Jewish Journal

Hagel and the Jewish lobby: much ado about nothing

by Mark Paredes

January 23, 2013 | 12:05 am

As a proud member of the “Jewish lobby” cited inartfully by former Senator Chuck Hagel, I fail to understand why some conservatives are pulling out all the stops in what I predict will be a futile effort to derail his nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense.

The other day I tuned in to the Hugh Hewitt show, and was more than a little surprised to hear Frank Gaffney, a former Department of Defense official whose own nomination to a senior post was blocked by the Senate , criticize Hagel for holding views on defense and foreign-policy issues that were very similar to those of President Obama.  What Obama should do, according to Gaffney, is nominate someone who will oppose him on issues like cutting the defense budget, Iran, etc. Earth to Frank: you didn’t win on November 6th. Obama did. Elections matter. If our president wants to nominate someone who agrees with him on defense issues, that’s fine with me. I didn’t vote for him, and probably would not nominate someone with Hagel’s views to head our military. However, I have seen nothing so far to indicate that the former head of the USO is obviously unqualified to preside at the Pentagon.

I am also puzzled by the brouhaha over Hagel’s use of the term “Jewish lobby” while discussing Israel in an interview with former State Department advisor Aaron Miller. Yes, in the context of his remarks he probably should have said “Israel lobby” instead of Jewish lobby. However, we shouldn’t forget, as Shai Franklin writes in the Jewish Journal, that there is a Jewish lobby that promotes Jewish interests on a national and even international level. That said, Hagel erred in his subsequent apologies by stating “I know the pro-Israel lobby is comprised of both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans.” What he may not know is that the “Jewish lobby” is as well.

Whether meeting with a pastor accused of anti-Semitism, conducting outreach to Hispanics on behalf of Jews, arranging for the cleaning of a Jewish cemetery in Europe, or lecturing on Jews and tolerance on a college campus, for years I have considered myself, and felt accepted as, a member of the Jewish community (or lobby if you prefer). You don’t have to be a Jew to want Jews to succeed wildly as individuals and as a people. Israel activism is an important part of the Jewish lobby, but it is only a part. I know Mormons who teach kids in Jewish schools, work at the Jewish Federation, solicit donations for Israel’s Red Cross, and perform many other services for the Jewish community that they love. Are they political lobbyists? Not quite. However, by promoting Jewish interests they are engaged in a form of private lobbying that inspires me.

Hagel’s impolitic remark should be ignored absent other compelling evidence of anti-Semitism. I’m positive that my fellow conservatives have more important things to focus on right now, like how badly the Ravens will thrash the 49ers next month.

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Mark Paredes is a former Mormon bishop currently living in Los Angeles. He has worked for the ZOA, the American Jewish Congress, and the Consulate General of Israel in Los...

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