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Right Guy, Wrong Trip to Mideast

July 17, 2008 By:
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In a strange twist, the Republican Jewish Coalition called on Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, to uninvite Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska, from an upcoming trip to Israel.

The RJC, which asserts that the GOP is the more pro-Israel party, argued in a press release that Hagel happens to be one Republican with a poor legislative record concerning the Jewish state. To bolster their case, the RJC pointed to the Web site of its archrival, the National Jewish Democratic Council.

But the RJC press release got one key fact very wrong.

According to the Obama campaign, Hagel isn't going on the trip, and, in fact, was never scheduled to visit Israel with the Illinois senator.

However, Hagel -- a Vietnam veteran and vocal critic of President George W. Bush's Iraq policy -- is slated to take part in a congressional delegation to Iraq and Afghanistan with Obama and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Several news outlets stated that Obama is considering Hagel, who is not seeking re-election, as a possible running mate -- a move meant to woo independent voters.

The day after its initial press release, the RJC sent out a follow-up acknowledging its error.

"However, while Hagel is not going to Israel with Obama, it does not change the fact that we remain concerned about the ongoing outreach by Sen. Obama to Sen. Hagel," said Matt Brooks, RJC's executive director. "That Obama is looking to Hagel for advice and counsel on foreign-policy matters should be a real cause of concern to the American Jewish community."

Ira Forman, executive director of NJDC, fired back that the critique of Hagel represents just the latest in a string of "guilt-by-association" attacks meant to call into question Obama's commitment to Israel.

Foreman said that a candidate's voting record and past statements are fair game, but the RJC's approach should be considered "cynical."

"It appeals to people's fears," he said, "and it's a smear that, ethically, we, as Jews, shouldn't be involved with."

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