WASHINGTON (JTA) — In his Senate confirmation hearings, defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel expanded on his apology for using the term "Jewish lobby" and said it also was wrong to suggest pro-Israel groups "intimidate" Congress into doing "dumb things."
Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska nominated by President Obama to become defense secretary, faced an array of tough questions on Thursday from members of both parties on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Two members, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) focused particularly on Hagel’s claim in a 2006 interview that the "Jewish lobby" is intimidating.
"I’ve already said I regret referencing the Jewish lobby, I should have said, ‘pro-Israel lobby,’" Hagel said. "The use of ‘intimidation’ — I should have used ‘influence.’ I think that would have been more appropriate. I should not have said ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid,’ because I understand or appreciate there are other views on these things."
The difficulties of getting pat the pro-Israel lobby’s preferred locution — "pro-Israel lobby" — were evidence in departures from this by both Wicker, who called it the "Israel lobby" and Graham , who called it the "Israeli lobby." Those designations also discomfit officials in the pro-Israel lobby, who see the dropping of the prefix, "pro," as intimating loyalty to another nation.
Senators also asked Hagel about his past skepticism of some Iran sanctions and his wariness of a military strike. He reiterated his commitment to sanctions and said all options, including the military option, were on the table in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Hagel also said he was committed to the special U.S.-Israel relationship.
Much of the hearing was taken up with reviewing past Hagel statements and actions on Israel and Iran. He acknowledged putting a hold on comprehensive Iran sanctions in 2008 but said he did this with other Republican senators, and he suggested that the hold was placed at the behest of the Bush administration.
For a recap of Thursday’s confirmation hearings, visit JTA’s Capital J blog for Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas’ live blogging of the event.