, last updated: January 16, 2013
The Emergency Committee for Israel is a neoconservative pressure group that has pushed the United States to attack Iran and smeared critics—real or perceived—of the U.S. relationship with Israel. Its latest target is former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican nominated to head the Obama administration’s Department of Defense. In a series of vicious attack ads, which one blogger called “ugly” and “facts-optional,” ECI has accused the Vietnam veteran of being weak on Iran and hostile towards Israel.
Well-known neoconservative activist and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol has tried to shape national discourse on everything from the Iraq War to the choice of Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan as GOP vice presidential candidates. Kristol’s latest campaign has been aimed at spurring opposition to the nomination of former Senator Hagel as defense secretary. The campaign appears to be part of a broader Kristol-led effort to de-emphasize unpopular GOP fiscal positions and instead focus on cultivating the party’s hawkish agenda in the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat.
Marshall Wittmann is a longtime Washington operative whose interventionist, “pro-Israel” politics have led him to take a variety of positions—including on the staffs of Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, at the Christian Coalition, and at think tanks espousing various ideological stripes. Now a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Wittman was recently tasked with explaining why AIPAC would stay silent on the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department—a nomination other “pro-Israel” groups have made a cause celebré of opposing. Wittman said AIPAC “does not take positions on presidential nominations,” but experienced insiders think the group is reluctant to sacrifice its influence at the Pentagon over a nomination fight it is likely to lose.
Randy Scheunemann is a well-connected Washington lobbyist whose clients have included Tea Party politicos, the National Rifle Association, defense contractors, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Scheunemann also frequently teams up with neoconservative ideologues to help push particular foreign policy agenda items. A one-time director of the notorious Project for the New American Century—the letterhead group that helped push the United States into the Iraq War—Scheunemann has more recently joined his fellow neocons in trying to sink the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. He quipped recently that Hagel is a “now the über-realist about not committing ground troops” but he had “no compunction about endorsing the guy [Senator McCain] who wanted all options on the table” in Kosovo.
The track record of Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, includes pressing the Iraq “surge,” arguing against U.S. engagement with Iran, and charging Chuck Hagel with “anti-Semitism” for criticizing the influence of the Israel lobby. It is not the first time Pletka has wielded this slur. In May 2004, for example, she told a Washington Post reporter: “I think the phrase 'neocon' is much more popular among people who think it shields their anti-Semitism. But it doesn't.”
According to the GOP strategist and super-PAC head, Chuck Hagel’s support for John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000 revealed something about the former senator’s character. “When McCain became a credible candidate he just flipped,” Rove said in a recent interview. “That’s Hagel: mercurial, focused on doing it his way.”
FROM THE WIRES
Chuck Hagel is no political progressive, but the former Nebraska senator does have a history of butting heads with neoconservatives, the defense industry, and the Israel lobby.
President Obama’s appointment of Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon will likely prove contentious, even as his appointment of John Brennan—an architect of the administration’s controversial targeted killing program—will likely proceed unencumbered.
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During his recent confirmation hearings, new Pentagon chief Ashton Carter gave “every indication that he would be a hard-liner at the Pentagon and a strong counterweight to administration doves.” He said that he would be “inclined” to send “defensive arms” to Ukraine and would resist efforts to speed up the closure of Guantanamo Bay. After his first trip to Afghanistan as secretary of defense, he announced the United States may slow its withdrawal of troops and keep more troops in the country than previously planned.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, has been in the spotlight for his role in organizing—and then failing to properly disclose—a controversial speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress. The surprise announcement of Netanyahu’s speech, which was first made by House Speaker John Boehner shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union address, spurred widespread criticism, with the White House calling it a “breach of protocol” because it had not been notified of the invitation in advance. One observer, referring to Dermer’s role in the affair, said: “In almost any other case, such bad faith and duplicity would lead a host country to ask that an ambassador be withdrawn.”
Billionaire hedge fund investor Seth Klarman is a prolific funder of an array of rightist “pro-Israel” groups. He has supported The Israel Project, the Middle East Forum, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, among other groups. Klarman also invests in Israeli media, having established his own newspaper, the Times of Israel, in 2012. He has bemoaned growing sympathy for the Palestinians, stating: “In the West, ‘Palestinianism’—the notion that an innocent, indigenous people suffers a senseless, cruel oppression by the Jews of Israel (who ought to know better) threatens to become the standard view.”
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been outspoken in his criticisms of the Obama administration, wildly arguing recently that Obama may have “switched sides on the war on terror.” He has also derided the administration for not reaching a status of forces agreement with Afghanistan, stating that even a “trained ape could get a status of forces agreement.” According to the Center for American Progress, the Rumsfeld Foundation has funded the Frank Gaffney-led Center for Security Policy, a stringently anti-Islamic organization.
Nina Rosenwald, an heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune who funds right-wing and anti-Islamic groups, recently gained attention for her support of the U.K.-based Henry Jackson Society, a controversial neoconservative group that has been the subject of debate in Parliament because of its refusal to release details of its corporate backers.
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