Top Jewish Leader Says Chuck Hagel Nomination on Monday is “Most Likely”

December 30, 2012 1:50 am 20 comments

Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

A top Jewish leader said that former senator Chuck Hagel is likely to be nominated by the White House for the position of Defense Secretary on Monday, according to audio of an interview with a Jewish radio show obtained by The Algemeiner.

“It’s most likely that on Monday they will announce that Hagel will be the choice,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group that represents 50 of America’s largest Jewish organizations, to Jewish talk show host Zev Brenner. The interview took place on Saturday night.

While some outlets reported that the White House contacted Jewish leaders about the appointment, Hoenlein told The Algemeiner in an email that “the White House did not call anyone that I know of.”

Hoenlein expressed concern over the appointment saying, “So I think it is something that we’ll live with and we’ll work with whoever is in office, but the concern is because of his past statements and his record on a lot of issues.”

Hoenlein also said that he believes that a recent column in defense of Hagel’s nomination  by New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman was encouraged by “people who were pushing his nomination,” seemingly a reference to the White House.

Hagel’s possible appointment is opposed by many in the pro-Israel community, including prominent Jewish Democrats Alan Dershowitz, and Ed Koch, who told The Algemeiner in a recent interview that he believes it would be “a terrible appointment.” Opposition to Hagel’s appointment comes from other groups as well.

A number of Nebraska Jews criticized Hagel in recent interviews with The Algemeiner, one said that he was “unfriendly” during his time as Senator, and another said that he “didn’t give a damn about the Jewish community.”

The Algemeiner’s full transcript of the relevant part of Brenner’s interview with Hoenlein, in which he made the comments, is posted below:

Brenner: [...] there was some talk last week that Chuck Hagel was perhaps not going to be nominated, now [...] you have a scoop for us tonight?

Hoenlein: Well it’s not a scoop, i’m saying that it’s most likely that on Monday they will announce that Hagel will be the choice, it’s obviously something that raised a lot of concern, and especially because the defense department has a certain amount of independence that other government departments don’t have, it will be a tough time because they have to make a lot of cuts and he is a Republican, but most Republican senators were not too thrilled about his nomination either.

So I think it is something that we’ll live with and we’ll work with whoever is in office, but the concern is because of his past statements and his record on a lot of issues, not just Jewish issues, I think American issues, raised concerns.

Brenner: How does an article such as Tom Friedman in the New York Times where he says it’s the pro-Israel lobby that’s challenging him when really there are a lot of American groups that are opposed to his candidacy, but he propels the pro-Israel lobby as being the top, and writes about it in the New York Times, and if he gets the nomination and he gets in, how does that make his attitude towards the Jewish community and Israel?

Hoenlein: I think Tom Friedman has gone off the cliff [...] the political cliff, I think his columns have increasingly become hostile, and frankly unjustifiable, you can differ with a view on Israel, but his position, it was not the Jewish lobby. Unfortunately, one of the early articles in a major publication spoke about this as a Jewish problem, when there were  many other groups and many people, because of his positions on the military, his opposition to certain things in the past in relation to other groups that raised many more concerns than this, and I think there is no reason why Jews as Americans can’t express their views, but it was never a Jewish campaign, it was never intended to be,  and the lobby I think actually was pretty silent, the quote, “official lobby,” silent on this, so I think it was [...] lets say an unfortunate characterization on his part to say the least and I don’t think he did it without certain people encouraging him to write this article.

Brenner: who are those people that encourage him?

Hoenlein: I think at that point, I really, at that point I understood that Hagel would get the job.

Brenner: But who were the people behind the scenes that have been pushing Tom Friedman?

Hoenlein: People who were pushing his nomination?

Brenner: So by doing it that way [...] by having him attack the Israel lobby, it ensures his nomination?

Hoenlein: And it comes from Friedman, so they think it has credibility even though his, I think his credibility in the community has diminished a great deal.

Brenner: So, among the list of things that we have to deal with in the new year, right?

