January 7th, 2013
12:10 PM ET
2 years ago

White House officials reach out to Jewish community to answer Hagel concerns

Washington (CNN) – Senior members of the White House staff called key American Jewish interest groups on Sunday to tell them about the impending nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Defense Secretary and to try to answer their concerns about his record, several sources familiar with the calls told CNN.

One of the call recipients, who generally supports the nomination, who requested anonymity to freely discuss his call, told CNN the outreach shows "not only there is some concern, but the White House takes the concern seriously and wants to have the very conversation at the highest levels of the White House."

Officials are hoping the outreach will help lesson the intensity of any opposition.

Among the officials who made the calls was White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, several sources familiar with the outreach told CNN, signifying the importance of the Jewish community to the White House as it proceeds with the Hagel pick. Lew is one of the more prominent Jews in the Obama administration.

Several conservative Jewish organizations have been strongly opposed. Their concerns are multifold. Hagel has previously referred to the "Jewish lobby" (perceived to be a derisive reference) and he has opposed unilateral sanctions against Iran regarding its nuclear program. Iran is one of Israel's most important national security concerns.  Hagel is criticized for a past op-ed in which he stated that Israel needs to show a commitment to peace.  Also, he has indicated he might support negotiations with Hamas although he supported a bill that said contact should be avoided until it recognized Israel's sovereignty.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), would not say whether he got a call Sunday but did tell CNN "we have been in touch with the administration, and the administration has been in touch with us."

"We have a set of concerns" that need to be addressed in his Senate confirmation "in a serious substantive way," Harris said calling them "major" and said there is "a wide gap of the positions of the Obama administration and the past positions of Hagel."

The AJC, which is not opposing the nomination, has been sending letters to its members talking about the concerns. "While the AJC recognizes Senator Hagel's record of service to our country and the people of Nebraska, his opinions on a range of core U.S. national security priorities run counter to what ADJ advocates and what President Obama has articulated – notably, on the efficacy of Iran sanctions, on a credible military option against Iran, on branding Hezbollah as terrorist organization, and on the special nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship," one of its letters said.

The AJC has been in touch with various Senate offices raising its issues and Harris said the staffs of senators of both parties have been in touch with the group.

In talking points sent to supporters, the White House said Hagel has "time and again" shown support for the "historic bond with Israel," including quoting from a book he wrote. The White House pointed to past comments from Hagel saying the identity of Israel has to be protected. "As secretary he will continue to carry out President Obama's unprecedented security cooperation with Israel."

The organization J Street has been supporting the Hagel nomination for several weeks and has been in touch with White House officials and those close to Hagel recently. Jeremy Ben-Ali, president of J Street, calls the opposition by others in the Jewish community "way overblown."

Ben-Ali said the other groups "should be looking at the entirety of Chuck Hagel's record and should not be cherry picking one or two instances." He said there is no doubt Hagel will be supportive of Israel.


Filed under: Faith • White House
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    How appalling. Jewish and Israeli groups are upset with him because he spoke the truth. That he feels US politicians should put US interests ahead of those of Israel. Isn't that what we want?

    January 7, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  2. Wake up People!

    No offense to anyone in the Jewish community. But don't we want our lawmakers to put the US and her citizens first??

    Are we called the United States of America or the United States of Israel??

    January 7, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I like Hagel for this post. And frankly, I agree with his stance on Israel. It takes two to tango and Israel is unwilling to dance.

    January 7, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. jim_nyc

    Since when was israel a part of the US? What's wrong with someone putting US interests ahead of isreal's? The current israeli governemnt has no repect for our interests, why should we care about them?They should have no say and mind their own business.

    January 7, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  5. chilly g

    the senator will be approved and he should be, the president should pick who he think is best to serve in his administration and not to someone who care more about a foreign country.

    January 7, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  6. Jane

    The fact that the administration and the opposition has to get in touch with these people proves Hagel's point about the Jewish lobby. Israeli/Jewish interests are not US interests and do not precede American interests. Frankly sick and tired of Israel trying to dictate US policy. I like Hagel even more now.

    January 7, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  7. Steve

    No offense to anyone in the Christian religion, but if people have to continue to hear religious opposition to laws when they go against the Church's doctrine, it is fair game for Jewish leaders to have concern about Hagel who has shown a lack of support for Israel.

    January 7, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  8. Enough is Enough

    If congress wasn't an occupied territory this story would not be an issue.

    January 7, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  9. Canuck

    I've never understoood the incestuous relationship the USA has with Israel. What's in it for America??? What's so special about the Jews anyway, was the Muslim community asked the same question about Hagel?

    January 7, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    "The fact that the administration and the opposition has to get in touch with these people proves Hagel's point about the Jewish lobby"

    Bingo!

    January 7, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  11. stars

    It"s really not about Mr. Hagel. It"s about the black man president Obama that these racist hate so much but done worry every racist will be judged white or black.

    January 7, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  12. Herbert

    Why would Hebrew/Jewish groups be upset with a simple continuity in the Obama Administration's policies towards Israel?

    January 7, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  13. Anthony in California

    Republicans -
    Party before country.
    Israel before country.
    The rich before country.

    January 7, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  14. Paoulo

    So how do the concerns of about 2% of the population effect the confirmation of an experienced and qualified sneator, and vet? I'll tell you how – $$$$$$$.

    January 7, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  15. Rudy NYC

    Steve

    No offense to anyone in the Christian religion, but if people have to continue to hear religious opposition to laws when they go against the Church's doctrine, it is fair game for Jewish leaders to have concern about Hagel who has shown a lack of support for Israel.
    -------------------–
    Next time post something that actually makes sense, something that doesn't contradict itself, something that is not circular logic.

    "If people can use religious grounds to protest laws, then people can use religious grounds to protest something else." We are supposed to live in a secular state of free people, run by a secular government.

    January 7, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  16. Woman In California

    @ Canuck

    I've never understoood the incestuous relationship the USA has with Israel. What's in it for America??? What's so special about the Jews anyway, was the Muslim community asked the same question about Hagel?

    _____

    I take it you have never bothered to read the Bible. Even if you're not a religious man–just let the U.S. drop Isreal and you'll see what happens to us (I guarantee you there won't even be bread lines). While I totally agree the U.S. interest comes first, there is a big reason we support them and as to your question of Muslims – this country will never be about the Muslim interest.

    January 7, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  17. Woman In California

    Correction: I misspelled Israel.

    January 7, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  18. simp

    I too am a bit sick of Israel. we can be friendly allies but they should not dictate who the President has in his cabinet, period!!

    January 7, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |