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COHEN: The underhanded attacks on Chuck Hagel

  • (SIGNE WILKINSON / Philadelphia Daily News)

Before they were girls, they were women. Before that, they were girls. I am not talking here of the chronology of females but of acceptable usage. Back in the 1970s, for instance, the use of “girl" could trigger a stinging rebuke and the damning charge of male chauvinist piggism — or why else would a man call a woman a girl? This was the Golden Age of political correctness, which now, it seems, has its last redoubt on, of all places, the opinion pages of the robustly anti-PC Wall Street Journal. There, Chuck Hagel is accused of uttering the no-no phrase “the Jewish lobby” — supposedly a virtual confession of anti-Semitism.

The absurdity of this charge, leveled by editorial writer and columnist Bret Stephens just last month, ought to be apparent to anyone who reads what Israelis themselves write. I direct Stephens and others to page 426 of Anita Shapira's new book, “Israel: A History.” There, she writes that when the George 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.

It is true, as Stephens writes, that Jews are not the only ones who support Israel, and it is likewise true that not all Jews support Israel — or at least the current government of Benjamin Netanyahu. But Stephens' real beef with Hagel is not over speech but policy. Not only does the former Nebraska senator and Barack Obama's choice for secretary of defense march to a different drummer, but in some cases the average ear can hear no drummer at all.

On Iran, for instance, Hagel's preferred policy — no sanctions but lots of talk — would hardly compel Tehran to abandon its (strongly) suspected nuclear weapons program. That may not happen, anyway, but there's something to be said for the effort.

I, too, have some qualms about Hagel.

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