Will ADL, AIPAC Find the Courage to Stand up to Obama on Hagel?

The apparent acquiescence of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as Secretary of Defense is both puzzling and wrong.

Hagel, who slandered Israel’s supporters as the “Jewish lobby” (a term redolent with antisemitic charges of dual loyalty), and who has opposed not only military action but also sanctions against the Iranian regime, represents everything that the ADL and AIPAC were built to oppose. 

And yet ADL director Abraham H. Foxman has raised the white flag on Hagel’s nomination--”Senator Hagel would not have been my first choice, but I respect the president’s prerogative”--while AIPAC has remained studiously silent, lest it risk its “bipartisanship,” as if there is a halfway point between wrong and right.

In their weak stances, both the ADL and AIPAC risk surrendering their core principles. 

Foxman, for example, dislikes the term “Jewish lobby”--and even the milder, less overtly prejudicial, “Israel lobby”--so much that he wrote an entire book pointing out the danger of the conspiracy theory they implied: The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and The Myth of Jewish Control

Surely the “deadliest lie” would call for strong condemnation? No--Foxman merely hopes that Hagel will “will clarify and explain his comments.”

As for AIPAC, it has spent the better part of two decades warning every legislator on Capitol Hill about the threat posed by Iran. The Internet Archive yields some of AIPAC’s old policy briefings from as far back as 1996, advocating for sanctions and warning that the U.S. should act alone if necessary: “Some matters are so vital to our national security interests that the United States must act. Such is the case in dealing with Iran.”

That was during the first Clinton administration, before Barack Obama had ever held public office. It is difficult to think of any regional security issue that has been a higher priority in AIPAC’s public advocacy in recent years than the danger of a nuclear Iran. 

Yet AIPAC cannot find its voice to offer the most obvious and straightforward rejection of a nominee who has been one of the few voices on the other side of that argument.

What is holding the ADL and AIPAC back? Certainly not the overwhelming weight of Hagel’s qualifications or the strength of his ideas. 

Hagel’s most well-known policies emerged during his rebellion against his party on the Iraq War, and were wrong. In 2007, for example, he backed a Democratic bill to require the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq to begin within 120 days. He also opposed the surge and (falsely) predicted its failure. 

Rather, it seems the ADL and AIPAC are failing to resist the Hagel nomination as they--by their own standards--ought because they fear that confronting Obama on this (or any other) issue means isolation from an administration that holds opposition in contempt.

Yet the Hagel nomination’s farcical “bipartisan” character, ironically, also offers an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation to defeat his candidacy. Hagel has critics on both left and right, and there are Democratic Senators who would jump at the opportunity to oppose him if it became politically safer to do so. 

That is why the ADL and AIPAC ought to speak out--to encourage those timid voices who are afraid to do what they know is right. 

Courage, a rare commodity in Washington, is all that is required. It is not too late.


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