Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jewish Democrats

Jewish Dems Fail to Speak Up on Hagel

Today’s Washington Post editorial opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary should provide encouragement for those seeking to derail the appointment. The Post rightly pointed out that Hagel’s positions on defense spending and stopping Iran’s nuclear program “fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.” The Post is right about that, but that is exactly why the talk about Hagel is raising alarms among those who fear that a second Obama administration will not follow through on the promises made by the president during his first term, with specific attention to his pledge to stop Iran from developing a nuclear capability.

However, those expecting that pro-Israel Jewish Democrats will be leading the charge to stop the appointment of a man who is a prominent critic of the Jewish state as well as of its American supporters are probably going to be disappointed. As this article published today in the Hill demonstrates, the unwillingness of influential Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin to oppose Hagel shows that any campaign against the nomination may be an uphill slog. Combined with the natural reluctance of many senators to oppose a former colleague and friend, the inability of Hagel’s foes to get prominent Jewish Democrats to take a stand may ensure his victory.

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Today’s Washington Post editorial opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary should provide encouragement for those seeking to derail the appointment. The Post rightly pointed out that Hagel’s positions on defense spending and stopping Iran’s nuclear program “fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.” The Post is right about that, but that is exactly why the talk about Hagel is raising alarms among those who fear that a second Obama administration will not follow through on the promises made by the president during his first term, with specific attention to his pledge to stop Iran from developing a nuclear capability.

However, those expecting that pro-Israel Jewish Democrats will be leading the charge to stop the appointment of a man who is a prominent critic of the Jewish state as well as of its American supporters are probably going to be disappointed. As this article published today in the Hill demonstrates, the unwillingness of influential Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin to oppose Hagel shows that any campaign against the nomination may be an uphill slog. Combined with the natural reluctance of many senators to oppose a former colleague and friend, the inability of Hagel’s foes to get prominent Jewish Democrats to take a stand may ensure his victory.

Though the headline in the Hill spoke of Jewish Democrats being “divided” on Hagel, the only senator they quoted as opposing him was Joe Lieberman, who is an independent and is leaving the Senate this month anyway. While Ben Cardin and Richard Blumenthal took no position, their silence as well as the no-show attitude of the National Jewish Democratic Council has turned the debate into one between Jewish conservatives like the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and the Republican Jewish Coalition and supporters of Hagel like Peter Beinart, Joe Klein and J Street.

Of course, the reason why Klein and Beinart are so enthusiastic about Hagel illustrates why the pro-Israel community is so upset about the prospect of his running the Pentagon. His antagonism to Israel has never been a secret and the left hopes he will fulfill their fantasies about a second Obama administration putting the screws to Israel about the Palestinians. They also like his lack of interest in taking on Iran or even threatening the use of force to bring Tehran to its senses about its drive for nuclear weapons. Open supporters of Iran such as the Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran feel the same way.

While Klein has written about AIPAC beginning to use its muscle to stop Hagel, any such effort will require Democrats to put up or shut up about their party and president being stalwart supporters of the Jewish state. Simply put, a Hagel nomination is incompatible with any idea that this administration or the Democratic Party can be viewed as reliable allies of Israel. It will be up to people like Cardin and Blumenthal and the NJDC to speak up about Hagel in the coming weeks for that pledge to have any real meaning.

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Democrats’ Jewish Problem is Obama

The party line from Democrats this year has been to deny that President Obama is in any trouble of losing Jewish support to Mitt Romney in November. But the announcement that a group of Jewish liberals are seeking to form a group to counter the Republican Jewish Coalition’s campaign against Obama is proof the president is in trouble.

But these Jewish liberal donors who wish to offset the efforts of Romney donors such as Sheldon Adelson are making a mistake if they think all that is needed is to throw some money at the Jewish market. If the RJC’s “buyer’s remorse” ad campaign has traction it is because Jewish voters know that President Obama is, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote yesterday, “not in love with the idea of Israel.” This is not, as one Democrat told Politico, a case of Obama being “swift-boated.” The GOP isn’t making up novel criticisms of the president so much as it is simply highlighting what everyone already knows

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The party line from Democrats this year has been to deny that President Obama is in any trouble of losing Jewish support to Mitt Romney in November. But the announcement that a group of Jewish liberals are seeking to form a group to counter the Republican Jewish Coalition’s campaign against Obama is proof the president is in trouble.

But these Jewish liberal donors who wish to offset the efforts of Romney donors such as Sheldon Adelson are making a mistake if they think all that is needed is to throw some money at the Jewish market. If the RJC’s “buyer’s remorse” ad campaign has traction it is because Jewish voters know that President Obama is, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote yesterday, “not in love with the idea of Israel.” This is not, as one Democrat told Politico, a case of Obama being “swift-boated.” The GOP isn’t making up novel criticisms of the president so much as it is simply highlighting what everyone already knows

The credibility of those who assert that Obama is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House is undermined not only by the memory of the fights he picked with the Jewish state over the course of his first three years in office or by the fact that he was determined to distance the United States from Israel in an attempt to draw a contrast between his policies and those of his predecessor. The fact that the president has been forced to resort to a Jewish charm offensive intended to erase these incidents from the public’s memory is testimony to the White House’s concern that there will be a political price to be paid for the distance Obama created by himself and the Israeli government.

As Politico noted in the same article, such Republican efforts to eat into the Democrats’ historic advantage among Jewish voters are not new. Major investments were made four and eight years ago to no avail as John Kerry and Barack Obama won huge Jewish majorities that were second only to African-Americans in terms of margins for the Democrats.

The difference this year is not about Republican campaign tactics. It is about the Democrats’ heightened vulnerability. For decades, Jewish Republicans longed for another presidential candidate like Ronald Reagan whose percentage of Jewish votes has not been equaled in the last 30 years. But what they really needed was not another Reagan but another Jimmy Carter. While Obama may not be as unpopular among Jews as Carter, there is little question that his open hostility to Israel’s government will ensure a drastic reduction from the 78 percent of Jewish votes he won in 2008, a loss that could put battleground states like Florida or Pennsylvania in jeopardy for the incumbent. A Democratic campaign targeting Jews may stem some of the bleeding, but their problem is not Adelson, his money or the RJC, let alone Mitt Romney. The Democrats’ only liability as far as Jewish voters are concerned is the man on the top of their ticket.

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