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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Hagel’s Homophobia and Biblical Indifference to Israel

Why would the Senator insist on the Biblical teachings regarding homosexuality but not those of protecting Israel?
Chuck Hagel with friends.

Chuck Hagel with friends.

A few years ago, I was out having dinner with my orthodox, gay, Jewish brother when a religious man walked over to me and asked if I was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. From his aggressive posture I knew in my gut that I should not respond in the affirmative but was simply too tired to lie. So I said, yes, I was he. “I think you’re a dog and a disgrace to religion.” After offering a short, “Ruff, ruff,” I asked him what I had done to so offend him. He said, “You call yourself a Rabbi but you’re always out defending gays whom the Bible clearly says are an abomination.” I tried to reason with the man but his hatred for me was such that I had to let it go.

What I experienced that day had happened often enough to me to kind of get used to it. But the irony was that my brother was sitting right there and he too has had to endure, since coming out in his late teens, the ugliness of some religious people treating him with vitriol. Still, he has held tightly on to his Jewish faith and its rituals and leads a charitable, compassionate life. He will not allow religious haters to tell him whether or not he is allowed a relationship with God.

This painful story came to mind when I read of former Senator Chuck Hagel’s radical opposition, in 1998, to James Hormel, President Bill Clinton’s choice to be ambassador to Luxembourg, on the grounds that Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay.” Here was a United States senator abusing his power and refusing to allow a nomination for an Ambassadorship to go ahead simply because the man was gay. And yes, I am well aware of the fact that Hagel has not apologized, albeit 13 years later, when political expediency would demand it.

Now, I understand that Luxembourg is an extremely vital diplomatic post and that our chief diplomat there is an essential cog in the larger wheel of national security. But just what was Hagel worried about?

If the issue was that Hormel was not living in accordance with Biblical teachings, then neither was the President of the United States in that fateful year of 1998. Besides, America is a country with separation of church and state. So a man’s unwillingness to live in accordance with all the laws of the Bible should surely not weigh in any decision as to his worthiness for public office.

And unlike the President of the United States who was guilty of a moral infraction in deceiving his wife through infidelity, homosexuality is a religious sin that is not a moral infraction since no one is being lied to. The ban on homosexuality in the Bible is similar to the ban on lighting fire on the Sabbath. There is nothing immoral about it, but it contravenes religious law.

Perhaps Hagel was saying that, regardless, a man who openly defies the dictates of the Bible cannot be trusted in a public role. But then the Bible also says, regarding Israel and the Jewish people, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” (Numbers 24:9). But that did not stop Hagel from referring to pro-Israel activists as “the Jewish lobby,” with its Protocols of Zion overtones of Jewish manipulation of world affairs, and offered the further slur of saying that “the Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers.” We can only hope that their intimidation is not as severe as those who are openly, aggressively gay.

The Bible further says concerning Israel, “For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8). But that did not stop Hagel from voting against sanctions against Iran, even though Iran not only wishes to plunder Israel but wipe it off the map. As the New York Times noted, Hagel was only one of two senators to vote against the Iran-Libya sanctions act in 2001, “arguing that it would undercut efforts to engage with Tehran.” Were these verses in the Bible less important to Hagel then those banning homosexuality?

Perhaps most famously the Bible says, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)  But that did not dissuade Hagel from his most unfortunate comment of being “not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” with its disgusting insinuation of the old anti-Semitic canard of Jews and dual loyalties.

Now, why would the Senator insist on the Biblical teachings regarding homosexuality but not those of protecting Israel?

While we should always try and judge people positively, it would seem that the only real explanation is that his opposition to gays is motivated not by religious convictions but just good old-fashioned homophobia. As to the State of Israel, we can only wonder what motivates his lack of sympathy.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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7 Responses to “Hagel’s Homophobia and Biblical Indifference to Israel”

  1. Yes this is a moving article for me.

    I hope you can convince Senators Menendez and Lautenberg that voting against Hagel's confirmation is the right thing to do.

    Loyalty to President Obama is not more important than preventing a nuclear.
    bomb in the hands of the murderous Iranian regime, nor is it more important than preventing bigotry.

  2. Kenny Hilliard says:

    How odd. The real issue is if the Obama Administration and his appointees believe in and support the nation of Israel. Action speak louder then words and it is obvious Israel does not have it. Despite that millions in America do support Israel.

  3. Chava Nikki Bachle-Docks says:

    So, Hagel is anti gay/ homophobic, too? hmmm….seems like Obama appointed someone who is going against what . Obama said he believed in.

  4. Richard Smith says:

    Boteach is confusing mainstream Christians ( like Hagel ) with evangelical Christians of the Zionist persuasion who make most of the noise in the USA and spend so much time with their noses stuck in the Old Testament.. There is nothing in the New Testament about a country called Israel or the blessedness of the Jewish people. There is criticism of homosexuality however. I'm not a Christian of either persuasion so I don't care either way.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don't see why Rabbi Boteach is watering down the serious of homosexuality and stating at the beginning of his letter that his brother is religous and gay. I am sure his brother is a very friendly and spiritual person but he can't be classified as a religious Jew just as any person who engages in premarital relations. We obviously don't ever say that a 20 year old who has relations with his Jewish girl friend is "religious" or "frum". That 20 year old has big temptations for girls as many do. If he reigns in his desires as the Torah demands then he can be called religious if his other behaviour is appropriate. The same way – a fellow with gay temptations must and can reign in his behaviour and not engage in gay behaviour which G-d called an abomination and is guilty of the death penalty. Its not easy but there is a big difference between having immoral desires (excess food, loshon hara, immoral relations) which most people have and actually giving in to them.

  6. You assume that when Rabbi Boteach said his brother is religious and gay he was stating an oxymoron because someone cannot be both religious and gay.

    This is fallacious. You can be gay and uphold and follow all the religious laws. Following these laws not not change a person being gay.

    The other word Rabbi Boteach used "religious" can of course, be understood in different ways.

    Not all religious people are frum, and not all frum people are religious.

  7. Charlie Hall says:

    There will be segments within the Orthodox community who will support Hagel just because he has been passionately anti-Gay in the past. One notorious example of this has in the past told Jews to vote for open anti-Semites because hating Gays makes hating Jews ok.

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