Nebraska Jews Recall Senator Chuck Hagel as “Unfriendly” and “Unmovable” on Israel, “Didn’t Give a Damn About the Jewish Community”

December 21, 2012 1:42 pm 38 comments

Former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel speaks at a forum for the Law of the Sea Convention in Washington, D.C. Photo: Wikipedia.

While former Nebraska Senator and likely Secretary of Defense nominee, Chuck Hagel, has drawn criticism in recent days over his foreign policy positions, and specifically his hostility to Israel, members of Nebraska’s Jewish community spoke to The Algemeiner about their experiences with him during his time in office.

Former editor of the Omaha Jewish Press, Carol Katzman, who was in that role while Hagel was in office, related her experiences with him in an interview with The Algemeiner.

“He was not the most responsive politician in Nebraska to me personally at the Jewish Press and to the Jewish community as a whole,” she said.

“Every other senator,  Nelson,  Mike Johanns, (congressman)  Lee Terry and (congressman) Peter Hoagland they were all very responsive,” she explained, “it didn’t really matter what their party affiliation was, if we were soliciting them for an interview or a greeting ad for Rosh Hashonah or Passover.”  However Katzman says that “Hagel’s office never even responded,” adding, “we would make repeated calls, (and received) no response it was pretty obvious that he and his staff were dismissive.”

“The universal feeling in the Jewish community was don’t bother, don’t waste your time, Katzman said, “I think after a while people gave up and said, we were not going to get anywhere.”

“Hagel was the only one we have had in Nebraska, who basically showed the Jewish community that he didn’t give a damn about the Jewish community or any of our concerns,” Katzman concluded.

Gary Javitch, a leader and activist in a number of Jewish organizations and a resident of Omaha for over forty years met with Hagel at the Senator’s Washington D.C. office a number of times, and hosted him for a speaking engagement. “We were trying to get across certain points regarding Israel’s position and he would do a number of things,” said Jaivitch, “One thing he would do, is when we tried to express a viewpoint he would pick up on it and then go on a 15 to 20 minute explanation of his view-point, leaving us no opportunity or little opportunity to speak, taking advantage of his office [...] to take over the entire conversation,” he said.

“The second thing he would do,” continued Javitch, “and this was repeated office visit after office visit, he would have his aide come in, slip him a note and say, don’t forget you have a committee meeting in like 10 minutes and then he would go on to speak for 15 or 20 minutes, so we were under pressure for time and he was taking up all the time.”

“During his last year in office, we knew he was not going to run again, he never returned any of our calls,” Javitch, who was representing major Jewish organizations at the time added “I have always gotten callbacks, even as a turn-down.”

Asked about his positions on Israel, Javitch said that Hagel always placed the blame on Israel, demanding “more and more concessions, Israel was at fault when things went wrong, the Palestinians didn’t need to adhere to any standard.”

Another Jewish community activist, Nate Schwalb, who has been living in Nebraska for 54 years, described Hagel’s relationship with the Jewish community as “unfriendly” with views on Israel that were “often contradictory to widely held views by other politicians about Israel.”

“He didn’t seem to show much interest in Israel and in Jewish people,” he said.

“He thinks that there is an Israeli lobby that’s too strong,” continued Schwalb, “I think it is well established that he is not a friend of Israel.”

“I think he is a pretty intelligent fellow, he just has a skewed view,” he concluded.

Blogging for Objective Conservative, Patrick McPherson, a Nebraska political consultant recounted an incident that he told The Algemeiner was relayed to him by Ally Milder, the late Jewish Republican activist and congressional contender who worked with U.S. Senator Charles Grassley.

When “…the late Ally Milder visited the senator in his Washington, D.C. senate office (she) was told by Hagel, ‘that she was nothing but a f–king tool for AIPAC,’” he writes.

“From that point on, Milder never had anything to do with this guy who even then made clear his anti-Jewish sentiments,” writes McPherson.

Another politically active Jewish Nebraskan who claims to have known Hagel for “almost 20 years, politically and non-politically,” spoke to The Algemeiner on condition of anonymity.

“I was alarmed with his views about Israel,” said the source. As Secretary of Defense, “He would treat Israel just like anyone else, no special treatment […] of course it would be damaging to Israel.”

