Opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense is focusing on his on-the-record criticisms of Israeli policy. Beneath those criticisms, Hagel’s opponents claim, lies his alleged distaste for “the Jews”. The convicted liar Elliott Abrams has gone so far as to describe Hagel as “bigoted against Jews”. Bret Stephens echoes the charge (link behind paywall), which can be found in even coarser versions around the internet.
If these accusations had any basis, you’d expect Jewish organizations to work against Hagel’s nomination. For the most part, however, they’ve refused to do so. Arguably the most prominent group, the Anti-Defamation League, is holding its tongue. The more hawkish American Jewish Committee is urging that Hagel’s nomination be considered carefully, but is not committing itself to opposition. And the head of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Policy, Nathan Diament, has signalled a non-confrontational approach in public statements and on Twitter.
So “the Jews” can hardly be said to oppose Hagel, although many individual Jews clearly do. Where does organized resistance to his nomination come from? As Jennifer Rubin observes, it’s largely a product of the Christian Zionist movement. In fact, two of the most active sources of opposition are Christians United for Israel and Concerned Women for America. The leadership of both groups is inspired by eschatology based on the Book of Revelation, according to which the resettlement of the Jews in the whole of the Biblical holy land is a prelude to the return of Christ.
This divergence between the Jews as an organized community and of Christian supporters of Israel movement reflects an amazing transformation of America’s relation to Israel. Until the 1990s, the “pro-Israel” lobby was rooted in the activism and financial support of American Jews. Hagel was alluding to this fact when he used the rather unpleasant term “Jewish lobby” to describe American supporters of Israel.
Since then, however, American Jews have adopted more dovish views. In addition to their overwhelming support for a two-state solution, younger American Jews are less likely than their parents to see Israel as the centerpiece of Jewish identity. As a result, Jews are probably more likely than other Americans to support the foreign policy positions for which Hagel has been criticized (similar views are fairly common on the Israeli left). In any case, they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, despite extensive and expensive efforts to shift Jewish votes into the Republican column.
At the same time, Christian Zionists have mobilized in favor of unconditional support for Israel’s increasingly hawkish governments. In addition to organizing hundreds of thousands of voters, groups like Christians United for Israel have cultivated links with Israeli politicians and activists who defend the occupation, as well as a relatively small clique of American Jewish hawks. Matt Yglesias describes the result as the “Post-Jewish Pro-Israel Movement“, which replaces the old “Jewish Lobby” with an alliance between millenarian Christians and the Israeli right, in which American Jews are little more than figureheads.
I agree with Yglesias that the Post-Jewish Pro-Israel Movement is bad both for Israel and for America. Nevertheless, it is extremely influential–and serves as the real base of opposition to Hagel. Hagel does have an “Israel” problem. But it’s a mainly a problem with Christian Zionists and their figureheads.
Update: I have been informed by a CUFI representative that the group rejects my characterization of their motives. They encourage readers to consider this op-ed by John Hagee as a statement of their principles.