The political mugging of Israel over the Hagel and Kerry nominations

President Barack Obama with Senator Charles Hagel

Following the furore over the possible nomination of Charles Hagel as US Secretary of Defence, Gil Troy in his Jerusalem Post blog writes that Israel was sandbagged in a political mugging over the nomination of Hagel: (Emphases are mine.)

During what should be the season of Christmas cheer, Israel and the pro-Israel community are being mugged politically. In the media hall of mirrors that magnifies straw men into monsters, Israel’s critics are using a few personal attacks against Barack Obama’s possible nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, to damn the Zionist movement, it seems. And in another, even more perverse inversion, Israel’s frustrating, uninspiring, yet free and democratic elections are being used by many, including American Jews, to declare themselves “fed up” with Israel.

The Hagel Finagel reflects the political sleight of hand being used repeatedly – and effectively – to intimidate America’s pro-Israel community. Chuck Hagel is a former Republican Senator from Nebraska who nurtured his reputation as an independent free-lancer on foreign policy. He abandoned Republicans by condemning the Iraq war and he broke the Senate consensus by often expressing skepticism when AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations solicited legislative letters and resolutions. Those qualities, which Obama finds appealing, are controversial – and should be debated if Obama nominates Hagel. And in our Google-addled, zero-tolerance, polarized political world that scrutinizes every nominee’s public statements, Hagel’s comments about what he once called the “Jewish lobby” but more frequently considered  the heavyhanded “Israel lobby,” demand scrutiny.  Many of us therefore have questioned Hagel’s suitability for Obama’s Cabinet; a few have gone too far and called him anti-Semitic.

Neither the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations nor AIPAC commented on the Hagel trial balloon, let alone slurred him. But those pesky facts have not prevented a massive counter-reaction to the Hagel critics, with articles in the New York TimesHuffington PostOpen Zion, the New Yorker, hysterically accusing the entire pro-Israel community of libelling Hagel, while caricaturing pro-Israel activists as character assassins and “neo-McCarthyites.”  Progressives have made this case so zealously that when I recently Googled Hagel and “Israel lobby,” the first nine articles defended Hagel while denouncing the pro-Israel community, including AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents, for ideological hooliganism.

This trial by demagoguery and innuendo, exaggerating the attacks and defining everyone who takes a position by their most extreme ally, is meant to demonize and intimidate Israel’s American supporters.

Troy goes on to describe the disconnect between Israel and her supporters, or ex-supporters, in the US especially over the impending Israeli elections. Read the whole thing for a clear if slightly depressing look at Israel-Diaspora relations.

A similar post at CiFWatch describes the demonisation of Hagel’s critics in Glenn Greenwald’s post in the Guardian’s Comment is Free (CiF).

As is the case with most bigoted and simplistic commentators who impute ill motives to their political opponents, Greenwald is unburdened by political nuance and thus employs the word neocon to attack Hagel’s opponents even though some of the most prominent groups who opposed the possible nomination are clearly not of the neocon persuasion.

For instance, there was significant opposition to Hagel’s nomination by decidedly liberal Jewish groups such as the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League.

Similarly, liberal US political leaders such as Congressman Barney Frank (one of the most prominent openly gay members of the House of Representatives) and Senator Chuck Schumer have expressed strong opposition to Hagel.

In addition to Frank, some gay advocacy organizations – which are very liberal on most issues – have similarly expressed opposition to Hagel (or at least have expressed serious reservations).

Fierce opposition to Hagel has also come from the influential liberal activist, and founder of Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas – who has launched a campaign against the nomination.


Despite the fact that much of the opposition to Hagel’s nomination has come from those who would never identify with the values of neo-conservationism, decrying an alleged “neocon smear campaign” is an easy way of imputing sinister motivations to such opponents – by suggesting that they’re motivated not by what’s best for the US, but, rather what’s best for Israel, and that such “Israel-firsters” are willing to defame anyone who stands in their way.

Read the whole post to get an idea of how the Guardian-left see sinister motives even in genuine political adversaries.

