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Jewish Democrats ‘confident’ Hagel will follow Obama’s pro-Israel lead

JTA

January 7, 2013 | 8:18 am

Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel during a 2008 visit to U.S. Service members in Iraq.

Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel during a 2008 visit to U.S. Service members in Iraq.

The National Jewish Democratic Council said it was confident Chuck Hagel would follow what it called President Obama's "unprecedented" pro-Israel record.

The statement Monday morning came before Obama's formal announcement expected later Monday nominating Hagel, a former Republican senator, for defense secretary.

"President Barack Obama's unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the president," said the statement, which was not attached to the name of an NJDC official. "While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President's lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel -- on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran's nuclear program."

In 2007, when Hagel was considering a presidential run, the NJDC distributed an attack sheet on Hagel, noting his equivocation on such issues such as Iran sanctions and his criticism of some Israeli policies.

Hagel, after quitting politics in 2008, drew closer to his then-fellow senator, Barack Obama, over a shared opposition to intensifying the U.S. presence in Iraq.

In 2009, NJDC's then-executive director, Ira Forman, said it would be problematic for the group if newly elected President Obama, as it was then rumored, would nominate Hagel for a top Cabinet post. Forman's successor as NJDC's top official, David Harris, had until Monday refused to weigh in on the matter.

A number of prominent Jewish Democrats, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), have suggested they would support Hagel, but others like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have expressed reservations and still others have been outright opposed, including Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee; former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a contender to replace Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for an interim should Kerry be confirmed as expected as secretary of state; and Susan Turnbull, a former vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who is active in the NJDC.

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