Commentary Magazine


Powell Dismisses Hagel “Jewish Lobby” Controversy

Are we sure Colin Powell was on “Meet the Press” yesterday to help Chuck Hagel? Because he could have done a much better job by just staying home:

David Gregory: He referred to a “Jewish lobby,” saying it intimidates a lot of people on Capitol Hill. What kind of thinking does that reflect? Can you understand pro-Israel Senators being concerned by that comment?

Colin Powell: They shouldn’t be that concerned. That term slips out from time to time. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has occasionally used the same thing. And so, Chuck should have said “Israeli lobby” and not “Jewish lobby,” and perhaps he needs to write on a blackboard a hundred times “It is the Israeli lobby.” But there is an Israeli lobby. There are people who are very supportive of the state of Israel. I’m very supportive of the state of Israel. So is Senator Hagel, and you’ll see that in the confirmation hearings. But it doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.

Powell’s oddly dismissive attitude aside, the fact that Hagel uttered the words “Jewish lobby” is not the only problem here. It’s the context that matters–the idea that, as Hagel suggested, there is a cabal of influential Jews who “intimidate” Washington politicians into taking pro-Israel positions. Hagel could have substituted the term “Jewish lobby” with “Israel lobby” (or “Israeli lobby,” as Powell bizarrely dubs it) and it wouldn’t make his message any less Walt-and-Mearsheimer-esque.

At NRO, Eliana Johnson calls Powell out on another glaring contradiction:

Powell’s bizarre defense of Hagel took an even more troubling turn as he decried the “dark vein of intolerance” in some parts of the Republican Party. In particular, he singled out former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu for their racial insensitivity, charging that they “look down on minorities.” Palin attacked the Obama administration for withholding information on the Benghazi scandal, accusing the president of doing a “shuck and jive”; “That’s a racial-era, slave term,” Powell said. Sununu slammed the president’s first debate performance against Mitt Romney, calling Obama “lazy and detached”; “Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African-Americans, the second word is ‘shiftless’ and then there’s another word that goes along with it.” 

One might think that a modicum of self-awareness would prevent Powell from making such charges after flippantly dismissing the concerns raised by many in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities. Don’t such remarks just — woopsy daisy! — “slip out from time to time”? And if Powell finds the use of slave-era terminology offensive, one wonders why he has difficulty understanding that, among Jews, the imputation of dual loyalties rankles, even if “it many not mean anything to most Americans.”

So by Powell’s logic, calling President Obama “lazy and detached” is a symptom of the GOP’s “dark vein of intolerance”–but espousing dual-loyalty myths about the so-called “Jewish lobby” is an understandable slip-of-the-tongue that could happen to anyone. I can’t tell if the “common slip-up” argument is just Powell freelancing or if this is actually going to be Hagel’s defense during the confirmation hearings. But if it’s the latter, we’re in for an interesting show.