Israel's supporters over the past few days have been voicing alarm at the prospect former Sen. Chuck Hagel is likely to be tapped by President Barack Obama as the nation’s next defense secretary.
That alarm is reaching fever pitch with prominent Democrats and Obama supporters now on the record expressing concern about the choice. This is due to Hagel’s past expressed hostility toward Israel’s supporters in Washington including his refusal as senator to sign onto pro-Israel and anti-terrorism statements.
Just last week, suggestions he does not support Israel were bolstered when the think tank Hagel chairs, the Atlantic Council, published an article headlined “Israel’s Apartheid Policy” equating Israel with South Africa’s historic racist policy.
The article’s author, Arnaud de Borchgrave, wrote: “Apartheid is what gradually emerged in the West Bank under Israeli occupation since Israel's victory in the Six Day War almost half a century ago.”
Eli Lake at the Daily Beast spoke to “a senior pro-Israel advocate in Washington” who said: “The pro-Israel community will view the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel in an extremely negative light. His record is unique in its animus towards Israel.”
Christians United for Israel's Executive Director David Brog tells TheBlaze he's concerned about Hagel's past decisions regarding Iran:
An ascendant and potentially nuclear Iran poses the greatest security threat to American interests in the world today. Yet during his time in the Senate, Senator Hagel consistently refused to support meaningful action against Iran's nuclear program, Iran's terrorist Revolutionary Guard, and Iran's chief puppet, Hezbollah. I've not yet heard a convincing explanation for such passivity towards this looming strategic threat. On this state of the record, I don't think that Senator Hagel is the right person to lead the Department of Defense.
Eli Lake spoke to a prominent Jewish leader about Hagel's hands-off Iran approach and writes:
Josh Block, a former spokesman for AIPAC and the CEO and president of the Israel Project, told The Daily Beast, “While in the Senate, Hagel voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, refused to call on the E.U. to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group, and consistently voted against sanctions on Iran for their illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. It is a matter of fact that his record on these issues puts him well outside the mainstream Democratic and Republican consensus.”
In the past, Hagel has even garnered opposition from pro-Israel Democrats who have defended Obama’s Israel record. Ira Forman, who was in charge of the Obama reelection campaign’s outreach to Jewish voters, said in 2009—after Hagel was named co-chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board—that he would have opposed Hagel’s nomination for a more substantive position. (Forman declined to comment on Hagel’s possible nomination Thursday.)
According to Politico, when Hagel was considering running for president in 2007, the National Jewish Democratic Council said that he “has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.”
The Jewish news site the Algemeiner spoke to another prominent Democrat and Obama supporter, former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who is speaking out against the Hagel appointment:
“I believe it would be a terrible appointment…and so do apparently most of the Jewish leaders who have expressed themselves.” The Algemeiner writes:
“Such an appointment would give great comfort to the Arab world that would think that President Obama is seeking to put space between Israel and his administration,” Koch said, “I hope he doesn’t go forward with that appointment.”
Koch says that since his election, Obama has acted in support of Israel. “He has been stalwart since the election, nobody has stood up as well as he in support of Israel, I hope he continues with that,” he said. But the appointment of Hagel, he concluded, “would be a great mistake.”
Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein told Algemeiner in September when Hagel’s name first emerged as a possible defense secretary: “He is one of the most hostile critics of Israel that has ever been in the Senate.”
“There is only a handful of senators that have been openly hostile to Israel and Chuck Hagel is one of them,” Klein added.
Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matt Brooks told the Algemeiner that appointing Hagel would be “a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel.” Earlier this month, the RJC provided a list of Hagel’s actions as senator it views as evidence of his hostility toward Israel:
• In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
• In October 2000, Hagel was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
• In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yasir Arafat until his forces ended the violence against Israel.
• In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter to President Bush to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections.
• In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.
• And here’s what the anti-Israel group, CAIR wrote in praise of Hagel: “Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel…” [Council on American-Islamic Relations, 8/28/06]
RJC also quoted a 2010 Commentary Magazine blog post detailing Hagel’s past acts that could be viewed as appeasing terrorists:
• In 2009, “Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas…”
• In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.”
• In 2008, Hagel single-handedly killed an Iran sanctions bill in the waning days of the congressional session. (The bill in question was actually sponsored by then-Senator Obama!)
On Friday, Josh Gerstein at Politico posted audio from an interview Hagel gave Aaron David Miller for his book “The Much Too Promised Land” in which Hagel skewered what he called the “Jewish lobby.” Gerstein writes:
“The political reality is … that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” Hagel told former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller in a 2006 interview. “I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel.”
Hagel also said he didn’t think he had ever signed one of the letters the American Israel Public Affairs Committee regularly circulates to demonstrate support for Israel or tough stands against its enemies such as Iran. “I didn’t sign the letter because it was a stupid letter,” he said in the interview with Miller, referring to one such missive.
Hagel has also been blunt in dismissing those who think he’s not sufficiently supportive of Israel.
“I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” the Nebraska Republican told Miller for his book “The Much Too Promised Land,” released in 2008.
“I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that,” the senator said.
Both Hagel and a White House spokesman declined to comment to Politico about the criticism against him.
The most vocal critic of the so-called "Israel Lobby" is cheering for Hagel’s appointment, which is only bolstering the pro-Israel opposition to Hagel. In an article he posted Friday titled, “Top Five Reasons Obama Should Pick Chuck Hagel for SecDef,” the author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Stephen M. Walt provides Hagel’s policy on Israel as his reason number five:
5: He's got the right enemies. Hagel does have one political liability: Unlike almost all of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill, he hasn't been a complete doormat for the Israel lobby.
Walt even suggests Obama’s choice of Hagel is aimed at sticking it to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over their reported strained relations:
And what better way for Obama to pay back Benjamin Netanyahu for all the "cooperation" Obama received from him during the first term, as well as Bibi's transparent attempt to tip the scale for Romney last fall?
Richard Baehr in Israel Hayom on Sunday explains how this debate relates to concrete issues Hagel would have to tackle as Defense Secretary:
Given U.S-Israeli cooperation on the Iron Dome and the critical months ahead for making decisions both in Israel and the United States on what to do to stop Iran’s nuclear program, Hagel is certainly not what supporters of Israel would be looking for to run the Defense Department.
Despite the chorus rising against him, in Politico’s assessment, “Few believe Hagel’s troubles would lead the Senate to vote him down.”
This article has been updated to include quote from Christians United for Israel.