During his "Meet The Press" appearance over the weekend, Colin Powell ordered Chuck Hagel to write 100 times on a blackboard that there is no Jewish lobby, just an Israel lobby.
But Powell also gave Hagel’s critics the paddle for playing the anti-Semitism card:
They [hawks] can make all the criticisms they want. When they go over the edge and say because Chuck said Jewish lobby, he is anti-Semitic, that’s disgraceful. We shouldn’t have that kind of language in our dialogue but they’re fully entitled to their views and I didn’t ever think they would go away and not be heard from again.
Count Elliott Abrams, former Reagan and W. Bush administration official, among those who says Hagel has a problem with Jews. Here’s what Abrams said to NPR:
I think he has a chance at his confirmation hearing to show that he is not what he appears to be, which is frankly an anti-Semite. It’s not just being anti-Israel. He’s got a problem with what he calls "the Jews," the Jewish lobby. I think if he cannot satisfy people that he is not, in fact, bigoted against Jews, he certainly should not be confirmed. …
I think if you look at the statements by Hagel, and then you look at the statements by the Nebraska Jewish community – about his unresponsiveness to them, his dismissal of them, his hostility to them – I don’t understand really how you can reach any other conclusion that he seems to have some kind of problem with Jews.
Over at the Forward, Nathan Guttman interviews one Jewish activist from Nebraska (Gary Javitch) who opposes Hagel — but also says the anti-Semitic charge is unkosher:
Javitch harshly criticized Hagel’s expressed views on Israel and the Middle East and did not appreciate his demeanor. “Every time we’d raise something about Israel, he’d filibuster us,” said Javitch, who met with Hagel both in Washington and in Omaha. The former Senator attended a B’nai Brith International “bread breaker” meeting at Javitch’s invitation, but gave the impression he thought Israel “should always do more” for the Palestinians.
Still, when asked if he thought the claims of Hagel’s bias against Jews had any merit, he responded flatly “No.”
[UPDATE: It's worth noting that the heads of the local ADL chapter and the local Jewish federation declined to comment.]
Meanwhile, Annette van de Kamp-Wright, the editor of The Jewish Press (the one in Omaha, not Brooklyn), says everyone should chill and give Hagel a chance. That said, her he’s-not-David Duke editorial isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement either:
Let’s stop this hysterical behavior, and bring back the grey scale. Let’s wait and see, and give the man a chance. For goodness’ sake, it’s not as if Obama is appointing David Duke. Besides, I think we can trust that Hagel won’t go rogue; he will represent the Obama administration and its current policies towards the Middle East. If those policies change, and we suddenly find there’s tangibly less U.S. support for Israel, there will be plenty of opportunity to scream then. Right now, we should all calm down and just breathe.