Muted criticism from Jewish, LGBT Obama allies on Hagel pick
Key Jewish and gay groups aren’t ecstatic about President Obama’s decision to nominate Chuck Hagel on Monday to lead the Pentagon, but leaders representing both communities are signaling that they won’t wage war against the pick.
While there is reluctance from groups and individuals generally supportive of Obama, critics from the Jewish and gay communities aren’t going on the record with outright opposition to the choice of the former Nebraska senator.
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said in a Monday statement that Hagel “would not have been my first choice” but that it’s the “president’s prerogative” to choose who he wants serving in his Cabinet.
Foxman does, though, hope that the confirmation process will clarify Hagel’s positions that “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 also wants to see Hagel “clarify and explain his comments about the ‘Jewish Lobby’ that were hurtful to many in the Jewish Community.”
Just-retired Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) had been a vocal critic of the pick as recently as a few days ago — in part because of Hagel’s 1998 comments that a U.S. diplomat was “openly, aggresively gay,” for which he has since apologized — but has come to terms with Obama’s choice. “I was hoping the president wouldn’t nominate him,” Frank told the Boston Globe on Monday morning, but he’s willing to look past Hagel’s controversial comments on gay Americans in the interest of the country’s national security priorities.
“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank added. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the group that Hagel once called “the Jewish lobby,” hasn’t weighed in with a statement of opposition, as some have expected it might. The Emergency Committee for Israel, a Bill Kristol-led group, has aired ads opposing the pick and just launched a website to do the same, but would never be mistaken for an Obama-aligned group.
J Street, a group that advocates for U.S. leadership in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has applauded the nomination. Hagel will be a “valued voice of reason” in the Obama cabinet, the group said in a statement.
“J Street welcomes the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next Defense Secretary of the United States and feels confident he will be a great addition to President Obama’s cabinet. We look forward to his speedy confirmation by the Senate,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s president, said Monday.
Other Obama allies are also coming in line.
The National Jewish Democratic Council said Monday that while Hagel has a “questionable record on Israel,” it expects him to follow Obama’s “lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel.”
OutServe-SLDN, which represents LGBT members of the military, is also satisfied with Hagel’s apology and hopes to see him clarify his views on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the confirmation process. “Senator Hagel clearly has the military credentials and experience to do the job of running our nation’s Defense Department – at OutServe-SLDN, we have no doubt about that – and we appreciate his apology for the anti-gay remarks he made in 1998 and the commitment he expressed to LGBT service members and their families,” the group said in a statement Friday. “It will now be incumbent upon him during the nomination and confirmation process to lay out demonstrable actions he will take to support that commitment.”
And, just after Hagel’s December apology for his “openly, aggressively gay” comment, Human Rights Campaign said that Hagel’s apology and support for gay rights “is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues. Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”