Supporters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, gathered in Washington this weekend in the wake of a the confirmation of a Secretary of Defense that left many of them feeling uncomfortable. Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska, was originally nominated by President Barack Obama on January 7. Senate Republicans filibustered the appointment on February 14, stalling the process until relenting in a 58-41 vote on February 26.
AIPAC largely avoided the fight. The group lobbies Congress, not the President. It seeks to impact policy rather than White House personnel. Many of AIPAC’s supporters felt the group dropped the ball by silently watching as other vocal groups took a stand against Hagel. The group was hit by phone calls over the past few weeks from supporters wanting the group to do something to stop Hagel’s confirmation.
“The political reality is that you intimidate, not you — that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. Again, I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel.”
Hagel has since apologized, saying that he should have said “Pro-Israel” rather than inaccurately single out a religion. Not all Jews support Israel, and many of the most vocal advocates for Israel are not Jewish. Regardless, his words aggravated many supporters of AIPAC and similar organizations, the ones his words directly scrutinized. The new Secretary of Defense is on record as viewing their tactics as counter-productive.
“I was very disappointed with the Hagel appointment,” David Feder, a donor from New Jersey, said. “It passed, and he’s our next Secretary of Defense, but I think he’s the wrong person for the job.”
AIPAC identifies as a grassroots movement of more than 100,000 members working to protect Israel and American interests in the Middle East and around the world. The group’s priority is to ensure that both the US and Israel remain strong and work together.
Not all of AIPAC’s supporters are disappointed by the organization’s inaction during Hagel’s confirmation process.
“It’s not AIPAC’s business,” Michael Lerner, a long-time donor from Kansas, said. “Our business is to work with congress on legislation. The president’s entitled to appoint whoever he wants.”
If AIPAC rallies Congress against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s policies as expected, they may find many in Congress ready to put up just as much fight as they did during the confirmation process.