The false claim that Chuck Hagel had been endorsed for defense secretary by a nonexistent group called “Friends of Hamas” began as a ridiculous hypothetical, says the reporter who first floated it.
Dan Friedman of the New York Daily News Washington bureau wrote: “Fortunately for Hagel, this claim, which galloped across the Internet, was bogus. I know, because I was the unwitting source.
“In the process, I became part of an inadvertent demonstration of how quickly partisan agendas and the Internet can transform an obvious joke into a Washington talking point used by senators and presidential wannabes.
“Here’s what happened: When rumors swirled that Hagel received speaking fees from controversial organizations, I attempted to check them out.
“On Feb. 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did Hagel’s Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed?
“Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the “Junior League of Hezbollah, in France”? And: What about “Friends of Hamas”?
“The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically,” wrote Friedman.
But the next day, the conservative site Breitbart.com screamed the headline:
The story read: “On Thursday, Senate sources told Breitbart News exclusively that they have been informed one of the reasons that President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has not turned over requested documents on his sources of foreign funding is that one of the names listed is a group purportedly called ‘Friends of Hamas.’”
The Breitbart author, Ben Shapiro, tweeted his false story to 40,000 followers, and other sites on the right picked it up.
Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic noted that Shapiro wrote a column 10 years ago calling for the expulsion of all Palestinians form the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has been key to lining up Democrats behind Hagel, said Wednesday that the former Nebraska senator “almost had tears in his eyes” when told of the hurt behind the term “Jewish lobby,” a phrase he used in 2006.
Schumer said he initially had concerns about Hagel, but said his doubts were resolved in an emotional 90-minute lunch he had with the nominee at President Barack Obama’s behest, the Daily News reported.
"He struck me as sincere,” Schumer said. “I also told him when he used the word 'Jewish lobby,' what it meant to Jewish people.”
"And I told him what a double standard it is,” Schumer continued. “That Jewish people throughout the centuries have suffered a double standard. Everyone could be a farmer except Jewish people. Everyone could live in Moscow except Jewish people.”
“I said, 'When everyone else can lobby but all of a sudden when those of us who are pro-Israel lobby, it's a negative, that's a double standard. And I'm sure you didn't mean it, but it harkens to the old days,' he said.
Schumer, a staunch ally to Israel, said Hagel paused and then swore he grasped the anti-Semitic associations.
“And he really, you know, he almost had tears in his eyes when he understood,” Schumer said. “So I believe he will be good."
Hagel said in an interview seven years ago that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here [on Capitol Hill].” He has repeatedly apologized for the remark since then.
Schumer said Hagel understands the threat Iran poses to Israel and said that no notable Jewish groups have stepped forward to oppose the nomination.
Schumer believes the GOP opposition to their fellow Republican stems from his opposition to the Iraq War.
"The main fight on Hagel is coming from the neocons," said Schumer, who answered questions after an appearance at an Association for a Better New York breakfast in Lower Manhattan.
"And they resent Hagel's apostasy on Iraq. You may remember - the neocons helped push Iraq - and Hagel was one of the first Republicans to say Iraq wasn't working,” Schumer said. “And he was right. But that's where it's coming from.”