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Part of the confirmation process

Last Friday, (January 18), Senator Chuck Hagel met with leaders of several Jewish organizations at the White House. According to a statement issued by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the meeting was an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion of key issues of importance to all of us. Participants included Vice President Joe Biden as well as the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. No details of the discussion were reported.Will Hagel get their vote? Stay tuned. The invaluable Forward has the story.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Margaret: You ask, "Will Hagel get their vote?" They don't get to vote. I'm sure you meant, "Will Hagel get their support?"

Since none of the participants, except VP Biden, can vote in the Senate, you are right!!! Yet I doubt the others will express publicly support for Senator Hagel as Secy. of Def. Probably they will simply not express vigorous public objection to his confirmation. What they may say in private we can't know unless someone leaks their views. Of course, I don't assume that these leaders all share the same views on this issue. AIPAC has said that they do not take a position on cabinet appointments. No doubt, they have views; what they mean is they don't take a public position (at least in this case). AIPAC is smart to hold the non-position position since they are subject to regular proposals that they should register as an agent for a foreign government.Since lobbying of all sorts on every possible subject is a way of life in Washington, lobbying about cabinet appointments can hardly be exempted. It is a positive development in the shadowy world of lobbying that these organizations and their representatives made a public announcement about the meeting and that it was reported in the media (not just in the Forward, but at Haaretz as well). I wonder if in coming days we will hear more about the details, which might, but not necessarily, constitute a from of lobbying. Stay tuned! (as I know you will, Jeff).

Margaret: I pointed out two weeks ago that AIPAC wasnt opposing the Hagel nomination; that the ADL had stated, with respect to the nomination, that it supported the Presidents right to name whoever he wanted as Secretary of Defense; and that the National Jewish Democratic Council had expressed its strong support for the Presidents policies concerning Israel and expressed confidence that whoever he named as Secretary of Defense would support those policies. [Comment of 1/8/13 at 11:28 am in your post entitled John Brennan: another Catholic in the upper reaches.] I also predicted that the main opposition in the Senate would come from GOP senators with intra-party grudges against Hagel. I could be wrong, of course, but it seems even more likely now than then that it will play out that way. Meanwhile, in your thread Catching up ... and update, you quoted M.J. Rosenberg to the effect that the Hagel confirmation would constitute a terrible defeat for AIPAC, and posted a link in which Rosenberg claimed, without any basis other than what he conjured in the recesses of his fabulist mind, that AIPAC was orchestrating the opposition to Hagels nomination. By all means, lets stay tuned. And Biden only gets to vote in the event of a tie.

Jeff: "I pointed out two weeks ago that AIPAC wasnt opposing the Hagel nomination; that the ADL had stated, with respect to the nomination, that it supported the Presidents right to name whoever he wanted as Secretary of Defense; and that the National Jewish Democratic Council had expressed its strong support for the Presidents policies concerning Israel and expressed confidence that whoever he named as Secretary of Defense would support those policies."Yes, you did point this out. But you are among a minority of observers who take this at face value. And yes, Biden votes only in the event of a tie.

A political note: interesting that Biden's participation in the meeting is reported on. It seems that since his effective work in getting the health care act passed Obama is giving him other important assignments. Or does he have some special expertise in the Middle East problems? Is his gregarious nature turning him into a late-blooming diplomat?

If Hagel is like many Catholic kids and their confirmations, immediately thereafter he'll move on to things that appear to be more relevant to their lives.

AIPAC has bought and paid for more than a few votes so they do indeed have a vote, even if by surrogates.

Margaret: How do you know its a minority view? Have you seen a poll? And its deeply irresponsible to make claims against AIPAC with no factual or evidentiary basis. Suppose that someone accused you of taking your marching orders from Hamas, and that, as Rosenberg claimed of AIPAC, the lack of any evidence to that effect was meaningless because Hamas operated in the dark with respect to such things. Im sure you would regard this as a deeply irresponsible attack. And youd be right! But its just as irresponsible when its done to AIPAC. You would see this in a nanosecond if you did not so much want it to be true about AIPAC. If you were not so determined to paint as dark a picture as you can with respect to ... take your pick among the alternatives ... [the Israeli Lobby] [the Jewish Lobby] [a relatively small group of rich Jews]. With respect to this last characterization, see another link of yours to M J Rosenberg, the one with your glib and gleeful aside, Not for the faint of heart! in your thread Even Tom Friedman Gets it Right.

Ann: Maybe its because Biden is known as a strong supporter of Israel and so would provide a measure of reassurance. Or maybe it was to impress how important the nomination is to the President. Or maybe for some of the reasons you mentioned. its hard to know.

Jim: I could be mistaken, but I dont think AIPAC makes political contributions, but even if it doesnt, there are certainly pro-Israel PACs that do. But if this constitutes buying the votes of Senators and members of the House, then every vote on every matter is bought and paid for, since they all receive political contributions from a jillion lobbying groups.

