Yesterday the Republican Jewish Coalition was taunting its Democratic rival, the National Jewish Democratic Council, over the appointment of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to serve a co-chair of the President's National Intelligence Advisory Board. As the RJC was quick to point out after news of the appointment broke, the NJDC had put out several statements over the years blasting Hagel for his "questionable Israel record." In particular, Hagel had refused to sign a series of letters that had broad bipartisan support and which focused on a range of issues of great importance to the Jewish community. He had refused to sign a letter in August 2006 asking the EU to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. In 2004, Hagel had refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran's nuclear program at the G-8 summit.
NJDC executive director Ira Forman responded by blasting his counterpart at the RJC, Matt Brooks. Brooks, Forman said, is "not concerned with little issues like shame or hypocrisy." Forman said that RJC had plenty of opportunities to question Hagel's record when Hagel was serving in the Senate. "Apparently [the RJC] just recently had a revelation" about Hagel's foreign policy views. But neither was Forman prepared to denounce Hagel again now that the shoe was on the other foot. "Anybody who's looking for purity from us is going to be disappointed," Forman said in the course of declining to criticize the appointment.
Still, Forman isn't a fan of Hagel. He suggested that NJDC would publicly oppose Hagel's nomination for a position with more authority. "If [Hagel] was taking a policy role, we'd have real concerns," Forman said. And Forman indicated that his group would oppose Hagel's appointment to any position that had influence over U.S.-Israel relations.
While the RJC may not have "even a little credibility to attack" this appointment, as Forman says, the bipartisan show of discomfort with Hagel's foreign policy views suggests Hagel is not destined for a bigger role in this administration.
An interesting postscript to this story is the fact that Hagel's appointment was announced at J Street's gala dinner on Tuesday night just before Hagel delivered the keynote speech at that event. NJDC is an explicitly partisan, Democratic organization, while J Street aspires, or at least claims to aspire, to bipartisan influence. Still, the fact that Forman remains dubious of Hagel's pro-Israel credentials while J Street--an organization struggling to convince itself and others that it really is pro-Israel--offers the former Nebraska senator a prime speaking slot at its inaugural conference is yet more evidence of the contradictions that are tearing J Street apart.
Update: RJC chief Matt Brooks denies that his group "being somehow inconsistent in our opposition to Hagel." Forman is "being totally disingenuous," Brooks said, noting the RJC had "never given [Hagel] money from our PAC." Brooks argued that this was the truest indicator of support from his group since "we actually vote with our financial resources." Brooks says the RJC PAC raised $195,000 in 2008 in contrast to the $11,000 raised by the NJDC (both numbers according to Brooks).
Brooks points to this statement from last summer, criticizing Hagel ahead of Obama's campaign swing through the Middle East, as evidence that the RJC was not afraid to criticize Hagel while he was still an elected Republican official. On that score, however, Forman correctly notes that the RJC refrained from criticizing Hagel until Hagel had become a public ally of Barack Obama. Still, Brooks says that "the reality is they're the one being inconsistent -- they've muzzled their concern rather than speak out about this appointment."