“We were trying to work with him for many years on these issues,” the source added, expressing skepticism over the suggestion that as Secretary of Defense his position would be tempered, saying, “There will be no change in his stance, no negotiation, he is unmovable when it comes to Israel.”

The individual also criticized President Obama for considering Hagel’s nomination. “His views have never been hidden, the person who is nominating him has to know about his views on Israel.”

“The person who is nominating him is totally disregarding Israel. [...] The president has decided that he doesn’t care. It would be tragic for Israel,” the source concluded.

Another Jewish activist, Nebraska attorney and member of AIPAC, Steven Riekes, who met with Hagel on a number of occasions over the years related: “I was as at an AIPAC meeting at his office before he left (office,) the meeting was not the most comfortable, it was a little disquieting [...] one of the members of our delegation had quite  a confrontation with him.”

“His relationship with the Jewish community of Nebraska as a whole was not the warmest,” Riekes said, comparing the relationship to how it has been with other Nebraskan senators, “It hasn’t been as close by any measure as relationships with Bob Kerrey (and) Senator Nelson, who is retiring now (and) has had a very close relationship with the Jewish community.”
Riekes was nuanced in his assessment of Hagel, “(he) is a very intelligent man, he is thoughtful,” he said, but, “vis-a-vis Israel it becomes complex and difficult.” In defense of Hagel he added, “I would not say his stand is necessarily anti-Israel,” concluding, “He feels that his criticism of Israel is constructive.”

38 Comments

  • I don’t get it. American Jews voted in the 80 th percentile for Obama, and his policies, his statements, and his treatment of Israel have emboldened every anti-Semite and/or moslum on the face of the planet. I don’t understand the Jewish vote. It is self-destructive. There are many, many Christians that support Israel, but Jews give Christians the cold shoulder, and then are surprised that the moslum sympathizer who they voted for, is seeking to undo Israel. I am unable to understand the Jewish voter–he is suspicious of his friends, and supports his enemies. They reap what they sow.

    • All of the right wing Jews who voted for Romney were voting against their own economic interest. If the Republicans had there way there would be no Medicaid, nor Food Stamps nor College aid. That would hit the the Ultra Orthodox in such a manner, the man would have to give up learning and get a job

      • thatsitivehadenough

        Leftist talking points. Another m.o.t. communist? You’ll get us all hung with your misplaced loyalties.

    • thatsitivehadenough

      I’m Jewish and I’m just as unable to understand how liberal Jews vote the way they do. They are orthodox liberals before they are Jewish I assume.

  • Read all the pro and con comments, but noticed that none of the cons mentioned that Chuck Hagel is a decorated Vietnam Veteran and thanked him for his service for the United States of America. As an Iraqi war veteran I could not help but notice.

  • David Shenniman

    Why should Hagel be a toy in the hands of AIPAC? It is about time that Israel moves from a war culture, to a peace maker.

  • Interesting piece. It seriously raises questions about whether Hagel is committed that the U.S. relationship to Israel should be one of “special treatment,” as “the [unnamed] source” put it. The should be a yellow flag to those of us who want Israel to continue to have a uniquely privileged relationship with the U.S. with respect to financial aid and strategic cooperation over and above all other nations in the region and most in the world. That said, the piece wholly ignores, however, that Hagel has in fact consistently voted to support financial aid for and strategic cooperation with Israel and, in that sense, is unfair. It is dangerous for us to become so complacent about automatic Congressional support for Israel that we develop a one-sided view of someone as anti-Israel who in fact has voted to provided extraordinary support to Israel. Even the AIPAC official in the article said that Hagel’s view are “complex” not that Hagel is anti-Israel and I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about. Quite offensive in the article are the subtle yet baseless inuendos that Hagel is anti-semitic. Take Javitch — According to Javitch, Hagel’s 3 sins are that (1) he dominated meetings by fillibustering with his own view, (2) he talked longer than his schedule permitted leaving little time to listen, and (3) his office didn’t return activists’ phone calls after it was clear he was not running again. None of this is good behavior or polite, but none of it is unusual in Washington or endemic of anti-semitism. He is well known to be a tad bull-headed and to have dominated conversations with his own strong views in meetings with Episcopalians, Catholics, atheists and Lutherans. Finally, using bad language about AIPAC is rude and doesn’t further debate, BUT BEING ANTI-AIPAC IS IN NO WAY EQUAL TO BEING ANTI-ISRAEL AND CERTAINLY NOT ANTI-SEMITIC. It’s as frustrating when a publication like this stereo-types Israel supporters into being monolithic when we are not as when the the pro-Palestinian groups do it. If there’s something we want for Israel that Hagel has opposed (like the Haifa USO or stronger sanctions against Iran), then we should disagree and decide whether the disagreement is a deal breaker sufficiently recent and significant that causes us to oppose his appointment. But reaching to interpret his resistance to certain Israeli policies as anti-semitic is not credible and, accordingly will ultimately undermine the pro-Israeli cause in this country. The gent from AIPAC says that Hagel thinks criticism of Israel is constructive. I agree and would add that criticism of Israel is widespread within Israel and consistent with longstanding and salutary strains of Jewish thought. Hagel’s criticism of and opposition to the 2nd Iraq War was also constructive and important to me because I think the 2nd Iraq war strengthened Iran and, in particular, Iranian hardliners in many ways AND WAS THUS VERY BAD FOR ISRAEL.

