U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) said he will support former Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense.
Lautenberg joins a number of prominent pro-Israel figures in backing Hagel, over objections by some in the pro-Israel camp over Hagel’s views on Iran and Israel.
A statement by Lautenberg’s office described his meeting with Hagel on Jan. 24.
“Senator Hagel and I had a constructive meeting, during which he answered a wide range of questions and allayed many of my concerns,” said Lautenberg, according to the statement. “Senator Hagel clarified his position on Iran sanctions and Israel, and I am confident he is firmly committed to ensuring a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. It also is clear to me that Senator Hagel will work to promote equal treatment and opportunities for all service members.
Lautenberg said he and Hagel worked on a number of veterans initiatives during their time together in the Senate, and that Hagel’s experience as a veteran of the Vietnam War “will be an important guide as he moves forward in this new role.
“He will have my support for Defense Secretary when the Senate votes on his nomination in the coming weeks,” said Lautenberg. “As we discussed in our meeting today, my colleagues and I will be watching his actions closely to ensure that issues of concern do not emerge as he takes on this critical position.”
On Wednesday, a pro-Hagel ad signed by Jewish and pro-Israel leaders appeared in The Hill, a Capitol Hill daily. It said the former Nebraska senator would “ably continue security cooperation between the United States and the State of Israel, which has reached unprecedented levels during President Obama’s time in office.”
Among the 45 signatories to the ad, which was organized by the Israel Policy Forum, were former ambassadors to Israel and a number of public figures known for their pro-Israel activism as well as involvement in Democratic politics. They included former Congress members Mel Levine, Gary Ackerman and Robert Wexler; Stuart Eizenstat, a former top official in the Carter and Clinton administrations who helped broker Holocaust reparation agreements; Rabbi Sharon Brous, who founded the IKAR congregation in Los Angeles; Tom Dine, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; and the philanthropist Charles Bronfman.
By contrast, NORPAC, the Englewood-based pro-Israel PAC, announced its opposition to the Hagel nomination, citing “the consistent solicitude he has shown toward Iran and the terrorist organizations and states it funds: Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria.”
“We believe that this nomination is problematic and should be declined,” NORPAC president Ben Chouake wrote in an oped. “The record of Senator Hagel related to his future possible responsibilities can be accurately described as fringe.”
Meanwhile, Christians United for Israel announced plans to bring 200 pastors and other Christian leaders to Washington to lobby against Hagel's confirmation, according to Breitbart.com.
Hagel in recent weeks has met with Jewish leaders, apologizing for a 2006 interview in which he referred to a “Jewish lobby” that was “intimidating” and making clear his support for for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He also told the leaders of his support for sanctions on Iran and his willingness to resort to a military strike as a last resort to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
In the CUFI announcement, spokesmen for the group said the delegation would meet with staffers in the offices of all 100 U.S. senators and would arrive under the aegis of its affiliate, the CUFI Action Network.
CUFI has joined other conservative groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Zionist Organization of America, and the Emergency Committee for Israel in pushing against Hagel's nomination because of his past skepticism of unilateral Iran sanctions and past wariness of military engagement with Iran.
JTA contributed to this report