The correct term, as Hagel quickly acknowledged last week, is "Israel lobby".
And that is precisely what it is: one of the most potent advocacy groups in Washington DC, and not only here. Few of its spokesmen were more forceful than Ed Koch, the colourful former mayor of New York who died on Friday. Koch, child of Jewish immigrants from Poland, was a passionate Israel supporter, and accused Obama of "turning his back on Israel" by naming Hagel to the Pentagon, which he called "a terrible appointment".
There are those who claim that the lobby's clout is vastly exaggerated, insisting that far from being a sinister body subverting US foreign policy in one of the world's most unstable regions, it is pushing at an open door. Even without a lobby, the thesis runs, Americans would be overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. Which may be true, but misses the point.
Power lies in the perception of power, and the Israel lobby, led by Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is perceived to have a heck of a lot of it. Fall foul of the Israel lobby, with its financial muscle and ability to put the word out, and, it is said, your political career may be doomed. That, presumably, was what Hagel was getting at when he spoke of people in Congress being "intimidated".
True or false? It's impossible to say. What matters is the perception. But one thing is incontestable. Congress is overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. Probably no more than a dozen of the 435 Representatives can remotely be described as "pro-Palestinian", while the mood in the Senate may be divined from a 2000 resolution expressing support for Israel, signed by 96 of its members (Hagel was one of the four who did not).