  • Hagel for America

    “At its core there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense.”-Chuck Hagel; America Our Next Chapter

  • ZionistandProud

    Boy, are there some ignorant and racist comments here when it comes to Jews and Israel.

    One thing I will point out is that many Jews did not vote for Obama – for various reasons including his weird third orld antipathy towards Israel. Yes, too many Jews still vote Democrat reflexivly. That is changing over time, but not fast enough.

    The Democratic Party, as evidenced by its platform this summer (before it was changed), has moved hard left over time. Its a collection of radical and special interest agendas, a theater of grievances. The hatred of Israel in these elements of the party is sad and a disgrace.

    These will likely be a tough 4 years for the US Israel relationship. It won’t be due to Netanyahu. It will be a consequence of Obama’s re-election. The Hagel discussion is simply evidence of where Obama’s heart truly is.

  • President Obama would like to appoint his friend Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

    But the President has many friends who like Barney Frank strongly object to Hagel’s appointment.

    I hope the President will not risk the political cost of loosing the confirmation battle on this terrible choice.

    For gay people the issue goes beyond the nasty and bigoted remarks he has made. Hagel’s entire record is a nasty and bigoted one. That is why he got a 100% rating from the NRA and an 11% rating from the NAACP.

    Hagel’s bigotry is not reformed enough as President Obama believes. As Barney Frank and Ambassador Hormel have pointed out, he never said one positive word before this job was at stake.

    Even now, he has not said one word to advocate for the equality of gay military families.

    Tthere are many ways a Secretary of Defense could help gay military families no matter how DOMA is decided and Hagel has not come out in favor of any of these.

    Reports to the contrary, LGBT equality is not yet a done deal in the military. There is still the matter of partner benefits. There still remain a handful of regulations that could be revised independent of the Defense of Marriage act that could bring some equity of compensation and benefits to gay and lesbian servicemembers. but remain denied due only to Department of Defense foot-dragging:

    Included in the discretionary benefits currently denied are spousal identication cards, and on base PX shopping cited in the Pentagon’s own Working Group study as not requiring DOMA repeal to deliver.

    Other friends of President Obama that strongly object to Hagel are friends of Israel.

    These are not demonic, crazed, neo-con lunatics of the Likud variety they are the people who voted overwhelmingly for the President. People like Barney Frank, Ed Koch, Chuck Schumer, Barbara Boxer, Carl Levin and Alan Dershowitz.

    They voted for President Obama in part because he said he has Israel’s back and that America would never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons program. These people are afraid Iran would murder millions of Israeli civilians if they had the bomb.

    Many of the people who back Hagel also believe Israel should withdraw from all the territories obtained in 1967, just like Israel was forced to do in 1957 without adequate security guarantees or secure and recognized borders. That certainly is the view of Pat Buchanan.

    Other voices such as J-Street and Thomas Friedman believe that Hagel should be nominated to send a message to Netanyahu that he will be punished for his policies.

