support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It was important to push back and not allow him to be yet another person who was swift-boated into withdrawing from national service,” said a J Street spokesman, Alan Elsner. “We don’t think he’s out of the mainstream at all. Those who are attacking him are out of the mainstream.”

As for Hagel, he told his hometown paper today:  “The distortions about my record have been astonishing.

There is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one vote that matters that hurt Israel,”’ Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska. “I didn’t sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn’t solve a problem.”

The criticism stems from an interview for a 2008  book in which Hagel told Mideast scholar Aaron David Miller that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. But I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”

Hagel had used the term “Jewish lobby” interchangeably with “pro-Israeli lobby,” Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, said in an interview. The author said he didn’t think the former senator was in any way “anti-Israel.”

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