Chuck Hagel, the former two-term Senator from Nebraska and a leading candidate to become the next U.S. Secretary of Defense, has got many American Jews quite concerned. Those who know him best – prominent Jews in Nebraska – characterize his attitude toward the Jewish community as “unfriendly” and "dismissive,” while noting Hagel’s use of the coarsest language to "always place the blame on Israel."
- A statement protesting anti-Semitism in Russia was signed by 99 U.S. Senators. Only Chuck Hagel’s name was absent.
- In 2008, Hagel single-handedly killed an Iran sanctions bill, sponsored by then-Senator Barack Obama.
But what really has the Jewish community up in arms is this Hagel quote from 2006:
“The political reality is… that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people.”
Let’s look at that for a minute.
“Jews control the world” is an ancient canard that has led to pogroms, blood libels and a Holocaust. Just like the Russian-fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion of a century ago, today the myth persists of “agent Israel” and its politically powerful allies influencing the U.S. government to engage in policies that contradict America's best interests.
We’ve seen its ugly head before. One former U.S. Secretary of State referred to Capitol Hill as “the little Knesset.” A presidential candidate described Washington as “Israel’s occupied territory,” while bemoaning "the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States." A pair of prominent American professors claim that “Israel gets a free hand… and the United States does most of the fighting, dying, rebuilding and paying.”
This is Chuck Hagel’s crowd.
- Hagel was one of only four Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel. (2000)
- Hagel urged President Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror organization. (2009)
Prime Strategic Asset
Israel is America's most trusted and reliable ally in the Middle East, the sole democracy in a region dominated by authoritarian and military regimes. The U.S. spends untold billions disseminating the ideals of democracy around the world; in Israel, these values come gratis – what has been called "a strategic bonanza for the United States at bargain prices."
These shared values gain expression at the United Nations, where America and Israel vote in concert 88 percent of the time; by contrast, other Mideast “allies” like Egypt and Saudi Arabia vote with the U.S. 7 percent and 8 percent of the time, respectively. In fact, U.S. State Department figures show that Israel votes with the United States not only more than any Arab or Islamic country, but also more than any other country in the world – outpacing major U.S. allies like Great Britain, France and Canada.
So why does Hagel imply that support for Israel is not authentic, but rather a function of “intimidation”?
Doesn’t Israel regularly provide the U.S. with key intelligence information, bona fide testing of defensive weapons, and frontline defense against radical Muslim regimes bent on causing catastrophic harm – what Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, America’s highest-ranking officer, termed “extraordinary value” that is “absolutely critical” to U.S. national security?
Didn’t Israel’s 1981 strike that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor prevent Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons, a move that – despite widespread condemnation at the time – enabled the U.S. to eject the Iraqi army from Kuwait in 1991 and then to dethrone Saddam in 2003?
Wasn’t Israel's destruction of Syria's Soviet-made weaponry in 1982 the first clear demonstration of the absolute superiority of U.S. military technology – a decisive factor in convincing Ronald Reagan that it was possible to win the Cold War?
Diplomatic chaos highlights America’s reliance on its stable Mideast ally, Israel.
Hasn’t Mideast diplomatic turmoil – the Islamic revolution in Iran and the chaotic Arab Spring – highlighted America’s reliance on its most stable Mideast ally, Israel?
Indeed, Israel’s location at the strategic crossroads of North Africa and Southwest Asia – a junction of paramount American interests – means that the U.S. can minimize its military deployments in this vital area. U.S. Navy ships routinely dock in Haifa; Air Force planes refuel at Israeli bases; $800 million of U.S. arms and medical equipment are pre-positioned in Israel.
Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig’s observation 30 years ago still resonates today: “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.”
- Hagel described Israel's war against Hezbollah as "the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon." (2006)
- Hagel was one of 11 Senators who did not vote to authorize sanctions against Syria for its support of terrorism and occupation of Lebanon. (2003)
For supporters of Israel, the threat of a nuclear Iran remains the number one concern. Yet Chuck Hagel advocates deep defense cuts and has consistently advocated a conciliatory approach toward Iran.
- Hagel was one of only two U.S. senators who voted against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. ("Chuck Hagel Does Not Like Sanctions," reads the headline in Foreign Policy, December 17, 2012.)
- Hagel voted against designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization. (2007)
The vast majority of Americans believe in the necessity of a credible military threat to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
Yet Chuck Hagel has explicitly ruled out the military means to stop Iran, declaring that "military action is not a viable, feasible, responsible option." (see Washington Post, December 14, 2012)
How credible can the American position be if the Secretary of Defense – the one responsible for implementing military actions – is sending such a weak message?
Silent and Unrepentant
In 1998, Hagel opposed the appointment of a homosexual to be ambassador to Luxembourg, questioning whether such people could effectively represent America. Now in the face of criticism surrounding his potential Defense nomination, Hagel has quickly apologized to the gay community, emphasizing his "commitment to their civil rights."
Yet on the issue of Israel and the Jews, Hagel is silent, unrepentant, and – in the words of one Jewish leader in Nebraska – "unmovable when it comes to Israel.”
Hagel’s antagonism toward Israel and preference for large military cuts are what the Washington Post says "place him near the fringe of the Senate."
The Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman says that Hagel’s statements “border on anti-Semitism.”
True, Hagel may be a decorated Vietnam veteran and a successful entrepreneur. But he consistently undervalues Israel, is soft on Iran’s nuclear program, and urges U.S. engagement with the terrorist regimes. As well, Hagel has acted antagonistically toward the broader Jewish community and fanned the flames of the “Jewish lobby” canard. The question of Hagel’s appointment is not a matter of politics, but rather one that every person of good conscience should oppose.