    But most pro-Israel voters for the President were not told and would not have approved punishing Israel even if they strongly disagree with the Likud policies, especially not with an Iranian nuclear bomb that would kill everone in Israel and Palestine.

    I don’t know if this could change policies in Jerusalem. But I strongly expect it would change policies in Teheran. How would negotiations improve if Teheran believes American’s true policy is Hagel’s policy of allowing Iran to have it’s nuclear weapons program even ICBM’s pointing at the US.

    This brings me to the Presidents other friends the many voters for whom Israel and gay rights were not the main issues at all.

    The Pentagon is the biggest slice of the budget pie and Americans deserve someone who can
    manage it well.

    Michelle Flournoy, as we can read in today’s Wall Street Journal, has done an outstanding job, she is an excellent manager.

    The President has observed that Chuck Hagel has done an outstanding job as an advisor.
    But that is not a managerial post.

    I have read that Hagel was a terrible manager. People did not want to work for him. He was rude and arrogant to his staff.

    This is also his reputation from his constituents and from people who have worked with him in the Senate. As one Democratic Senator that backs Hagel said “He doesn’t mind stepping on other people’s toes.”

    The Democratic base should get a real Democrat like Michelle Flournoy instead of a Republican that Republicans consider a pariah, not only a RINO.

    They should not get someone who considers Strom Thurmond to be an ideal role model.

  • I’m with Susan. I’ve been a big supporter of Israel for more than a decade. I quit. To me, the primary reason to support Israel is because it represents an oasis of freedom in a land of tyranny.

    The problem is Jewish Americans vote up and down for more Statism and tyranny.

    You have, by and large, a people who rightfully complain about the horrors of German National Socialism, but everywhere else ignore and apologize for the horrors inflicted by every other type of Socialism.

    There are billions of people in the world who can use a hand. And one has only so much time, energy and money. Why stand side by side with people who are constantly sticking one between your ribs?

    Let the rockets fall, let the Democrats screw them over. If they can’t figure it out, that’s their problem. When they do – IF they do – then we can stand side-by-side together again.

    Until that day, not one more word or nickel of support.

  • Chmoel Rabinovitch

    We’re liberal out of fear of mob, and we vote our fear trying to survive – that way we (jews) survive for millenia. This time again, we’ll survive and Rome will fail. And that’s a big shame.

    As any “roman”, and there are some among commentors here , Hagel is a straight-up moron – he has already disappeared into small print history.

  • Why should Jews expect special treatment of Israel? It is indeed just another country right?

  • Truman gave the Jews Israel. Why haven’t they moved?

  • Perhaps it would help if Jewish organizations showed more concern for the United States than they do for Israel.

  • Neither Jewish nor dispensationalist, here.

    But another move to antagonize Israel. The drift of this administration is to “South Africanize” Israel, and make them a moral pariah among the nations. ( You know, “out of the maintstream with the World Community.” You know THAT World community. The one increasingly run by despots, Islamists, and hand wringing scolding leftists.)

    Can’t quite understand why the Sons and Daughters of Abraham can’t figure this out. At this point, the anti semitism of leftwing politics is as hidden as the dance of the seven veils. Every national meeting of my lefty Christian denomination manages to blame Israel for the Middle East “problems”. Lucky for them, and their tolerance fetish, that there is an Israel. Otherwise, they would simply have to come right out and blame the Eternal Joo for the world problems.Which is really what they mean.

    I used to laugh when Jews said “Never again.” Not anymore.

    Chuck Hagel. An exceedingly odd choice. Unless an intentional one…

  • Why is the Jewish community surprised by this? Obama has worn his antisemitism like a badge of honor, while kissing up to every third rate Islamist thug in the middle east. You reap what you sow, and the when this country returned Obama to office, it sowed the wind. Not it is time to reap the whirlwind.

  • US Jewish voters don’t pay a price. Israel pays.

  • IL-DOD relationship is far more important to the US & IL than Mr. Hagel. Both would lose if Hagel try to harm IL.

  • Michael Venables

    The most important thing is: will he be a good defense secretary for the average American? Those who are obsessed with Israel can move there and forget about us US taxpayers.

