Senate Democrats are questioning a statement made by former Republican senator Chuck Hagel that the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Washington. The comment has resurfaced now that Hagel is rumored to be Barack Obama’s top choice to head the Pentagon. He used the term in a 2008 interview.

“I know there are some questions about his past comments and I’ll want to talk to him and see what his explanation is,” said Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal. “Yes, it would give rise to question, but there are so many very significant issues and factors to be considered, and he has many profoundly significant qualifications for the job.”

“Any comment that undermines our relationship [with Israel] concerns me,” said Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Asked if the reference to the “Jewish lobby” is such a statement, Casey said, “Sure, yes.”

Michigan’s Carl Levin said he does not agree with Hagel’s view.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate statement,” Levin said.

And Barbara Boxer of California said she disagreed with the idea that there exists an intimidating "Jewish lobby" in Washington. “People can say whatever they want,” Boxer said. “I don’t agree with it.”

Bob Menendez of New Jersey was more tempered.

“I don’t know exactly how he meant that, but I think every American has a right to lobby their government and for whatever policy they think is important,” Menendez said. “I’ve heard the ‘Cuban lobby’ on Cuban isues, I’ve heard the ‘Armenian lobby’ on the genocide, I’ve heard a lot of different groups. I don’t think necessarily, it depends on how and what is being said. Depends upon whether it’s being used in a pejorative way or in a descriptive way.

“If he’s to be nominated, I’m sure he’ll have an opportunity to explain himself,” Menendez added. “And I’m sure that he’ll be asked.”

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, declined to comment on Hagel or his statements. “If he is sent to us from the White House, there will be hearings and all that stuff,” said the Nevada Democrat.

Some Republican senators have suggested they may question Hagel about his comments regarding Israel and the Jewish lobby if the Nebraska Republican is nominated by Obama.

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