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December 21, 2012 1:42 pm

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

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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.”

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“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.”

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