Whether or not former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel will be nominated by President Obama to be the U.S. Secretary of Defense remains a guessing game. Last week the rumor mill was working full steam, with confident announcements that the nomination would be announced “on Monday.” We’re now closer to the next Monday and that announcement still hasn’t been made, but other ones have, and the picture of Chuck Hagel looks less and less attractive all the time.
According to a report in the Washington Free Beacon, during the late 1980′s, when Chuck Hagel was the president and chief executive officer of the World United Service Organizations (USO), he threatened to close down the Haifa USO Port because of financial concerns. The USO is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that provides services and recreation to members of the U.S. military.
The Haifa USO Port was opened in late 1984, as the Sixth Fleet had begun making regular stops at the port since the late 1970s, and especially in the wake of the bombing of the U.S. Marine’s barracks in Beirut. The Haifa USO was open 24 hours a day when U.S. ships were in port.
Hagel’s conduct regarding the effort to keep the port open shocked Jewish leaders who were part of a discussion with him about the matter in 1989, according to the Beacon‘s report.
“He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it’,” said Marsha Halteman, director for military and law enforcement programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which led the battle to keep USO Haifa operational.
According to Halteman, Hagel’s behavior was clearly anti-Semitic.
“He essentially told us that if we wanted to keep the USO [in Haifa] open—and when I say ‘we,’ he meant ‘the Jews’—he said the Jews could pay for it,” said Halteman, who recalled being taken aback by the comment.
“I told him at the time that I found his comments to be anti-Semitic,” she said. “He was playing into that dual loyalty thing.”
Despite Hagel’s behavior, a combination of congressional support, appeals from the Sixth Fleet, and the efforts of JINSA to raise substantial funds, enabled the Haifa port to stay open. It was not until the fall of 2002 that the Haifa USO port finally closed for good because of security concerns — this was the height of the Second Arab Uprising.
The Beacon report quotes a USO spokesperson as saying they have “no records of any discussion to close the USO Center in Haifa while Charles Hagel was CEO and President of the USO from 1987 to 1990,″ adding that the USO staff “are still working to determine when after 2000 the USO Center in Haifa closed.”
But an Internet search uncovered an AP report from 1990 which clearly states that the port almost closed because of financial concerns. An article from the Times of London reveals that the U.S. military banned its members from stopping at the Haifa port following the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen on October 12, 2000.
What is perhaps even more shocking – if true – than Hagel’s comments that Jews should pay for the Haifa USO Port is that, according to a conservative Nebraska blogger, Hagel once told an employee of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Ally Milder, that she was a “[expletive] tool from AIPAC.”
Add to these latest examples of—shall one say—surprisingly indelicate behavior, the news that even such liberal politicians as outgoing Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) are “strongly opposed” to Hagel becoming Secretary of Defense, and it becomes increasingly hard to imagine that Hagel will get the nod. But if Hagel does get the nod, it is even harder to imagine that his nomination will survive the confirmation process.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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