Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Has the Shoe Dropped on Hagel?

On Fox News Sunday this morning, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward said that some Democratic senators have called the White House asking if Chuck Hagel will withdraw from the battle to confirm him as secretary of defense. The apparent answer to that question is not yet. But the furor over the Washington Free Beacon’s reporting of a statement Hagel made in 2007 alleging that the Israeli Foreign Ministry was running the U.S. State Department is turning up the heat on the nominee.

On Thursday, Contentions called on some of the major Jewish organizations that have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate about Hagel to finally break their silence on the issue and to demand an explanation about the 2007 speech given at Rutgers University during which Hagel is alleged to have made the crack about the Israelis and the State Department. Last night, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have made such statements. The ADL told JTA Hagel needed to explain the remark but the American Jewish Committee went farther in saying that “further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”

These comments are part of the growing furor over Hagel that is not going to be defused by the nominee’s assurance to Senator Lindsay Graham that he “doesn’t recall” making the controversial statements about Israel and the State Department. The allegations about the Rutgers speech are credible not just because of the contemporaneous account of the event but also because of Hagel’s history of saying similar things about the “Jewish lobby” and disavowals of past stands favoring outreach to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. As Hagel “twists in the wind” — a Watergate allusion made today by Woodward —pressure is growing on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon him.

With each passing day during the Congressional recess over the next week, the Hagel deathwatch will become a bigger and bigger story. Though Democrats closed ranks behind the president’s choice in a partisan votes on Hagel last week the failure to block a delay of the decision on him via a filibuster on Thursday will give some of them the time to change their minds. Some of the pro-Israel senators like Chuck Schumer who have been using the silence of mainstream Jewish groups about his nomination as cover for their decision to go along with what they knew was a questionable choice are now on the spot. As John wrote in the New York Post on Friday, it’s time for Schumer to live up to his boast that he was the “guardian” of Israel in the Senate. In light of the latest revelations about the nominee’s record, that pose is meaningless if he doesn’t jump off the Hagel bandwagon.

It is true that many of the Republicans who voted to oppose cloture of Hagel on Thursday were doing so in order to try to force the White House to give up more information about what the president knew about the Benghazi terror attack. But the extra time gives members on both sides of the aisle to reconsider the Hagel fiasco.

The White House campaign to silence concerns about his prejudicial statements about Israel and its supporters that had seemingly quashed opposition to the nomination is no longer working. The nominee’s incompetent performance during his confirmation hearing only served to reinforce the qualms that many senators had about both his qualifications and his troubling record of out-of-the-mainstream stands on Israel and Iran. The administration can grumble all it likes about how unfair the scrutiny on the nominee has been but the fact is Hagel’s chances of leading the Pentagon are being sunk by the nominee, not his critics.

In the coming days, the calls for Hagel to withdraw will grow. So, too, will the pressure on pro-Israel Democrats to stop acting as the nominee’s guardian rather than the cause they have pledged to protect.