Following the swift reaction of U.S.-based Jewish groups to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, Israel began to weigh in on the move Tuesday—and the general sentiment was concern.
“Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried,” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said of the former Nebraska senator.
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.
Rivlin, however, added that “one person doesn’t determine policy” when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, which he expects will remain strong.
An anonymous Israeli diplomatic source quoted by Israel Hayom said the Hagel nomination is “very bad news for Israel; it’s clear that it won’t be easy.”
“It looks as if Barack Obama wants to be the good cop in his second term,” the source said.
Additionally, Monday evening news broadcasts on Israel’s three main televison stations depicted Hagel as “cool toward Israel,” according to the newspaper.
Obama on Monday praised Hagel for his experience as a Vietnam veteran.
“As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength,” Obama said. “They see one of their own.”
Hagel, in his first public interview on the nomination, told the Lincoln Journal Star on Monday that critics have “completely distorted” his record on Israel and that there is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli.” He said he declined to sign a number of pro-Israel letters and resolutions backed by large majorities of U.S. senators when he was in office from 1997-2009 because they “were counter-productive and didn’t solve a problem.”