John Kerry, nominated for Secretary of Defence

While Charles Hagel’s nomination still hangs in the balance, John Kerry’s nomination as Secretary of State looks set to pass easily, with little opposition from even pro-Israel groups. Yet Kerry’s record on Israel is dismal, and Moshe Phillips in the Algemeiner warns Israel to brace itself:

President Obama’s decision to nominate Senator John Kerry as his next Secretary of State will prove to be a disaster for Israel.

The choice of the American Jewish establishment to vehemently protest the expected nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel while granting Kerry a free pass for his anti-Israel behavior follows their longtime pattern. Hagel is a Republican who has a history of marking foolish remarks regarding Israel and has long been seen as an independent thinker on Middle East policy with a non-interventionist outlook.

Kerry, however, is the much bigger problem for Israel.


When it comes to criticizing Democrats who are hostile to Israel the Jewish elites have a history of weakness. From Jesse Jackson to Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama, Democrats are treated with kid gloves and given the benefit of the doubt while pro-Israel Republicans are never given their due praise.


Kerry’s record since his presidential campaign tells a different tale. It was clear Kerry would not run for president again and his policy shift on Israel was ignored. What’s worse is Kerry’s attitudes on Israel are still being ignored by the pro-Israel community.

Even Kerry’s failure to sign the December 20, 2012 letter in support of continuing sanctions against Iran has not been a matter of concern for pro-Israel activists. And this even though 73 of Kerry’s fellow senators signed the letter.

Kerry’s Israel problem goes back much farther than his troubling attitude towards Iranian sanctions.


It should be apparent that when it comes to pressuring Israel on Israeli settlements John Kerry plans to pick up at Foggy Bottom where James Baker left off.

Kerry’s idea that the settlements are the main problem echoes the rhetoric of Yasser Arafat’s successors Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. In his March 2009 remarks Kerry even adopted the Arab view that Jerusalem is one of “the big three issues.” Jerusalem is no issue – it is Israel’s capital.

The view that Israel and the Palestinian Arabs equally share blame for the continuation of a decades old conflict is just  another part of Kerry’s troubling perspective.


At the Democratic Convention in 2012 Kerry ignored the decision of his party leadership to remove Jerusalem from their platform and instead opened his podium speech by attacking Romney for his “neo-con advisors” and then proceeded to quote Benjamin Netanyahu out of context. You can read the full speech here.

We all know what Kerry meant when he said “neo-cons” – it is code speak for pro-Zionists. Kerry’s words show that he will be hostile to the very existence  of Israeli towns in the suburbs of Jerusalem. Democrats consider these “settlements” to be part of the “Occupied West Bank” and he will label them as such.

John Kerry’s leadership at State will be the beginning of a new effort by the Obama Administration to pressure Israel to surrender territory to the Palestinian Authority, deny Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem, negotiate with Hamas and accept a hostile Palestinian State along its vulnerable borders.

Israel and its American supporters are in for a very tough time with Kerry and they seem to have no idea.

If for some reason Kerry’s nomination falls, will the “neo-cons” – aka Israel’s supporters – be blamed for that too? And if his nomination is approved, will the “neo-cons” be accused of trying to stymie it anyway? It seems that Israel and her supporters are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Israel and its supporters, whether neo-cons or not, had better prepare themselves thoroughly for an uncomfortable 4 years ahead.

This entry was posted in International relations and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The political mugging of Israel over the Hagel and Kerry nominations

  1. boo hoo the American people are fighting back. that’s not fair!

    • anneinpt says:

      It’s nothing to do with the American people “fighting back”. It’s to do with the unfair and unjust smearing of Israel’s supporters, essentially blaming them for criticising Hagel and his nomination.

      If you read my article you will see that pro-Israel groups like AIPAC etc. didn’t even join in the critique of Hagel – so why are they being blamed and smeared?

      And since when was “neo-con” a pejorative? Similarly “Zionist”. Only because they are used as euphemisms for Jews. It’s politically incorrect to be antisemitic – so much easier to slander “neo-cons” and Zionists – and then to call that “America fighting back”. Poor little America, having to fight against the mighty Jewish nation who constitute, um, about 0.0002% of the world’s population.

Comments are closed.