By Charlie Weiss
The lack of any meaningful protest by “nonpartisan” pro-Israel organizations over President Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary is unfortunate but not surprising.
While it is understandable that responsible Jewish leaders might be reluctant to antagonize a sitting president on his questionable choice for Defense Secretary, the silence by those same organizations when it comes to calling out Senator Chuck Schumer publicly and privately for his incredible, but predictable, 90-minute turnaround on Mr. Hagel’s nomination is profoundly troubling.
Why call out Mr. Schumer when every Democrat seems to be supporting the Hagel nomination? Because nobody else has spent more time convincing us that they are Israel’s most ardent supporter in Congress—and, frankly speaking, Schumer’s support of Chuck Hagel is antithetical to everything he has espoused for decades. Furthermore, that support is universally recognized as key to Hagel’s now likely confirmation.
So why is New York’s senior senator getting a free pass from us, the people, on an issue as important as this? At some point, the people have to stand up for something or they stand for nothing, which is exactly what Senator Schumer is counting on. For his part, Schumer has to know that his miraculous turnaround on Hagel is controversial at best and dead wrong at worst. The saddest part is our silence on this pick at this time in history is downright shameful.
Organizations that call themselves “the voice of this” and the “leaders of that” are guilty, here, of weakness and pacifism in the face of enormously dangerous consequences, and they know it. But where are the people?
So, what did Senator Schumer see in those 90 minutes alone with Mr. Hagel that Americans failed to see at Hagel’s confirmation hearings? If you actually watched them, the disastrous hearings only confirmed the distressing reservations many on both sides of the aisle have expressed on Mr. Hagel’s “out of the mainstream” positions. Yet even staunchly pro-Israel Democrats have rallied around the president’s pick nonetheless, displaying partisan politics at its very worst.
To the objective viewer, the hearings were a painful display of clarifications, apologies, and retractions by Hagel, joined by re-clarifications and walk-backs by powerful committee chairman Carl Levin. Even Obama ally and former press secretary Robert Gibbs remarked that Hagel was “unimpressive and unprepared.” His past offensive comments about Jews and Israel in particular were washed away with no more than a wink and a shrug. These are hearings?
Mr. Hagel’s positions on Israel, Iran, and nuclear weapons leave the American voter with many more questions than answers.
But not Senator Schumer. He is apparently convinced that Hagel is the right man for the job; after all, he looked Hagel in the eye. Schumer’s comments remind us of President George W. Bush’s Vladimir Putin moment: “I looked the man in the eye . . . I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
Many political observers would agree that had Mr. Hagel been chosen by a Republican president, Senator Schumer would probably be the one leading the charge to block his confirmation. The obvious charade called confirmation hearings is why Americans have so little faith in their Congress or in their government. But again I ask, Where are the people? Where is the outcry?
The public and those who profess to care about Israel are desperately looking for somebody, anybody, to tackle a tricky political issue, without concern for sacrificing money, power, and political influence. Somebody has to call things the way we all see it. The Hagel–Schumer matter is one such situation. But what Americans are witnessing is a display of weakness, and somebody has to call out Chuck Schumer and the Armed Services Committee on this nomination before it’s too late.
Senator Schumer is a major force in the Democratic Party. For those supporters who have watched his meteoric rise to national prominence, it is with a sense of hometown pride, to see him in such important positions of power. We have all witnessed his “Shomer Yisrael—Guardian of Israel” speech more times than we care to remember, but with due respect, now is the time for him to really back it up, and not just on a local Jewish radio program.
It is not unreasonable to ask the good senator to stand up for us, his longtime friends and constituents, on an issue of such grave international implications and reject Mr. Hagel’s nomination. Schumer is the people’s representative, not President Obama’s. v