He’s going to be confirmed. Sadly. Chuck Hagel who was nominated by the President to serve as his Secretary of Defense will eventually be confirmed by Congress for the job. This could in theory spell disaster for the State of Israel.
If you are Jewish or a supporter of Israel – unless you have been hiding under a rock somewhere you have probably heard by now that Hagel cannot under any reasonable interpretation of his past statements be considered a friend of the Jewish people. The most troubling of those statements is the following (from The Telegraph):
“[T]he Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here” and “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”
I am absolutely convinced that during Congressional hearings he will explain these comments away. He will say that “some of his best friends are Jewish” or some such “reassuring” comment to show that he is not an anti Semite. He will explain that he has no animosity at all toward the Jewish people and was merely expressing the truth about a very powerful lobby… and that he might have used the same language about the gun lobby.
Why did he use the phrase “Jewish Lobby” instead of “Israeli Lobby”? Well… that was just a slip of the tongue. The Israeli Lobby is comprised of Jews. It’s an easy mistake to make. He perhaps might point to “ distinguished” American Jews like Noam Chomsky or Tony Kushner who have been very critical of Israel. He may point to Jewish groups like J-Street who defend him – touting his pro Israel voting record. A record that is selectively cited. A fuller record shows that this support is questionable.
He will defend his beliefs with respect to Israel dealing directly with Hamas and the US negotiating directly with Iran as reasonable. And the truth is that these positions are not necessarily anti-Semitic. They are just radical. And in my view very naïve if not down right stupid. Especially since both of those positions are in diametric opposition to US foreign policy. A policy signed onto by the President himself. And for good reason. But I digress.
Because of answers like these and the apology he gave with respect to his insulting comments about homosexuals, he will be confirmed. Which to me – is very disappointing.
It bothers me that a high ranking official in the government – perhaps the 2nd most important position in the cabinet after Secretary of State is being given to a latent anti Semite.
That’s right. I think he is an anti Semite. Even if he doesn’t think he is. There is no way anyone who uses the term Jewish Lobby in the pejorative way he did is not in some way anti Semitic. He may not want to ship all Jews in America into death camps. In fact I would be willing to bet he would be willing to fight a war over such a notion. But that does not mean he doesn’t have a softer but still bigoted view of us.
From that kind of statement it can be seen that he thinks “the Jews” have too much power in the US. That’s what a phrase like “Jewish Lobby” has come to mean. It is a favorite phrase of every fringe group in the world who hates Jews. Like the Neo-Nazis or the KKK. It suggests images of a “Zionist conspiracy” and a “Zionist occupied government.” It hints at the suggestion that the Jews are running the country… and that he – Hagel – stands alone as a bulwark against the Jewish Lobby as an “American” senator. Not an “Israeli” senator. This kind of talk makes him hero to those fringe groups.
It is also a fact that the Israeli Lobby is not comprised of just Jews. Evangelical Christians are as much supporters of Israel as Jews are. More in fact. These Christian Zionists are more pro Israel Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is.
Jewish Lobby indeed! This was not a mere slip of the tongue. This was his true thinking being exposed in an unguarded moment of candor.
It isn’t only me who feels that Hagel’s comments are troubling. It isn’t even only Jewish interest groups like the ADL that thinks so. It is also the view of many of America’s most distinguished senators that think so. On both sides of the political aisle. Like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Chuck Shummer. And they are not even Christian Zionists. Are they part of the Jewish Lobby too? As Senator Graham said:
Mr Hagel “would be the most antagonistic secretary of defence towards the state of Israel in our nation’s history.”
I am disappointed in the President. No… I still believe that he is in not in any way an anti-Semite. I think he has chosen Hagel for his Defense Secretary simply because he likes the guy. He worked with him when they were together in the Senate and they became friends. They both opposed the Iraq war, the key issue of the day then. He sees Hagel as a principled patriot. A man who served his country heroically as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam earning two purple hearts. He likes the idea of having a Republican on his team… making it more bi-partisan. At least in name.
President Obama is no anti-Semite. He has proven that to me in many different ways. In fact he will probably choose an observant Jew, Jack Lew, for the position of Secretary of the Treasury, perhaps the 3rd most important position in the cabinet. One might even argue that in the current economic climate – it is the most important cabinet position. And then there is the unprecedented US financial and military aid to Israel… and the unprecedented intelligence cooperation between the two countries.
Anyone who suggests that Obama is an anti Semite is just blinded by pure hatred for the man in my opinion. It is demonstrably untrue. I should add that anyone who suggests that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright had anything to do with Obama’s policies on Israel or his choices for who will serve in his cabinet is truly living in a fantasy world.
This makes it all the more perplexing as to why he would choose Hagel for the job. Even if he likes him personally. Why would he want to antagonize American Jews with such a pick? Why would he choose to antagonize Congress – many members have already said that they are troubled by this man and will not have an easy time voting to confirm him? Why spend political capital on such a controversial pick when he needs allies in the coming battle over the budget? It’s not like it was smooth sailing in that department recently.
Pundits are saying that he is sticking with Hagel because he had to back down with Susan Rice as his choice for Secretary of State. He doesn’t want to back down again and show weakness.
What a mess. I don’t like Hagel. I think he has animosity towards Israel and I firmly believe that he is no friend of the Jewish people.
I can just hear it now. I fear that if Israel ever faces existential danger such as that threatened by Iran, Hagel might just say that he is the Secretary of Defense of the US… and not the Defense Minster of Israel. He would argue that he has seen the horrors of war and does not want to spill one drop of American blood in yet another foreign war… and while he is sympathetic to Israel’s plight, bottom line is that Israel is not our concern.
It’s too bad the President has chosen this man for this job. As I said, he will probably be confirmed. All he needs is a simple majority of congress. He’ll probably get it. (Although I still hope he doesn’t)
I wish he had chosen Susan Rice or even Colin Powell. Compared to Hagel they are a Zionists.
Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.Harry Maryles
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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