Hagel assures Jewish groups on Israel, Iran

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Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, met with leaders of several American Jewish organizations at the White House last week in an effort to alleviate any of their concerns ahead of his confirmation hearing, officials and Jewish groups said.

Hagel’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee has been scheduled for Jan. 31st.

“Senator Hagel met with the leadership of several major American Jewish organizations at the White House as a part of his ongoing outreach,” an official working on Sen. Hagel’s confirmation told the Back Channel Tuesday.

“He discussed his commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship, including his determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, to maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, and to sustaining the Obama Administration’s unprecedented security cooperation with Israel,” the official said. “He appreciated the opportunity to have a constructive, informed and wide-ranging discussion.”

The meeting, held at the White House last Friday Jan. 18th, included representatives from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti- Defamation League (ADL), and the AJC, as well as Vice President Biden.

The meeting was “an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion of key issues of importance to all of us.,” a statement from the Conference of Presidents sent to journalists Monday said.

Meantime, a former ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee argued that allegations that Hagel is “indifferent to Israel” or “soft on Iran” are “false.”

“Make no mistake: Chuck Hagel has an unbroken record of supporting policies that strengthen military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel,” Sam Gejdenson, a former Democratic member of Congress from Connecticut, who is Jewish, wrote at Politico Jan. 16th. “He has declared, ‘At its core, there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel, exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense.’  Time and again, he voted to provide billions of dollars of U.S. military and security assistance for Israel.”

(Among Gejdenson’s former staffers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee staff are deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, whom Obama has tapped to be his new White House chief of staff, a US official recalled to the Back Channel.)

A representative of AIPAC did not immediately respond to a query for guidance on the meeting.

Several key Jewish lawmakers have come out in support of Hagel’s nomination, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), and Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation,” Schumer said in a statement Jan. 15th, adding that he encourages his fellow Senate colleagues who shared such concerns to also support him.

(Photo: Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images.)