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The more scurrilous of Kristol's charges is that Hagel is anti-Israel. This is a bullying canard that has been thrown about with increasing frequency, and sloppiness, by American supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud government. In Hagel's case, it means that he has opposed the continued illegal expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands, a position held by every American President since Johnson. This imaginary offense was compounded by some plain talk about the power of the Israel lobby, which Hagel unfortunately and inaccurately called "the Jewish lobby." I'm Jewish, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee doesn't speak for me.
Actually, that brings us to the heart of the matter: AIPAC and many leaders of the American Jewish community don't speak for the overwhelming majority of American Jews who voted for Obama, love Israel and want it to survive as a Jewish democracy but do not favor the military adventurism that has brought us so much grief in the region. And the voices of the silent American Jewish majority will need to be heard this year. The Israeli election is likely to yield an even more extreme Netanyahu coalition, prejudiced toward further expansion into Palestinian lands. Obama will have to decide whether, and how, he wants to renew his challenge to this shortsighted and destabilizing policy.
And then there's Iran. A nuclear deal may be negotiated this year. The Iranians are suffering economically; there are indications that they are ready to talk. But any such deal will be vehemently opposed by Netanyahu and the neoconservatives. The Hagel nomination, if it comes, will be the warm-up act for those battles. It is a fight that would send an important message about the President's intentions--to Iran, to Israel and to the out-of-touch leaders of the American Jewish community.
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