On New Year’s Eve, with Republicans and Democrats negotiating an eleventh-hour deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, President Obama did something strange. He called a press conference, styled as a campaign event, to mock and taunt the Republicans whose votes were still needed on the legislation. Conservatives weren’t happy, and noted that this behavior would not exactly encourage the GOP to vote for the bill. But liberals in the press openly sneered at this concept. Would Republicans really act against their better judgment because Obama was mean to them?

No, they would not. Yet strangely liberals in the press are now taking the other side of that argument. Joshua Hersh reports today that, in retaliation for criticizing Chuck Hagel on Israel and Iran, the new defense secretary may hold a grudge and seek revenge on Israel and those opposed to the Iranian nuclear weapons program:

Indeed, in the days following his confirmation, Hagel has to return to Capitol Hill to help hash out a deal on a budget sequester that would impose massive cuts across the board to the Pentagon. Then he will negotiate with lawmakers over a more restrained budget trim that could affect military spending and jobs in states represented by his chief opponents on the Hill.

All the while, the issues that were elevated above all others by his chief antagonists — the ones that drove the most vociferous and inventive opposition to his confirmation — will sit firmly in the forefront of his docket: the military’s relationship with Israel, and America’s belligerence toward Iran….

An alternative view is that the fight only diluted the hardline pro-Israel position on military aid and Iran by making it partisan, and that Hagel, having won, now feels empowered by the hardliners’ failure to stop him.

This, of course, turns the argument in Hagel’s favor on its head. Those backing Hagel couldn’t seriously argue that he is competent or well-versed in the facts–after all, Hagel himself admitted he wasn’t knowledgeable and pledged to try his best not to let his stunning incompetence get in the way of those actually making policy. The best they could do was argue Hagel’s views wouldn’t matter.

That, however, was nothing compared to J Street’s response, expressed by Dylan Williams to Hersh. The J Street position is that pro-Israel voices should quiet down and realize just how… uncool it is to be pro-Israel:

“Celebrating this as a wedge issue is about the worst possible outcome from the point of view of the vast majority of the pro-Israel community,” said Dylan Williams, the director of government affairs for J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that supported Hagel’s nomination. “When you have SNL, the Daily Show, Colbert mocking the extent to which conservative members of Congress were falling over themselves to demonstrate the most hawkish positions on Israel, that’s something that the true pro-Israel community does not appreciate, and which we have every reason to believe the government of Israel itself does not appreciate.”

I’m sure Williams is right that the government of Israel doesn’t appreciate being mocked by America’s liberal popular culture. But is Jon Stewart really the best barometer on this? Here’s Stewart interviewing David Gregory in 2009, and objecting to the fact that Gregory brings no one on his show to defend Hamas:

Stewart: This always surprises me. Why can’t any American politician criticize Israel in any way for their behavior? I’m watching these shows, and there’s not one person going “Jeez, it’s kind of complex. Yeah, Hamas is a bad actor, they shouldn’t be throwing missiles, but gosh, you know, the treatment of the Palestinian people for the past 50 years, not so nice either.” (Wild applause.) It just seems like it’s a more complicated situation than is portrayed.

Gregory: Well, but it’s complicated in terms of the whole situation, remains complicated. In this particular instance, there’s very little love for Hamas–not in America, not in Arab capitals, Abu Mazen, who leads Fatah on the West Bank, has criticized Hamas. There isn’t a lot of admiration for Hamas’s tactics, or even their strategic vision.

And we can all be happy for that, I think, since Hamas’s tactics are terroristic and their strategic vision is genocide. Does Williams really think that the government of Israel watches programs like that and thinks for a second that pro-Israel Republicans are the problem? Is the lack of moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas a bad thing? Because in Jon Stewart’s opinion, it is.

What’s really going on here? It can’t really be that Williams longs for the day when Hamas gets equal American airtime. And the left can’t really believe that Hagel is a true friend of Israel but will seek to punish the Jewish state as defense secretary because he didn’t like the way Ted Cruz spoke to him one time. The more likely answer is that liberals are suddenly worried that Hagel’s critics were right all along.

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