The anti-Hagel brigade has a tactical difficulty, which is becoming a major strategic one. For instance they (Jennifer Rubin here and Jonathan Tobin here) are in a snit about the purported revelation that Hagel apparently said, at Rutgers in 2010, that Israel is on its way to becoming an apartheid state. Oh, the horror!

As Dave Weigel reported, here is the damning Hagel utterance:

As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic.  If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.

Except, aha!—these viciously anti-Israel words don’t come from Hagel, they come from  former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who voiced them in his capacity as Israel’s  defense minister in 2010. Hagel’s alleged comment came a few months later. Of course, in the real world the Barak-Hagel analysis is altogether reasonable.

Nor is Barak the only Israeli prime minister to reach such a conclusion. In 2008, Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert told Haaretz that “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights, then as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.” The “South African style struggle” is, for anyone who needs it spelled out, a reference to Israel becoming an apartheid state.  Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres had the same worries a generation ago, which is why Rabin permitted the Oslo process to develop momentum, despite his own discomfort with Palestinian statehood.

Here then is the problem for the Hagel haters. It is not simply that Hagel is being accused of saying thing like “the State Department sometimes acts like an adjunct of the Israeli foreign ministry”—which State Department officials actually do complain about, albeit off the record. He is being accused of saying things which Israeli prime ministers say on the record. And much as Commentary, Jennifer Rubin, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Free Beacon try to bend these remarks into supposedly damning evidence  of a viciously anti-Israel mindset, they can’t make their argument without quoting the alleged quotes. And almost any journalist must at least note that the “damning” quotes are extremely similar to what Israeli leaders say in public themselves. So by damning Hagel, they call attention to the Israeli occupation, which is in fact turning Israel into an apartheid state. I don’t really see any way around it.

The Hagel fight has already turned into an own-goal situation for the Israel lobby. The idea that Israel controls the U.S. government—the kind of thing which 20 years ago would be said by no one who wanted to hold a mainstream job—has now become a fairly widely circulated popular culture meme, openly joked about in a justly famous (if unaired) “Saturday Night Live” skit and riffed on by Bill Maher. Look at the Maher segment (and Maher is a pretty solid Israel supporter) and note where the audience applause comes in:

Now the Hagel foes, having succeeded in illustrating before a mass public the concept of the Israel lobby (without, of course, John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt’s exemplary precision) are starting to focus Capitol Hill media on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Could one ask for anything more?