Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Hagel, Amid Controversial Record on Israel, Nominated for Defense Secretary

January 7, 2013 3:00 pm 1 comment

Chuck Hagel visiting Iraq. Photo: Wiki Commons.

President Barack Obama on Monday nominated former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, who has been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike for his record on Israel, for Secretary of Defense.

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 although 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 the 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 (AJC) Executive Director David Harris on Monday 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, and on gay rights.”

Harris said in a statement that while the president “has the prerogative to select members of his Cabinet,” the Senate “is obligated to probe the record and vision of every nominee.”

“While AJC honors Senator Hagel’s record of service to our country and the people of Nebraska, his statements and actions on a range of core U.S. national security priorities raise questions that require clarification,” Harris said.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abe Foxman said Monday 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 already vowed to press Hagel on his “Jewish lobby” comment during the confirmation process. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that he knows of no “Jewish lobby” and hopes Hagel “would identify who that is.” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Hagel will “have to answer” for his Jewish lobby comment if nominated for defense secretary.

“I don’t agree with that [‘Jewish lobby’] statement [by Hagel],” U.S. 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 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 Hezbollah a terrorist organization (12 senators did not sign), a November 2001 letter asking President George W. Bush not to meet Yasser 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).

But 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.

U.S. 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, U.S. 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.

But U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) was among a number of Democrats who immediately opposed a Hagel appointment when the rumors of one began last month. She said in a statement that Hagel’s “dismal record on issues affecting the Middle East stands in sharp contrast to the stated policies of our nation.”

1 Comment

  • What puzzles me is that organizations dedicated to influencing policies get offended when someone labels them as powerful. I guess that they don’t want people to know that they are working effectively for their interests. As far as I know the only commitment we have toward Israel is to defend it if it is attacked. We are not committed to support its internal policies nor are we committed to following it in decisions that are not to our best interest.
    I just read in algemeiner that there are 50 large Jewish organizations (I presume that there many other smaller ones), are we to understand that such a great number of organizations has no influence in politics? We all want people in position of decisions to support totally our interests, but it is not always possible to get everyone to have the same passion toward the issue that we have.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    JNS.org – Alan Gross used to be nothing more to me than a tragic headline. When I started my position at this news service in July 2011, Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for what that country called “crimes against the state.” Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development, went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet. After his arrest, he received a trial he describes as a “B movie,” […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    JNS.org – When I saw the recent Academy Award-winning film “The Big Short,” I was struck by the sheer genius of the financiers who devised the schemes and packaged the loans for resale, but it left me with unanswered questions about how the properties these loans represented were moved. “The Big Short” was largely about paper transactions, big money, and wealthy investors, and it mildly touched on the way the actual end-users — the home buyers and brokers — played into this […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Why do we think so negatively about psychiatrists that we still insult them by calling them shrinks? Some medics might be quacks, but we don’t generally refer to them as witches! Shrinks; The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, is a sobering account of how psychiatry has swung from a marginal, unscientific mixture of weird theories into one of the most common and pervasive forms of treatment of what are commonly called “disorders of the mind.” Is it […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    JNS.org – Nine months ago, Seth Cohen, director of network initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Randall Lane, editor of Forbes Magazine, were schmoozing about the “vibrancy of Tel Aviv and soul of Jerusalem,” as Lane put it. They dreamed about how they could bring young and innovative millennials to the so-called “start-up nation.” From April 3-7, Forbes turned that dream into a reality. Israel played host to the first-ever Forbes Under 30 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) […]

    Read more →