Hoenlein: And it’s very important who gets the [...] defense secretary’s position, the department of defense is critical in a lot of issues and with the challenges that we are likely to face in the coming year, not in the next four years, that makes it all the more important and I’m obviously referring to Iran and decisions on Iran where in the past he has not been lets say in line with a lot of positions of other members of the senate and people who I think have taken the right decisions, there will be other decisions vis a vis what is happening in the Middle East the changes in the Middle East, the new technologies, the relationship with Israel. I think ultimately the relationship with Israel will be maintained, I think that as secretary of defense he will see the realities of the importance of Israel to the United States, the commonality of interests that they have, but individuals do make a difference in terms of the tone and the attitudes that they manifest and the direction that sometimes things take, so I think it’s not insignificant, but I think ultimately the relationship with the United States and Israel are not built on individuals, they are build on fundamental values, consistent interests, and we have to work hard  to make sure that those aspects are what is known.

Brenner: Even though, like you have said on other occasions, they set the tone, where even though at the end of the day, it’s not going to change, but part of the problem I guess in the last four years has been not so much substance but tone, and this will just add to that tone deficit.

Hoenlein: Well the President has made very clear that he will not tolerate Iran having nuclear weapons. I think that is the fundamental policy, hopefully that will be sustained, and that will be manifest as we go ahead [...] and he sets the policy, not the secretary of defense and not others. But I think [...] you know there is an influence, and you have others in the administration who may have contrary views to the President or try to influence the President to moderate his views and certainly there are still many who are still pushing the negotiations line and we see that people are advocating the P5+1 talks, which are going to take place, the Europeans are very happy if the United States engages in direct negotiations, and there are several ways that that could be important. One is, is it the President saying, look I want to show that I gave them every avenue, every way out of this, or, does this show the Iranians that we are still not determined to do what has to be done, because the question is not what we say, but how do the Iranians hear it, what do they perceive, and if they perceive us as being week and having the negotiations be open ended, and that it will continue forever, then that destroys the strong positions and counteracts any sense on their part that they’re facing a hard deadline. So the future course of action will not be over years, it is going to be about months, therefore, everybody who comes into play on this is so important and it increases the sensitivity about the nature of the appointments and statements people make, and the impressions that are created. You know, I don’t know, will the Europeans really have the guts to stand up and do the right thing, they rarely do. We see that the United States led the sanctions, they came into the picture, will they, if the United States decides to act, and what happens if circumstance demands that Israel has to act, where will everybody be? These are really critical life and death issues, this is not just a question of some of the hypothetical issues that people often deal with and get licked up with, but rather the critical issues about the future.

20 Comments

  • Obama was reelected and in this term will prove how radical he is and how much he dislikes Israel. He will shove Hagel down their throats just like he shoved Obama care and other things down the throats of Americans. He wants to destroy Israel AND America.

  • Some fierce comment above, on Chuck Hagel.
    If, just if, a Democrat U.S. President believes that a very difficult decision will be required to be made on Iran and it’s nuclear ambitions, a decision that could well result in military action, that President might be wise to ensure that he and his party are somewhat protected against the accusation, which will come anyway from certain quarters, that his decision was not in the best interests of America, but rather was the result of influence from the Jewish lobby etc etc.
    The truth is, if the U.S. acts, it will be to ensure its hegemony in the area and protect its prime allies there, the Saudis, the U.A.E and Israel.
    In Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and the rest of the arab and Moslem world, such a military incursion into Iran will be perceived on the street as solely to protect ‘ America’s ally Israel ‘, probably on a tail wagging the dog basis.
    To hinder that absurd and ugly perspective from infecting U.S. and western world discourse, it would certainly help to have a man at defence like Chuck Hagel.
    From what i read of the man, he is not anti semitic, he does accept and value Israel as a close U.S. ally and he does recognize Israel’s vunerability.
    There’s a lot, I submit, to like about Chuck Hagel.

    • The american people are fed up with the Jewish Lobby groups commanding influence over our internal politics. The US and Israel relationship must change. The problem with the middle east is that zionists in and out of Israel are right wing,conservatives who want no peace in the middle east as they view every day as another day to tak more and more Palestinan land. WE need and humanity demands faireness, balance, and democratic values in the two state solution. Everyone is sick of war. We all want peace so act and deliver peaceful solutions. Chuck Hagel has been swiftboated and its a disgrace.

    • Dear David,

      Why is it that the Republican Party would oppose Hagel?(which is my understanding)

      We should be realistic about Iranian hegemony.

      - They could have been uncooperative with regard to our intervention into Afghanistan; they weren’t.

      - They are surrounded by our military; reason to be paranoid

      - They are not Arabs

      - Their civilization and traditions are older than ours

      - I think they do support “terriorist”, say again, “freedomfighters” in the Middle East

      - If I were they, I am not sure how else to act/react

      The good thing is that the “street” is plugged in as never before.

