Credible and widespread reports that former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is likely to be nominated by President Barak Obama for Secretary of Defense has rightly shocked Israel’s supporters and those who want to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capacity. Little wonder: Hagel has accrued a record on Capitol Hill as an apologist for Iran and anti-Israel terrorist groups and for relentless hostility to Israel.
In October 2000, when Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority (PA) launched a terror war against Israel after rejecting without a counter-offer a plan for Palestinian statehood accepted by Israel, Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
In July 2001, Hagel was in a minority of only two senators to vote against extending the original Iran-Libya sanctions bill, designed to deny both regimes revenues that would assist their weapons of mass destruction programs.
In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President George W. Bush not to meet with Yasser Arafat until his forces ended terrorist violence against Israel.
In April 2002, Hagel was one of only 10 senators to oppose banning the the import to America of Iraqi oil until Iraq stopped compensating the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. In November 2003, he failed to vote on the Syria Accountability Act (passed by 89 to 4) imposing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and occupation of Lebanon. In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.
In July 2006, at the outbreak of the Lebanon war, Hagel argued against giving Israel the time to break Hizballah, urging instead an immediate ceasefire. The following month, he was one of only 12 Senators who refused to formally call upon the European Union to declare Hizballah a terrorist organization. The same year, he gave an interview to former Middle East negotiator, Aaron David Miller, which appeared in Miller’s 2008 book, The Much Too Promised Land, in which he said that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” on Capitol Hill.
In 2007, Hagel declined to support the bipartisan Iran Counter Proliferation Act aimed at targeting governments and businesses that assist Iran’s nuclear program. The following year, a congressional aide told the Huffington Post that Hagel was “solely responsible” for blocking an Iran sanctions bill.
In 2009, Hagel signed a letter urging President Obama to begin direct negotiations with Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist group committed in its Charter to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews. Just last week, the Atlantic Council, which Hagel chairs, published an article entitled Israel’s Apartheid Policy, equating Israel with South Africa’s historic racist policy. Hagel also serves on the board of directors of Deutsche Bank, which is currently under probe in Washington for possible violations of sanctions Hagel opposed as senator.
Even staunch Democrats and supporters of Obama and his Middle East policies are alarmed by Hagel. Former New York City Democratic mayor Ed Koch said last week that Hagel, “would be a terrible appointment … most of the Jewish leaders who have expressed themselves [think likewise and would indicate] that President Obama is seeking to put space between Israel and his administration.”
In 2007, when Hagel was considering a presidential bid, even the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) said that Hagel “has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.” And though silent now, despite requests for comment on a Hagel nomination, former NJDC executive director, Ira Forman, who headed Obama’s 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 “If [Hagel] was taking a policy role, we’d have real concerns” and that the NJDC would oppose his nomination.
If Hagel becomes Defense Secretary it will prove to be dangerous for the interests of both the U.S. and Israel.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of American and Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’s Center Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establishment of Israel (2004).