Colin Powell, a former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on January 13 that criticisms of President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Department of Defense are misguided. Speaking to David Gregory on the Meet the Press talkshow, Powell argued that the “Jewish lobby” is a term that “slips out from time to time,” while offering that Obama's defense nominee, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, should use the term "Israeli lobby" in reference to the Jewish State's influence in Washington DC. Powell has long been considered a moderate Republican, even while he supported the candidacy of Barack Obama in 2008.
GREGORY: You brought up Israel. He referred to a “Jewish lobby,” saying it intimidates a lot of people on Capitol Hill. What kind of thinking does that reflect? Can you understand pro-Israel senators being concerned by that comment?
POWELL: They shouldn’t be that concerned. That term slips out from time to time. There was an article this week that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz occasionally uses the same thing. Chuck should have said “Israeli lobby,” not “Jewish lobby”–and, perhaps, he needs to write on a blackboard a hundred times, “It is the Israeli lobby.” But there is an Israeli lobby. There are people who are very supportive of the state of Israel–I’m very supportive of the state of Israel, so is Sen. Hagel, and you’ll see that in the confirmation hearings–but it doesn’t mean you have to agree on every position the Israeli lobby takes.
Hagel used the term "Jewish lobby" in a 2008 interview. Hagel has faced other criticism from pro-Israel groups and some in the Jewish community. As president and chief executive officer of the World USO, Hagel sought to close the USO port in the Israeli city of Haifa, telling a Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) official at the time, “Let the Jews pay for it.”
On the January 13 program, Gregory continued to button-hole Powell on a series of votes and statements made by Hagel about Israel and Mideast policies in the past. Gregory noted that Hagel was in a distinct minority in the Senate concerning Israel, saying that in 2000 Hagel was one of only four senators who did not sign a letter of solidarity with Israel which at the time was engaged in a violent Palestinian intifada or uprising.
Powell also recently opined that "racism" motivates some Republicans to oppose President Obama. He condemned what he called the Republican Party's “dark vein of intolerance” and the use of racial code words to oppose Obama. Even while Powell did not drop any names, he did single out former Mitt Romney surrogate and New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu for calling Obama “lazy,” and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who, Powell charged, used slavery-era terms to describe Obama:
POWELL: There’s also a dark — a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that that they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that?
When I see a former governor say that the President is “shuckin’ and jivin’,” that’s racial era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow. He was tired. He didn’t do well. He said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?
Powell served as an Army officer during the Vietnam War and rose through the ranks to ultimately become National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the George H.W. Bush presidency, and then Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, all of whom were Republican.