WASHINGTON – Two influential pro-Israel organizations that have been skeptical about President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary said Monday they are not opposing confirmation of the former Republican senator, following lobbying on Hagel’s behalf by the White House.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that he is waiting to hear how Hagel explains at his confirmation hearing his views on Israel, Iran, sanctions and the militant Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. “He wouldn’t have been my choice, but I recognize the president’s prerogative,” he said.
Foxman has raised questions about Hagel’s comment that many lawmakers are intimidated by the “Jewish lobby.”
Foxman said he had been contacted by an administration official over the weekend about Monday’s announcement as a courtesy, but he denied that officials had sought to neutralize his opposition.
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The American Jewish Committee said in a statement that it “looks forward to a full examination of Hagel’s record on key issues.”
Officials of Jewish groups said Jack Lew, Obama’s chief of staff, and other White House officials have been trying to round up support for Hagel, or at least convince advocates who have raised questions not to actively oppose him. Advisors to the president say they will push hard to correct what they see as distortions of Hagel's record.
Several pro-Israel advocates predicted that if Hagel is not able to defend his past statements, some of the pro-Israel groups could still publicly oppose the choice.
The most influential pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is not lobbying on the selection, an official said. Israeli officials have said they don’t get involved in such issues.
The Emergency Committee for Israel, co-founded by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, is campaigning strongly against the Hagel choice and has disclosed that it is buying advertising to build support for the effort.
Several liberal pro-Israel groups, including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and the Israel Policy Forum, said Monday they support the Hagel nomination.
“We continue to be greatly disturbed by the ongoing – and unfounded – charges that Sen. Hagel is anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic,” the Israel Policy Forum said in a statement. “Now that he has been officially nominated, we are distributing again the entirety of Sen. Hagel’s wide-ranging remarks on the Middle East to Israel Policy Forum on December 4, 2008. Nothing he said suggests he is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Far from it.”
Obama has in the past avoided fights with pro-Israel groups over appointments. Former Ambassador Charles W. Freeman withdrew his name as a possible choice to head the National Intelligence Council after some groups criticized him as soft on Israel.
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Staff Writer Christi Parsons contributed to this report.