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The fall and rise of Chuck Hagel: a good sign for US-Israel relations

Chuck Hagel, President Obama's controversial nominee for secretary of Defense, faces his Senate confirmation hearing today. His rise after a wave of objections is a welcome sign that 'daylight' between US and Israeli policies may be becoming more politically acceptable in Washington.

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Chuck Hagel, in Senate confirmation hearings today for his nomination as secretary of Defense, reacts during a meeting on Capitol Hill Jan. 23. Op-ed contributor Rebecca Vilkomerson writes: 'The willingness on the part of the Obama administration – through the Hagel nomination – to entertain political perspectives that are not in lock-step with Israel’s right-wing government' is a welcome step.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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With today's Senate confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel as US secretary of Defense, it is worth taking a moment to review the fall and rise of Mr. Hagel’s nomination.

It is a welcome, if overdue, sign that “daylight” between American and Israeli policies may be becoming more politically acceptable in Washington.

When rumors of the nomination first arose in December, there was a flurry of attacks against the former Republican senator from Nebraska, and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that his nomination was doomed.

Jewish advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League claimed Hagel might be anti-Semitic, based mostly on his injudicious use of the term “Jewish lobby.” Elliott Abrams, the Republican foreign affairs official of Iran-contra infamy, outright leveled the charge.

But the real fear of many Jewish advocacy organizations was actually Hagel’s independent positions on Israel-related issues from Iran to the Palestinians. All the substantial weight of a long list of Jewish institutions was brought against the nomination.

It has been essentially unacceptable in Washington to acknowledge that the United States may at times have different priorities than Israel. Remember, for instance, the October presidential debate, when Mitt Romney criticized President Obama by saying, “The president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel.”

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