A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:
“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”
Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.
The National Jewish Democratic Council has been notably quiet on the defense secretary nomination debate so far. Now that it’s clear Chuck Hagel’s the choice, the group finally issued this quasi-endorsement today:
“President Barack Obama’s unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the President. While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel—on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran’s nuclear program.”
The NJDC is in an awkward position, considering Hagel’s anti-Israel history, which was adeptly summarized in an opposition research document published by one Democratic group in 2007:
The disproportionate character assault aimed at Paul Ryan after his RNC speech (which, incidentally, bore a striking resemblance to the backlash against Niall Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek essay) is driven by one thing: sheer terror from the Democrats that Ryan is going to break through to independent voters.
But the attacks just got a lot uglier this morning. The SF Gate blog reports that California’s Democratic Party Chair John Burton likened Ryan to Joseph Goebbels at a breakfast for the Democratic National convention (h/t Burns & Haberman):
“They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie… Joseph Goebbels — it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton said Monday before the Blake Hotel breakfast. He said Ryan told “a bold-faced lie and he doesn’t care that it was a lie. That was Goebbels, the big lie.”
Reminded that Brown drew heat for comparing the messaging of Meg Whitman’s 2010 GOP gubernatorial campaign to Goebbels, he said sarcastically, “[Bleep] that’s right, she won the election!
Burton shrugged at Brown getting in trouble. “He won it big. Goddam he was in trouble.”
Not only did Burton compare Ryan to the Nazi leader, he shrugged it off and refused to back down when confronted about his language — quipping that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won an election after comparing his opponent, Meg Whitman, to Goebbels in 2010.
The National Jewish Democratic Council may have bit off more than it could chew with its allegations about Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has apologized for making similar charges that the casino mogul profited from prostitution in his Macau property in China. But the NJDC has yet to back off on its attack, and the result is that Adelson has filed a $60 million libel lawsuit against the group.
Optimistic Jewish Democrats may hope the group will be able to raise some money from liberals who hate the billionaire who has contributed record amounts to Republican candidates as well as many Jewish philanthropic causes. But the problem with the NJDC posing as a martyr being harassed by the deep-pocketed conservative is that their behavior has been indefensible. Disagree with Adelson’s stands on the issues and his taste in candidates if you like, but calling someone a pimp without a shred of proof is not the stuff of First Amendment poster children. Proving libel is difficult, but on the face of it, the NJDC is going to be hard-pressed to prove its mudslinging wasn’t knowingly false as well as malicious.
As Jonathan wrote earlier today, former President Jimmy Carter has been granted a prime-time speaking role at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, despite his history of anti-Israel activism and objections from liberal Jewish groups. Both the National Jewish Democratic Council and Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman criticized Carter’s convention role in comments to “Contentions” today.
“He is flawed, he’s got an obsession with Israel, a biased obsession that borders on anti-Semitism,” said Foxman. “So that’s not somebody I think should grace the podium of a national convention.”
Foxman added that Carter probably lobbied organizers for the speaking role, putting the DNC in an awkward position. “I don’t think he deserves to be there, except it’s hard to refuse a platform to a former living president especially when he asks for it,” said Foxman.
NJDC President and CEO David Harris also unloaded on Carter in an emailed statement.
I wrote yesterday about the National Jewish Democratic Council’s self-destructive attack on Sheldon Adelson’s “dirty money.” Since then, it appears that some responsible figures have sat down with the NJDC and gently explained why this campaign was a terrible move. The Jewish Democratic group posted a quasi-mea culpa on its website late yesterday, effectively ending its anti-Adelson campaign (h/t JTA):
Regarding our recent campaign surrounding Sheldon Adelson, we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination; we stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts. Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement this afternoon commending House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for “admit[ting] to anti-Semitism within the House Republican caucus” during an interview with Mike Allen today. The problem? Cantor never did that. In fact, when Allen asked him whether he’s detected anti-Semitism from members of Congress, Cantor replied with an unequivocal “no.”
Either the NJDC didn’t actually listen to Cantor’s comments (which you can find here), or just thought the political attack was too good to pass up. The group issued the following:
One of the most disturbing aspects of modern American Jewish life is the almost obsessive desire of many Jews to universalize every aspect of Jewish belief while downplaying the original meanings of customs and ritual. Leftist Rabbi Arthur Waskow help set this in motion decades ago with his “Freedom Seder” in which he hijacked the Haggadah recited by Jews on Passover to promote other causes. Since then, transposing the seder in order to morph the Jewish holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people into something that has nothing to do with the Jews and Judaism has become so commonplace it is something of a cliché.
This year, there are more egregious examples of this trend. The National Jewish Democratic Council has published a new version of the “Four Questions” from the Haggadah that is a paean, not to the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, but to the wonders of Barack Obama, to whom the NJDC directs Americans to express thanks rather than their Creator. One need only read the NJDC’s questions to understand their desperation to make up for three years of Israel-bashing by President Obama as well as to get a feel for the attitude of the group toward the president that can only be characterized as worshipful.