Jeff: " How do you know its a minority view? Have you seen a poll?" How do I know that it is a minority view that many observers have not taken the words of AIPAC and some other Jewish organization at face value. Taking something at face value means that one accepts the words of someone or some organization as true and accurate. As of now AIPAC et al declare themselves neutral in the confirmation battle, their interview with Senator Hagel notwithstanding. But it was not always so.As Hagel was hanging out there as the putative nominee for Secretary of Defense, there was a furious battle about this "anti-Semite" and his views vis a vis Israel. Initially the debate was mostly within the Jewish community. First, there were those who wanted AIPAC et al to oppose Hagel. They were first out the gate. Second, there were those who did not want these organizations to oppose Hagel, perhaps because they wanted Hagel or perhaps because they thought it imprudent for so many Jewish organizations to oppose a cabinet appointment in a public manner. Together, these contending views could hardly now take the words of AIPAC et al at face value, i.e., that AIPAC and its allies were always going to stand aside as they say they have. One side won the argument; the other has receded from public view. As you say those now generally critical, or opposed, to Hagel's appointment are Republicans and they are senators; so they will have to vote. That's all that's left on the battlefield open to public scrutiny. But Republican senators are not the ony Republicans, some quite distinguished, have endorsed Hagel. As to the suggestions that AIPAC register as the agent for a foreign government. Such suggestions have appeared over the years and they appear now with more frequency. Why is that? Because in large measure AIPAC supports the policies of the Israeli government, especially the current one, with little regard for the policies of the United State government or for the views of an increasing number of American Jews whose views it claims to represent. (You need not link to the PEW poll again; of course, the majority Americans supports Israel. The current government is another story; the election results (Jan. 22) point to waning enthusiasm in Israel as well.)AIPAC was wise and prudent to declare itself neutral in the battle over Hagel. Can we agree on that?

Behind all the words, Margaret, what I notice is that the claim that AIPAC at any point opposed the nomination or that it was, indeed, orchestrating the opposition has fallen completely out of your narrative. It has been, as they say, disappeared. Im going to take that as confirmation of the merit of my criticisms above. And all thats left is the innocuous claim that AIPAC did not make a public announcement earlier as to its neutrality. But even here, you insinuate that AIPAC was just cleverly waiting to see if the claims of anti-Semitism would gain traction, and if they did, AIPAC would throw off its false cloak of neutrality and come out against Hagel. How do you know that? I havent said whether Im for or against the nomination, either, but thats just because I wanted to see what Hagel would say at his confirmation hearings before I took a position. Why attribute a bad motive to AIPAC (or me), when a normal motive could just as easily be the explanation? Now that Hagel has explained his positions more thoroughly publicly and in private meetings, perhaps AIPAC feels more comfortable in saying anything at all. With respect to what Hagel has said recently, see your link to The Forward above, and my link to what Chuck Schumer said on Meet the Press on Sunday in my comment of 1/20/13 at 3:48 pm in your thread entitled Catching up ... and update. But Im not at all surprised by Hagels recent statements, because all they do is align his positions with President Obamas. I dont know whats in Hagels heart any more than you do, but I think Im on safe ground in contending that it would have been highly unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, for a cabinet nominee to take public positions during his confirmation process in important matters that will become part of his bailiwick if confirmed that are contrary to the President who nominated him. If he couldnt support the President, he would never have been nominated and would never have accepted the nomination. So, Ive thought all along that you were headed for a big fall in thinking that it would turn out any way other than how it seems to be developing. But its far from over and maybe there will yet be some surprises. I will have to wait until tomorrow to respond to your next to last paragraph.

CNN reported that after-voting polls indicate that the centrist parties have gained so much strength that Netanyahu will have a hard time forming a cabinet to his liking :-)

Ann: I'm very proud and pleased that so many Israelis have resisted the temptation to vote for the most militant candidates, even though we are only a month removed from all those rockets from Gaza landing on top of them. The analyses I've seen are similar to what you cite -- Netanyahu, as the head of the slate with the most victories, will be asked to form the government, but if he's to be successful, it will have to be more moderate than the current government.

I,too, am relieved that the Israeli people have expressed their disenchantment with Netanyahu have now voted in a centrist government. This is more likely to give the US an ally we can work with.

Margaret: Referring to the next to last paragraph of your comment on 1/22 at 6:59 pm, support among the American people for Israel has been growing not diminishing -- during the Netanyahu government, as the first graph in the PEW poll shows. Their current 5-1 margin of support for Israelis over the Palestinians has been increasing over the last few years. See And support among American Jews is strong and steady. You obviously believe that support for Israel is misplaced and about that we can have a debate, as we have been having. But it is an indisputable fact that its not AIPAC or any other pro-Israel group or person thats out of step with our democracy. Its you.

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