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Hagel, Amid Criticism Over Israel Views, Nominated For Defense Secretary

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel

President Obama on Monday nominated former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, who has been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike for his record on Israel, as his new secretary of defense.

U.S.-based Jewish groups reacted swiftly to the news, with some slamming the move and others deferring to Obama’s judgment but expressing the desire for the Senate confirmation hearings on Hagel to address the issues surrounding him.

Meanwhile, the general sentiment in Israel was one of concern. Monday evening news broadcasts on the Jewish state’s three main televison stations depicted Hagel as “cool toward Israel,” according to Israel Hayom.

On Tuesday, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin weighed in.

“Because of [Hagel’s] statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried,” Rivlin said.

Hagel chairs the Atlantic Council think tank, which last month published a column titled “Israel’s Apartheid Policy.” In 2008 he infamously took a direct shot at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), telling former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller in a quote that appeared in Miller’s book The Much Too Promised Land that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Washington.

Reacting to the Hagel nomination on Monday, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) said that though there have been concerns about Hagel, “setting policy starts and stops” with Obama.

“While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former senator Chuck Hagel will follow the president’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel – on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran’s nuclear program,” NJDC said in a statement.

When Hagel was being considered for a President’s Intelligence Advisory Board appointment in 2009, Ira Forman, then the director of NJDC and in 2012 the Obama campaign’s Jewish outreach director, opposed the move.

“If [Hagel] was taking a policy role, we’d have real concerns,” Forman said at the time.

NJDC also doubted Hagel’s credentials in 2007, when the senator was considering a run for president, saying he “has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) on Monday called the Hagel nomination “a blow to U.S.-Israel relations, to the president’s relationship with the American Jewish community, and to U.S. security in the Middle East.”

“It signals that the president, having been re-elected, will now distance himself from Israel,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement.

“We hope that when Senator Hagel’s weak record is laid on the table, senators will rightly decline to support his nomination.”

American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said “there are serious concerns about Hagel’s commitments to the efficacy of sanctions and a credible military option against Iran, on pressing the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, on sustaining the U.S. policy on the terrorist Hamas regime in Gaza, on the special nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and Israel’s quest for peace and security…. ”

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman said that Hagel “would not have been my first choice,” but added that he respects “the president’s prerogative.”

Like AJC’s Harris, Foxman looked forward to the Senate confirmation process as a chance to address concerns about Hagel.

“I particularly hope Senator Hagel will clarify and explain his comments about the ‘Jewish Lobby’ that were hurtful to many in the Jewish community,” Foxman said in a statement.

A number of senators last month had vowed to press Hagel during the confirmation process on his “Jewish lobby” comment. John McCain (R-AZ) said that he knows of no “Jewish lobby” and hopes Hagel “would identify who that is.” Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Hagel would “have to answer” for his Jewish lobby comment if nominated for defense secretary.

“I don’t agree with that [‘Jewish lobby’] statement [by Hagel],” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said. “If he is nominated, there’ll be a hearing. His entire public record and all his public pronouncements will be reviewed as a part of that process. And we’ll move on from there.”

When rumors of Hagel’s possible nomination surfaced last month, the RJC pointed to a number of letters signed by most other senators but not Hagel: an August 2006 letter asking the European Union to declare Hizbullah a terrorist organization (12 senators did not sign), a November 2001 letter asking President George W. Bush not to meet Yasir Arafat until Arafat took steps to end violence against Israel (11 senators did not sign), and an October 2000 letter in support of Israel (four senators did not sign).

On Monday, Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star that critics have “completely distorted” his record on Israel and that there is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli.”

“I didn’t sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn’t solve a problem,” Hagel said.

Sen. Jack Reed (R-RI) last month defended Hagel’s appointment on the basis of his time as a Vietnam veteran.

“Chuck Hagel has the experience as a combat veteran with two purple hearts and an understanding that the decisions that are made in Washington ultimately are carried out by young men and women across the globe,” Reed told Politico. “That is a very important intellectual, emotional asset.”

Additionally, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Hagel would be “very well-qualified” for defense secretary, despite his disagreement with the former senator’s “Jewish lobby” comment.

(JNS)

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2 Responses to “Hagel, Amid Criticism Over Israel Views, Nominated For Defense Secretary”

  1. Senators Gildebrand and many others have been very silent on this enormously important matter.

    I hope Senator Rubio goes beyond placing a hold on this nomination and considers.
    a filabuster. That action would be the greatest accomplishment of his career.

  2. As bad as Obama was in his first term, he will make it look like romper room in his second. A simple but sometimes forgotten fact is that it all starts from the top. If the leader of a nation has certain views, they are going to put in place people that share those views. The appointment of John Kerry to take over as secretary of state and Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary, are exactly what Obama wanted, primarily because they are antagonistic to Israel. I shutter to think what this country will look like in four years from now. With the privilege of voting for our public officials also comes a responsibility to forget the television ads and feel good speeches, and to spend time researching who these politicians really are and what do they truly believe. The American people had a chance to oust Obama and elect someone that would work hard to get us out of our massive financial problems as well as appointing people that would be aligned with Israel. But, that opportunity was squandered and as such we will pay a heavy price for making this blunder. For example, our neighbor to the north, Canada, has a Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who is a strong ally of Israel, you will notice that all of his appointed cabinet members also support Israel. Not long ago, I read a story in which a large Canadian retailer was boycotting Israeli products, when Prime Minister Harper was made aware of this, a short time later that boycott was no longer in effect. We live in a world of high volatility, antisemitism and Israel bashing is also at alarming highs, it would have been nice to know that along with Canada, Israel could have had an equal ally in the United States. But, that won't happen because we elected the same person who caused or exasperated Israel's strife. Now is not the time to be weak or lose our resolve. Israel will only lose out if they are weak and they allow others to dictate to them what they should do. This is my greatest fear because there have been several occasions that Israel wavered and paid a heavy price. Nobody knows what is best for Israel better than Israel, that should never be forgotten.

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