Jennifer Rubin Goes To War

It’s not often that activists or pundits openly admit they are proposing a “litmus test” for politicians. The very term is typically used to denounce ideological constraints on policy-makers that are designed more to demonstrate the power of the tester than the fidelity to principle of those asked to pass the test.

So leave it to WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin to boldly proclaim (in a post headlined “The Hagel Litmus Test”) a “no” vote against Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as Defense Secretary is required by a whole bunch of litmus tests. Indeed, she even subjects pundits to a litmus test.

Her post occasionally mentions Hagel’s famous 1990s anti-gay slur (unexceptional among conservatives at the time), but it’s clear she thinks Hagel must be defeated for once having uttered the phrase “Jewish Lobby” (an utterance for which, like the anti-gay slur, he has apologized). Apparently, Hagel having said this represents an existential threat to Jews everywhere, viz. this insane characterization of Democrats who fail to rise up as one to kill the nomination:

One recalls the Jewish “leaders” of the 1930s too afraid of making a fuss to take on FDR when it came to rescuing the Jews of Europe.

Really? Is that what Hagel’s one-time use of an offensive phrase is equivalent to? The destruction of European Jewry?

So it seems to Rubin:

This is not merely about Israel or Iran policy or defense spending. It is about the acceptability of the worst expression of anti-Semitism, the accusation of disloyalty. There is no other meaning to Hagel’s phrase “Jewish lobby.” The declaration from Hagel that he is not “the senator from Israel” (Who said he should be?) is again a direct attack on Jews’ fidelity to the United States. For decades this kind of venomous language has been gaining acceptance in Europe. But never in America. In elevating Hagel the president in a real and troubling way moves us closer to Western Europe. Indeed the most disturbing aspect of Hagel’s nomination is not his impact on policy (President Obama has and will continue to make one blunder after another), but what it says about the U.S. president’s willingness to embrace a man espousing the world’s oldest hatred.

What makes this attack so bizarre is that during the recent presidential election the various Republican candidates, none of them Jewish–including the nominee and Jennifer Rubin’s favorite, Mitt Romney–emphatically promised to subordinate U.S. foreign policy to whatever Bibi Netanyahu chose to do. That’s the only way I can understand the endlessly repeated dual demands that (a) there be “no space” between U.S. and Israeli Middle Eastern policy, and (b) that the current Israeli government should be entirely free to pursue whatever course of action it saw fit with respect to Iran and to its other regional neighbors (including occupied areas of Palestine). I wouldn’t call that “dual loyalty” (a term Chuck Hagel, to my knowledge, has never used) but would call it questionable, particularly coming from politicians who typically pose as super-patriots.

Instead of talking about the “Jewish Lobby,” Hagel should have scored the many members of his own party who for reasons of currying favor with conservative evangelicals have promised to outsource U.S. policy in one of the most volatile parts of the world to a foreign government–any foreign government, ever.

And that’s the irony of Rubin’s line of attack here: in an effort to bring down political heat on anyone she chooses to label as “anti-Israel” or as “espousing the world’s oldest hatred,” she enhances the impression that the only choices in American politics today are unconditional support for Bibi Netanyahu even if it means commitment to an unnecessary war, or hostility to Israel. That is indeed the general attitude in Western Europe, and it’s a false choice that is far more dangerous to Israel and conducive to anti-Semitism than anything Chuck Hagel represents.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.