December 26, 2012
The Israel Factor: 7 for Kerry, 4.29 for Hagel
We have a new Israel Factor panel. The number of experts remains the same, 10 Israelis, all familiar with the U.S.-Israel relations, all investing their time and energy in understanding, writing, researching, teaching, doing in this arena. But as we enter the Factor’s eighth year – this project began back in 2006! – it’s the first time for us to have three women on the panel. Yes, justified criticism made us look harder, work harder to convince prospective panelists, and recruit the new members. We are very happy to have them on board – they are all committed themselves to be with us for the duration of the 2013-2014 Factor - until the 2014 midterms. (The Israel Factor section will be revamped and updated on January 1)
The Factor itself doesn’t change though. We ask the questions, the panel sends its answers (if you’re not familiar with the Israel Factor, read this). You get to see averages, but we never reveal the answers of the personalities involved, hence ensuring their ability to be honest as they cast their vote on each question. What we do have though is a background survey of the panelists, which enables us to be more accurate in giving you a clearer picture when answers tilt one way or the other according to specific beliefs or political tendencies.
The Hagel question – how good or bad a Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would be for Israel – is one example in which such differences are to be found. My personal position on the Hagel matter is known to all regular readers of Rosner’s Domain, and I also shared with the readers as recently as last week the story of the Factor panel and Hagel. To put it simply: He was not a popular candidate with our panel when he thought about running for president six years ago.
In our first survey of the 2013-2014 season we asked about John Kerry, the presumptive State Secretary, and about Chuck Hagel, the rumored Defense Secretary of the second Obama administration: “On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (great), please rank the following candidates for secretary of state and secretary of defense the next Obama administration, by topic:” Here’s what we got:
John Kerry is doing fine with the panel – not great, but fine. When we asked about a year ago if Kerry were the right candidate for state, other candidates seemed better: Joe Biden, Jim Steinberg, even (somewhat surprisingly) Susan Rice. Time – and Hagel – made him seem more appealing. Hagel, in that survey of February 2012, was second to last of the 10 candidates for State we’ve mentioned. That he isn’t a candidate for State but rather for Defense is hardly a change that would make a reluctant panel more enthusiastic. So Hagel is at the meager 4.2 out of 10. Maybe not a total disaster, but quite low.
A couple of days ago, when I wrote an article for the IHT-NYT about Israel and Hagel, I remarked that “turning the argument over Hagel into yet another rehash of the are-you-for-or-against-Netanyahu debate would be a mistake”. And I still think it’s a mistake. But ignoring the fact that the Hagel debate is heavily impacted by the political tendencies of many of those engaged in it would also be a mistake. In the U.S., we clearly see a faction of Israel critics, mostly on the left, defending Hagel’s candidacy. And such division of view is evident on our panel too.
One of our background questions asked each panelist to identify “which American party you think is better for Israel?” – and we’re glad to report that our panel is balanced: about a third saying “Democratic”, a third for “Republican” and a third for “same” (we’ve argued all along that the panel is a centrist panel – not to be confused with the more hawkish Israeli public). When we take this question into account and look at Hagel through such lenses of political preference, the outcome makes it clear that they play a role. Take a look:
So you see: Those on the panel who think – like a majority of Israelis today – that the Republican Party is the better one for Israel, tend to look at Hagel far more suspiciously (with Kerry there’s no great difference – in fact, those in the “same” section gave Kerry better marks than those in the “Democratic” column). The real difference between the two groups – in fact, it is the difference between those “voting” Democratic and the rest of the panel (GOP and “same” voters) – is clearly their assessment of Hagel’s ability to “get” Israel and to “get along” with the next Netanyahu coalition. Most of the panel is quite skeptical about Hagel having such an ability. Most, but not all. On the “Democratic side” of the panel, there are those believing he’d get along with Netanyahu just fine - or maybe hoping for him to get along in the sense of him moving Netanyahu down a new path.
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