Political Animal


January 07, 2013 5:08 PM Jennifer Rubin Goes To War

By Ed Kilgore

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 is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on January 07, 2013 5:31 PM:

    A lot of pundits, like Jennifer Rubin, who think America should bow to the Likud and that if we don't we are anti-Jewish are full of crap. Hagel's use of the term "Jewish lobby" was wrong. He probably meant and should have said the "Likud lobby." The degree to which that political party has control of the conversation about American Israeli policy in America is truly disturbing.

  • Stuart Shiffman on January 07, 2013 5:33 PM:

    Ms. Rubin's history is as bad as her politics. In fact in the 30's there were many Jewish leaders who went to Washington to sound the alarm of what was happening in Europe. But they did so quietly. President Roosevelt, to his shame ignored much of what they said.

  • biggerbox on January 07, 2013 5:37 PM:

    Ironically, by getting an irrational screed out of Jennifer Rubin, Hegel passes a litmus test of a different sort. When has that woman ever been right?

  • jim filyaw on January 07, 2013 5:41 PM:

    i don't consider myself anti-semitic, but rants like rubin's, and remembering things like the 67 israeli attack on the uss liberty, jonathan pollard, and the way israel did business with iran while they were holding our hostages is beginning to make me reconsider.

  • rdale on January 07, 2013 6:22 PM:

    Don't be so hard on Jennifer, she's just gotten through crossing out all the "MR + JR" surrounded by little hearts on her reporter's notebook. The poor girl is on the rebound after being dumped by Willard!

  • Larry Reilly on January 07, 2013 6:29 PM:

    Might you folks be just too quick to say that Hagel's saying "Jewish lobby" in such a legitimate context is wrong and bad etc.?

    Check this one example from Richard Cohen now on the Washington Post online, defending Hagel:

    -- '''page 426 of Anita Shapira’s new book, “Israel: A History.” She writes that when the George H.W. Bush administration in 1992 withheld $10 billion in loan guarantees, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir “enlisted the help of the Jewish lobby in the U.S. Congress, but in vain.” Shapira is professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University.'''

  • Bob M on January 07, 2013 6:44 PM:

    " israel did business with iran while they were holding our hostages"

    They what?!

  • 4jkb4ia on January 07, 2013 7:39 PM:

    "The Jewish lobby in the US Congress" can be read as Members of Congress and staffers who happen to be Jewish. Saying "The Jewish lobby" when you clearly mean AIPAC & Co. ignores that there are plenty of people who share the same views as AIPAC and aren't Jewish, and there are plenty of people who don't share those views and are. That's what's troublesome about it and Hagel really should have known better. Does that mean he is an anti-Semite? No.

  • Argaman on January 07, 2013 9:10 PM:

    Jim Filyaw - you say, "i don't consider myself anti-semitic, but rants like rubin's, and remembering things like the 67 israeli attack on the uss liberty, jonathan pollard, and the way israel did business with iran while they were holding our hostages is beginning to make me reconsider."

    Even if all of those things happened the way you think they did (a point I don't concede), why would they warrant hating all Jews (which is what antisemitism is) for the actions of the Israeli government and the words of one dumb pundit? Would it be just for someone to hate all Americans because of actions of the American government that they didn't like?

    To put it in more personal terms - I'm Jewish, and I think it's unjust for you to hate me and other Jews because of what either the Israeli government has done, or what Jennifer Rubin has said. I think you need to rethink whether it's right to blame an entire group of people for things that only a few of them have done.

  • jjm on January 07, 2013 10:30 PM:

    These conservative pundits, like the conservative members of Congress, are simply trying to throw their increasingly light weight around.

    They are remarkably impotent. (Unless we lend them too much credence and too many headlines.)

  • Jeff on January 08, 2013 8:12 AM:

    AIPAC itself has used the term Jewish lobby. They, and their foot soldiers, are not in a position to complain.

  • massivRuss on January 08, 2013 8:30 AM:

    Extremely well stated, Ed.

    There are U.S. interests; there are Israeli interests. They may coincide, we may be dedicated allies, but ceding ownership of critical U.S. interests to a foreign government, Israel or otherwise, is a fundamental dereliction of duty. Recognizing this clear responsibility to U.S. sovereignty is not anti-semitic. Using charges of anti-semitism to twist the discussion is despicable.

    Now, is there any room for discussion of the dangerous influence of actual Jewish Americans who really do wish to cloud the boundaries of U.S. sovereignty? Sheldon Adelson comes to mind, seeking to own both Romney and Netanyahu, not merely outsourcing, but privatizing critical U.S. interests.

  • Wally on January 08, 2013 10:04 AM:

    You left out the best part of her column, the opening line: "If Republicans had nervy firebrands like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy..." Yes, it's too bad there are no 'nervy firebrands' in the Republican party.

  • Epicurus on January 08, 2013 12:47 PM:

    Jennifer Rubin is a paid hack, in thrall to Bibi and Likud. Let's not really take anything she writes seriously, shall we? The fact that Kaplan continues to employ this person reflects badly on their hiring practices, but that's on them, too. Please...Rubin is poorly-equipped to accuse others of "bias."

  • smartalek on January 09, 2013 12:23 AM:

    @ Larry Reilly and jeff:

    I mean no disrespect to either of you personally, but I do have ask if you're aware just how much your points sound like the disingenuous whining the right-wingers so often engage in, about how those hippity-hoppity-rapsters use "the n-word" all the time, so no way are said wingers being racist when they get caught with their euphemisms down?
    Do I really have to point out to you that you'd likely be highly angered if someone who's not a member of your family were to direct insults at your mother -- but that you yourself would get a pass if you, in a moment of weakness and/or stress, were to say exactly the same things... precisely because you're family?
    As that great song puts it, "only a ginger can call another ginger 'ginger'."