The pushback against Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s new nominee for secretary of Defense, has been swift and sustained.
Almost as soon as Hagel’s name was floated on background as a likely nominee, Israel and gay-rights advocates sprang to criticize the former Republican senator and noted Iraq war critic. He voted against Iran sanctions, and the Republican Jewish Coalition aired a long list of grievances that reads like a point-by-point antithesis of what staunch Israel backers would look for in a Cabinet official: with his name missing from a series of lawmaker letters, Hagel was on the wrong side of issues from Hezbollah to Hamas to Iran’s nuclear program, the RJC said.
And in 1998, Hagel made an anti-gay comment about ambassadorial nominee Jim Hormel, opposing him as “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel apologized last month.
Now that Obama has announced Hagel as his pick despite all the backlash against him, that backlash has begun anew.
The Emergency Committee for Israel, the Bill-Kristol-founded Israel group that typically takes a hawkish line and airs campaign ads against Democrats, has posted a new website attacking Hagel — www.chuckhagel.com — urging readers to call their senators and oppose his nomination. The site hosts a trove of opposition research on Hagel’s votes, plus the ad ECI already aired opposing Hagel on cable TV in the Washington, D.C., area last month.
The Anti-Defamation League, a group founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism, doesn’t sound too excited. The group’s president, Abraham Foxman, released a statement that began with the conciliatory note of respecting Obama’s prerogative, but continued with criticism.
“I trust that the confirmation process will provide an opportunity for Senator Hagel to address concerns about his positions, which seem so out of sync with President Obama’s clear commitment on issues like Iran sanctions, isolating Hamas and Hezbollah and the president’s strong support for a deepening of U.S. Israel strategic cooperation,” Foxman wrote. “I particularly hope Senator Hagel will clarify and explain his comments about the ‘Jewish Lobby’ that were hurtful to many in the Jewish Community.”
Hagel’s 1998 anti-gay comment hasn’t faded, either.
The gay GOP group Lob Cabin Republicans took out a full-page A7 ad in today’s Washington Post, surfacing a timeline of Hagel’s anti-gay record.
But Hagel also has his defenders, as well as those who might just be willing to hear him out, among gay-rights groups and Israel lobbyists.
Notably, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which gained prominence in the gay-rights community during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal push, released a measured statement from Executive Director Allyson Robinson, stating that “if confirmed, [Hagel] will be an effective leader for the Pentagon,” while calling on him to fully endorse gay rights in the military.