Hamas exists. "Friends of Hamas" does not.
From time to time, we still hear Republicans complaining about ACORN, which always strikes me as odd -- ACORN doesn't exist. The organization closed its doors years ago, and is literally incapable of doing whatever it is the right thinks it's doing.
As it happens, fearing the efforts of groups that are both nefarious and imaginary is spreading. Dave Weigel published this gem today.
On February 7, Breitbart News's Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro published an explosive-looking story under the headline "Secret Hagel Donor? White House Ducks Question on 'Friends of Hamas.'" Quoting "Senate sources," Shapiro claimed that crucial documents on Hagel's "foreign funding" might be kept from the Senate Armed Services Committe because "one of the names listed is a group purportedly called "Friends of Hamas."
It was a short item, three paragraphs, the third paragraph consisting of White House assistant communications director Eric Schultz blowing off Shapiro. It caught fire on the right in no time.
The folks you'd expect to run with this -- RedState, National Review, Mike Huckabee, Lou Dobbs, et al -- did so, and last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who's already prone to believe all kinds of strange things he reads on far-right websites, told Hugh Hewitt that Hagel's ties to Friends of Hamas are "more and more concerning."
The problem, as you might have surmised, is that "there's no proof that 'Friends of Hamas' actually exists." As Weigel explained, "The Treasury Department, which designates sponsors of terror, has done so to many charities tied to Hamas. 'Friends of Hamas' is not among them. The State Department doesn't designate it, either. And a bit less holistically, a Lexis search for the group reveals absolutely nothing."
So, much of the right has spent a week outraged by Hagel's ties to an organization that's imaginary. The nominee's conservative critics desperately want to pretend he's anti-Israel, so someone made up a claim, and the right embraced it without so much as a hint of skepticism.
In an amusing twist, Frank Gaffney, a far-right activist and prominent anti-Islam voice, had this amazing reaction to reality:
"At this writing and absent the requested disclosure, it cannot be determined whether Mr. Hagel is literally associated with the 'friends' of a designated terrorist organization. The mere fact, though, that it seems entirely ... should be the last straw for Senate Republicans and Democrats alike."
Let me get this straight. The right has accused Hagel of having ties to a group. The group doesn't exist. But the fact that some on the right thought the bogus story might be true should serve as evidence that Hagel is ... bad. Or something.
Hagel's nomination offered an opportunity for a worthwhile debate about military policy, national security, and the use of force around the globe. It's a genuine shame Republicans weren't willing, or perhaps weren't able, to bring their A game.