A leading pro-Israel political action committee urged its members to prevent Chuck Hagel from being nominated defense secretary, while a group of former U.S. diplomats endorsed him.
"The most outstanding thing about the Senator's record on the threats America and its allies face is the consistent solicitude he has shown toward Iran and the terrorist organizations and states it funds: Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria," reads the model letter sent to members by NORPAC, the New Jersey-based committee.
Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, has expressed doubts about the efficacy of Iran sanctions and did not join other senators in signing onto letters backed by pro-Israel and Jewish groups.
He backed a number of bills isolating Iran and terrorist groups but also supported dialogue with Iran and such groups.
The Emergency Committee for Israel, a group that has attacked President Obama's Israel record, is running an anti-Hagel ad on cable networks in the Washington D.C. area called "Not an Option."
Citing Hagel's Senate record on Iran, Christians United for Israel said it too would oppose a Hagel nomination.
A number of pro-Israel groups and figures have indicated opposition to President Obama's reported consideration of Hagel for defense secretary. But dovish Israel policy groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now have rallied to his side, and he was praised by some Jewish former colleagues, such as Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Meanwhile, nine former diplomats who have worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations published an open letter defending Hagel.
"Time and again he chose to take the path of standing up for our nation over political expediency," said the letter, posted on the Foreign Policy magazine website and including as signatories five former ambassadors to Israel. "He has always supported the pillars of American foreign policy -- such as: a strong NATO and Atlantic partnership; a commitment to the security of Israel, as a friend and ally; a determination to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and the defense of human rights as a core principle of America’s role in the world."
The former envoys to Israel are Edward Djerejian, William Harrop, Daniel Kurtzer, Samuel Lewis and Thomas Pickering. Another signatory is Nicholas Burns, an undersecretary of state under President George W. Bush.
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