      I like Hagel too; and I hope he will be nominated, if only to raise the objections imagined.

      Dan

  • Hagel wallows in the phrase “Jewish lobby”…interesting to recoginize the others who have wallowed in that same phrase: Hitler, Goebbels, Arafat, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Grand Mufti during WW2, HAMAS, HEZBOLLAH, Rashid Khalidi & the PLO..
    Interesting company that Hagel keeps by virtue that the phrase “Jewish lobby” comes trippingly off his tongue.

    • And the same phrase was just used by prominent Hoenlein, in the article your are commenting:

      “I think Tom Friedman has gone off the cliff [...] the political cliff, I think his columns have increasingly become hostile, and frankly unjustifiable, you can differ with a view on Israel, but his position, it was not the Jewish lobby”.

      Is that really a big issue for you?

    • David Heffron

      So there’s no Jewish Lobby?

  • If Tom Friedman supports Chuck Hagel you have to know Hagel is the wrong choice for Defense Secretary

  • Just a brief comment:

    Think back on how many instances you have seen or heard in which Americans are urged not to act in a certain way because we do not want to offend minorities, or have been excoriated by other Americans for having done so.

    Jews are, and always will be a minority in America.

    Yet, not one word on the offensiveness with which a Hagel nomination will be taken.

    And so it goes.

  • Look I see no problem in who the President chooses. Mrs Clinton wasn’t the best Secretary of state and in fact, the PM didn’t get along with her. If he will take an open stand against Jews, he will not be the first. And we survived.

    • A few Jews ” survived” the Holocaust. Sorry Rabbi ..our aspirations should be a bit higher…Having government officials who worship the antisemetic canard “Jewish lobby” is setting the bar rather low.

  • What I found truly astounding is the level of ethnocentrism this entire debate has been shaped by.

    It’s like for some people, only Jews count and nobody else. And only Israel, and not America.

    You may be shocked by this, but Israel’s population is less than 1% of the world population. It covers a very tiny amount of land.

    The U.S. has huge challenges to contend with, we see the rise of Asia, dangers in hot spots like North Korea, Pakistan, and yes, Iran. We need a cool head to prevail here, not an empty tool of a foreign lobby willing to sacrifice the American national interest for a bloody war his masters at AIPAC and their neocon allies want.

    That the debate around Hagel, concerning the foreign policy debate, has been about Israel at maybe 99%(okay, okay, maybe 98%!) is a shocking development.

    There’s been virtually no discussion on any other country than except “Yes, but what’s good for Israel?”. This is the foriegn policy-equivalent of only asking “Yes, but is it good for the Jews?”.

    We all now understand that a sizeable portion of the Israel lobby thinks like this, but don’t be shocked when this narrow ethnocentric ghetto mindset isn’t shared by most Americans, who view America, and not Israel, as the nation they are most concerned with.

  • E Pluribus Beagle

    Israel should exit the F-35 JSF program immediately. It’s a billion dollar waste of time and money. And the only purpose it will serve is to bully Israel while never ever seeing the light of day or becoming operational. The F-22 program which was better organized and more on track ended abruptly and is barely functioning today. The F-35 is in even worse shape. Drop it and let Reichsminister Hagel sort out the economics.

  • Neocons push against Chuck Hagel
    By Dana Milbank, Published: December 18

    After word leaked from the White House late last week that Chuck Hagel was in line to become the next secretary of defense, Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard manned the Patriot missile batteries to shoot down that trial balloon.

    The neoconservative journal, no fan of the iconoclastic former Republican senator, published a smear under the headline: “Senate aide: ‘Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.’ ” In the posting, this anonymous aide went on to accuse Hagel of “the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.” As evidence, the article included a quotation from Hagel referring to the “Jewish lobby.”

    Other right-wing publications and conservative Zionist groups inevitably joined the chorus, including a column by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal saying Hagel’s prejudice has an “especially ripe” odor.

    The Hagel hit is wrong on the merits, but it’s particularly egregious because the former senator from Nebraska is among the best and bravest public servants. He was an enlisted man in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts in jungle combat. In his legislative career, he was a powerful voice against the chicken hawks who have recklessly sent American troops to their deaths; he became one of the most outspoken critics of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq war.

