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Foxman, who was widely referred to as the first Jewish leader to speak out against Hagel, stating that the Nebraska Senator’s comments on the Jewish lobby “border on anti-Semitism”, explained he did not accuse Hagel of being anti-Semitic. “In the world we live in, one cannot be nuanced,” he said.
The only mainstream Jewish group to actively address the Senate on Hagel has been the American Jewish Committee, which in a letter urged Senators to “fully probe” Hagel.
One veteran pro-Israel lobbyist noted that history has shown that early anxiety about candidates for cabinet positions has at times proven to be unfounded. Such was the case with George Schultz and with Warren Christopher, two former secretaries of state initially feared to be anti-Israel due to their business ties with the Arab world. Both turned out to be strong supporters of Israel. On the flip side, Casper Weinberger, a Reagan administration nominee that did not raise any concerns with the pro-Israel lobby, turned out to be the most problematic defense secretary in the eyes of Israelis and their supporters in the United States.
Hagel’s candidacy for the top Pentagon position was leaked to the press nearly a month ago, allowing critics to dominate the field before an official announcement was made. Over the weekend, the White House sprang into action, reaching out to Jewish leaders of major organizations in a set of phone calls informing them of the upcoming announcement. Calls were made by White House chief of staff Jack Lew, the administration’s most senior Jewish official who is well regarded by Jewish leaders, and by top advisors on the national security team including Denis McDounough, Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes.
“We have an ongoing dialogue with the Jewish community on a range of issues, including this one,” said a White House official. “We continue to underscore that the President’s unprecedented support for Israel’s security will continue under the next Secretary of Defense.”
In the conversations, described by one Jewish activist as “a courtesy call,” members of the White House team spoke about Hagel’s qualities as a leader able to shape the Pentagon’s future and stressed that President Obama is the one who makes foreign policy decisions.