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December 30, 2012 1:50 am

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

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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.

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