By confirming Charles Hagel as secretary of war, Senator Schumer and the Democratic leadership send a pointed message to the Jewish community in America. It is that if the Jewish defense agencies are not going to stick up publicly for Israel, it is hard to expect others to do so. There is no sugar-coating the point. The Senate has just confirmed the most truculent cabinet officer in respect of Israel in more than a generation because important institutions and leaders shrank from making an issue of it.
This is a story that is painful for many people to talk about. It would be inaccurate to suggest that the only objection to putting Mr. Hagel in at the war department had to do with Israel. He would be inadequate, even were Israel not an issue. There is a broad sense within the Jewish community — as there is among a number of non-Jewish senators who permitted his nomination to go to the floor — that Mr. Hagel has proven himself incompetent and disingenuous.
Yet there’s no gainsaying the special concern that his hostility to Israel has raised among the Jewish leadership. And one of the stories that is being spoken of in private is how humiliated the leaders of the Jewish community feel. Nearly all of them — not all, but nearly all — were opposed to the elevation of Mr. Hagel to the Pentagon. But only one of the Jewish defense agencies spoke out forcefully against him.
That was the Zionist Organization of America, which is the oldest pro-Israel organization in America, having been founded in 1897, the same year in which Theodor Herzl convened at Basel, Switzerland, the First Zionist Congress. It opposed the Hagel nomination early, forthrightly, and unapologetically. The result, according to the ZOA’s president, Morton Klein, is that it received objections from several leaders worried about the consequences for the Jewish community of such a public position.
Mr. Klein believes the Hagel nomination would not have been confirmed had the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee taken a formal public position against Mr. Hagel. All three agencies have had many heroic moments. But they stood down on Mr. Hagel. Said Mr. Klein: “Several senators — and important ones — said to me: ‘If Aipac, ADL and AJCommittee — especially Aipac — had come out and lobbied against Hagel, he would have been stopped.”
What such public opposition would have done, Mr. Klein argues, is that it “would have given a number of Democrats, who thought Hagel was awful, cover to vote against him.” Instead, the response leaders of the Jewish community received was, “If he’s so awful how come we’re not hearing anything against him from other Jewish groups.” Mr. Klein says he heard such a message from both sides of the aisle in the Senate.
So the opposition had to be carried by newspapermen. A number of them wrote important pieces, including Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, William Kristol of the Weekly Standard and the Emergency Committee for Israel, Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine, Alana Goodman and Adam Kredo of the Free Beacon online, Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, and the online Jewish newspaper the Algemeiner Journal. The last carried a memorable dispatch on the bitterness in the Jewish community in Nebraska in respect of Mr. Hagel going back to when he was a sitting senator.
There were also a number of senators who seemed to understand the issue but flinched, refusing to block a vote. They include Senators Graham of South Carolina and McCain of Arizona, which is all the more disappointing for how strong they were during the hearing. Senators Inhofe of Oklahoma, Rubio of Florida, and Cruz of Texas took a hard line all the way through. Senator Paul voted against cloture, but once the confirmation was assured voted aye. It’s a mystery to us why Messrs. McCain and Graham, in particular, voted for cloture, because they represent so strongly that they believe Mr. Hagel to be unqualified to be war secretary.
The most disappointing figure to the Jewish community, aside from the President, has been Senator Schumer, who endorsed the candidate to whom he had once been objecting. He did so on the basis of a 90-minute meeting in which, he was quoted as saying, Mr. Hagel “almost had tears in his eyes.” No doubt Mr. Obama now expects Senator Schumer to run interference for the administration as the president and his new war secretary seek to appease the Iranian mullahs. The estimation is that they want to extricate Mr. Obama from his declarations that a nuclear armed Tehran is unacceptable. In other words, it turns out that failing to speak up when one had the chance has its consequences.