    • Michael Venables: I admire you, Michael. A man that is as openly antisemitic as you is a rare creature indeed, except, of course, for the other Jew haters that want to see Israel destroyed and all of the Jews murdered.

    • Michael,
      If Israel is abandoned it is just the beginning of the end of western civilization as we know it The Jihadist will not be satisfied with just one bite of the apple and they will continue to try to turn the entire western world into a caliphate. I think that would most seriously affect the “average American.” Israel has a right to exist like any other country. Historically appeasing aggressors of the world has always led to dire consequences. Extreme Muslims have been at war with other cultures for centuries and we are seeing history right before our eyes in the expansion of religious fanatacism. Please take another look at this and throw away your antisemitic lenses to see the reality.

    • I too am very puzzled by this idea that if an American puts America first therefore he is anti semitic.

      Its possible I don’t understand the word antisemitic. I had thought it meant you did not like members of the jewish faithful.

      I have sever doubts that were the roles reversed Israel (not a lot of countries) would be giving us the kind of money and support we give them.

      I hope Israel does well. They are beset with what would have to term fiends. I would hope we do what we can to help them. But it has to be consistent with US interests first and foremost.

      As Micahel implies, its US taxpayers paying the bills, and sending its sons to be killed on foreign battlefields. So its US taxpayers whos interests should matter.

      • John, Israel never requested or needed US soldiers to help, The US did very little to support Israel before June 67, replacing France in Vietnam and Israel. Hagel is ‘not good’ for America, the Defense Department needs a very good manager.

  • Oy vey, Dr Rebbe Bernie. Don’t you know where you are? This is the great diaspora of the goyim and I’m afraid we are wearing out our welcome, don’t you think? Why don’t we just do aliya and leave it to them? The wheels are coming off and they’ve lost what made things good for so long. Meanwhile, the Promised Land beckons and needs us more than ever now. Bibi needs all the help he can get. First, we need to infuse the ranks of the IDF with new blood and get re-energized and focused on stopping the 21st Century Madman Hitlerite Mr AchMaDinEejad. I think it’s unnatural to stay over here getting ourselves all in a knot worrying about if dis goy or that one is good fo the Jews or not. It makes me feel second rate. The hell withem. If we were over there united not just in what we believe but standing side-by-side ready to smash our enemies. Have confidence, be strong, stop whining and begging. I’m sorry to say, you embarrass me.

    • Why? So we can destroy Israel with the typical progressive, liberal policies as we did America? American Liberal Jews need to stay here so their cancer can’t be spread any place else.

  • AS PRESIDENT OF RABBIS FOR ROMNEY , I WORKED DAY AND NIGHT TO CONVINCE Jews not to vote for Obama. This is what you get. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    • Thanks from the bottom of my heart for working against Obama. The philosophy is that if you are Jewish, you must be liberal….no way. I finally found a Jewish conservative group and I joined it. I have never said I was liberal and yet, most of the Jews I know assume I am. Would they be shocked or what?

    • “This is what you get” indeed. Just like the message at the gate of the camp in Buchenwald: “Jedem das seine” (you get what you deserve). We have seen this before.

    • I also tried. I no longer have an American Jewish community.

  • ASPRESIDENT OF RABBIS FOR ROMNEY , I WORKED DAY AND NIGHT TO CONVINCE Jews not to vote for Obama. This is what you get. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    • Usually Jews, rather than ending with “this is what you get,” and running away, get busy and outsmart the bad guys. Maybe it’s time to start working day and night for the new reality, like it or not. There’s work to do, and it sounds like you know how to work.

  • Why be so hesitant to call Hagel out? Let’s just say it – it is clear that Hagel is an anti-semite.

  • Martin Luther King Jr said it best in March 1968: “If you are antiZionest, then you are antisemetic.”…I guess Mr HAGEL is not a fan of Dr King.

  • Obama got 70% of the Jewish vote. Time to pay the price.

    • montana predator

      Yep. They voted for him. Deal with it. But Hagel is the most overblown blowhard in a town full of them. And seriously anti-Israel, proto-realist, and just plain stupid. Saw him up close for 6 yrs when I worked in the Hill. His chief of staff was a lunatic – cried in the hallways. Pity DOD if he is picked.

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