    Hagel would probably be swiftly confirmed by the Senate, and he should be: A man of unassailable military credentials who regards war as a last resort is exactly the sort of person to head the Pentagon.

    Kristol’s criticism of Hagel included a variety of supposed sins in various categories: terrorism (“Hagel was one of 11 senators who refused to sign a letter requesting President Bush not meet with Yasser Arafat. . . “), Israel (“Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a letter expressing support for Israel during the second Palestinian intifada”), and Iran (“Hagel was one of only two U.S. senators who voted against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act”).

    It’s fair criticism to say Hagel isn’t sufficiently pro-Israel, although much the same is said of the man who would nominate him. But Kristol, and then others, went further, publishing a passage from a 2008 book in which Hagel is quoted as saying: “The political reality is that . . . the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

    That was a dumb phrase — many Christians are pro-Israel and many Jews aren’t — and Hagel said he misspoke (he used the phrase “Israel lobby” elsewhere in the interview). But, as an American Jew who has written about anti-Semitism in political dialogue, I don’t see this as anti-Semitic or anti­-Israel. The sentence preceding the quote said that “Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values.”

    Hagel was explaining why he didn’t sign all of those nonbinding letters from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, justifiably calling them “stupid.” He further said: “I’m a United States senator. 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 a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”

    Hagel’s foes claim groundlessly that this means he was accusing others of divided loyalties; that, they say, and his less-than-perfect record of voting AIPAC’s position disqualify him from running the Pentagon. But let’s examine Hagel’s record further:

    He voted for the Iran Nonproliferation Act, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act and the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act. He co-sponsored resolutions opposing any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and praising Israel’s efforts “in the face of terrorism, hostility and belligerence by many of her neighbors.” He also co-sponsored legislation urging the international community “to avoid contact with and refrain from supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements.”

    Such gestures won’t satisfy the neocon hard-liners, and Hagel’s occasional criticism of the Israeli military’s excesses doesn’t help. But this isn’t indicative of anti-Semitism, or even of anti-Israel sentiments.

    It’s indicative of an infantry sergeant who isn’t opposed to war (he voted for the conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq) but knows the grim costs of going to war without a plan. And it’s indicative of a decorated military man who, unlike some of his neocon critics, knows that military action doesn’t solve everything.

    Thanks

    • Parsing the words of a man hostile to Israel, Jews and the US Military is lawyeritic navel-staring. Sorry, Justin. Wake up to the New Marxist Reality.

      Expect the “Regressives”, their Emir Hussein and Demo-Capos like Friedman and Axelrod to further jettison Israel to the waiting wolves.

    • Parsing the words of a man hostile to Israel, Jews and the US Military is lawyeristic navel-staring. Sorry, Justin. Wake up to the New Marxist Reality.

      Expect the “Regressives”, their Emir Hussein and Demo-Capos like Friedman and Axelrod to further jettison Israel to the waiting wolves.

  • Kerry’s imminent nomination for Sec’y of State is more ominous than Hagel’s for Defense. What does Malcolm have to say about that? If the State of Israel were less concerned with being accepted among the nations of the world and more concerned with the interests of the Jewish people these two anti-semites would be irrelevant, as would Obama.

  • Hagel is an insult to American Jews and unqualified for the post in a plethora of other ways. Obama once again
    exhibits his contempt for Israel. I wonder how American Jews who are so ga ga over Obama will react to this appointment?

    I cannot believe they will react like Tom Friedman who seems to think Israel can do little right and leverages his Jewishness to make such points.

  • There are many reasons to oppose Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense besides Israel, Anti-Semitism and Iran.

    Thomas Friedman and many others that are now supporting Hagel are using magical fairy tale thinking not logic and facts. They believe Hagel will slay the ogre Netanyahu and then everyone will live happily ever after.

    if you believe that
    you can argue that singling out only Jews for exerting too much influence is not anti-semetic. You could argue that the US should accept an Iranian nuclear weapons program or even an Iranian ICBM program. You could argue that Israel should withdraw to the 1967 armistice lines from which it was attacked in return for nothing and still be pro-Israel.

    If President Obama is serious about sending a message to Teheran that the US really will not accept a nuclear weapons program in Iran Hagel is the worst possible choice.

    If the President succeeds in getting the Senate votes, the ugly debate will not help him, and if he looses he will be crippled for the next four years.

    Why exactly is the President willing to risk so much?

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