WASHINGTON – Israel has recently become a major issue in the Democrat-Republican feud in Washington. Even those genuinely worried about Chuck Hagel's appointment as defense secretary should be far more concerned that Israel is once again a pawn in the American capital's political game.
The Emergency Committee for Israel was a major player in the fight for the Jewish vote in the latest US elections, taking care to represent Obama as anti-Israel and reluctant to fight Iran's nuclear program. Their anti-Obama campaign included videos and press releases which depicted the president in a negative light.
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The charge against Hagel's appointment took a similar direction. The same group that tried to discredit Obama is now on a mission to undercut Hagel's appointment. Having unearthed past Hagel quotes the group released a scathing advert on TV channels in New York and Washington.
"While President Obama says all options are on the table, Hagel says military action is not a viable, feasible action," the ad said.
From the anti-Hagel advert
Republicans are apparently under the impression that the presidential elections are still going on considering that Dan Senor, Mitt Romney's senior foreign policy adviser, continues to appear on TV to slam Hagel's appointment.
Israel's enemy or true friend?
Senor could have easily been Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political adviser, like Ron Dermer. Conversely, Axelrod could have filled the same role for Tzipi Livni or Shelly Yachimovich and push for a two-state solution.
The argument has also reached US media with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin taking up the rightist position in criticizing Hagel and the New York Times' Richard Cohen advocating for the ex-senator. Cohen says that Hagel's Senate hearing should decide who Israel's true friends really are.
Ari Fleischer, Jewish White House spokesman for the Bush administration, told CNN that Hagel will be a "disaster" for Israel. Aaron Miller, a Jewish-American diplomat whose interview with Hagel in 2006 provided ammunition against his appointment, said that Hagel's statements were distorted.
While the pro-Israel American Right attacked the Hagel appointment, the Left has played the defense through the National Jewish Democratic Council, J Street and other organizations.
Hold the same views. Obama and Hagel (Photo: MCT)
The conflict over the new defense secretary is reminiscent of Israel's settlement debate. Right wingers are convinced they are patriots defending the nation while the Left thinks Israel needs "tough love. "
Obama will not fold
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham defined Hagel's proposed role as defense secretary as the "most opposed" to Israel in history.
However, many would note that Caspar Weinberger, President Ronald Reagan's defense secretary, was much more critical of Israel than Hagel.
Hagel's record does include a few questionable statements, like his reference to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as the "Jewish Lobby" and his refusal to sign petitions by AIPAC.
Indeed he has a lot to explain in the upcoming Senate hearing and in private regarding Israel and Iran. Nevertheless, as a senator he consistently voted for military aid for Israel and initiated anti-Hamas legislation in 2006.
Eric Cantor, Jewish leader of the Republican majority in the House and a staunch Israel supporter, announced his disappointment at Hagel's nomination. Obama, however, is showing no signs of capitulating.
Elections over, bashing continues. Romney (Photo: AFP)
In fact, Israel has nothing to do with Obama's choice. Obama's Israel and Iran policy hasn't changed. His decision is based on the belief that Hagel will stand strong in the face of pressure against major cuts in the defense budget.
Hagel himself is far from being anti-Israel. But to win the Senate's trust he will have to convince at least 10 Democrat senators, Jewish and non-Jewish Israel supporters, to remove their objection to his appointment.
Hagel made the first step in this direction in an interview for a Nebraska paper and in private talks.
The White House examined Hagel's voting history regarding Israel and Iran and came to the conclusion that as far as US-Israel military cooperation and sanctions against Iran go, Hagel's views are in line with the president's.
Sources close to Obama were satisfied with Hagel's views regarding the two-state solution – not just as an American interest but as an Israeli one, as well.
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