January 9, 2013

On Hagel, Jewish groups squandered an opportunity

Despite all the public kvetching about Israel and "the Jewish lobby" (by our own Jewish lobby), serious policymakers in Washington and around the world are far more interested in what Chuck Hagel's nomination for U.S. Secretary of Defense means for Iran than for Israel. Had American Jewish organizations figured this out, and/or had they cared, they would have joined the conversation about substantive next steps to end Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, which is about expert problem-solving rather than ideological litmus tests.

But no. Major and minor groups -- "mainstream" and outright Republican alike -- are tweeting and blogging their "pro-Israel" talking points, and Senators are being inundated by the same kinds of knee-jerk admonitions that used to make recovering Senators like Chuck Hagel and Joe Biden roll their eyes back on Capitol Hill. Despite this, a third former Senator, Barack Obama, has pushed forward to counter Iran and address its nuclear program in ways his predecessor could not. And still, our community seems incapable of acting like Obama's partner instead of his conscience.

When the Senate Armed Services Committee considers Hagel's nomination, I do NOT want to hear his views on why Israel is our most reliable ally in the Middle East, or anywhere. At the dawn of a new Congress and a second Obama term, this should be the opportunity to address major decision points on Iran (sanctions, force projection, counter-terrorism), Afghanistan, North Korea, and the fundamental budgeting and direction of our military infrastructure, preparedness, and personnel.

Israel's security will not be enhanced by becoming the centerpiece of confirmation hearings for a Cabinet post which by definition involves close cooperation with Israel's military establishment. Any distraction from the  strategic UNKNOWNS in the region and globally will undermine the stated goals of the Jewish advocacy organizations that are mobilized at this moment, whether to oppose Hagel outright or merely under the pretense of asking "the probing questions".

After Patriot missiles and Iron Dome, supporting Israel and U.S.-Israel relations ought not to be open for debate, yet major community organizations are inviting just such a re-examination through their expressions of "concern". Who cares whether Hagel would have been the "first choice" of any American Jewish leader? SHOULD we care, and if so, then why exactly?

Like most of the big decisions facing America at this time, this one should not be about Israel or Jewish organizations. Trying to make it that way diminishes our relevance as a community, for ourselves and to the world. Most importantly, it diverts attention from Israel's true needs and those of the United States.

No comments:

Post a Comment