The Hagel Problem
Anti-Semite, anti-Israel, and arguably anti-American: Chuck Hagel. His nomination has been referred to as ridiculous, troubling, and nearly indefensible for pro-Israel Democrats. The probable confirmation of Hagel would be a declaration of a weakening of America, and will irrefutably prove to Obama’s Jewish base that its votes in November were misguided. After a feeble American foreign policy over the last four years, one that has enabled the unchecked expansion of radical Islamic fundamentalism throughout the world, we are about to transition from passive ineptitude to actively facilitating these forces of unrest, hatred, and destruction. The most obvious casualty of such policies will inevitably be the only democratic and freedom-promoting ally we have in the Middle East: Israel. At a time when America needs to curb the momentum of the growing number of Islamist extremists in the world, the man chosen to fill that role is an anti-Israeli concessionist.
Hagel’s record is one that has consistently promoted a policy of appeasement when dealing with our enemies. It is a terrifying thought that the person who likely will become responsible for the defense of the United States of America would sooner appease our enemies then fight for our principles and freedoms. He even refuses to label those who terrorize us our enemies. This is not just right-wing rhetoric; his positions to this effect have been well documented—on numerous occasions—throughout his political career.
In July 2001, Hagel was one of only two senators to vote against extending the original Iranian sanctions bill. In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bush urging him to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections. In 2007, he voted against designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, and urged President Bush to open "direct, unconditional" talks with Iran to create "a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations." In 2008, Hagel was “solely responsible” for blocking an Iran sanctions bill. That same year, Mr. Hagel and then-Sen. John Kerry co-authored an op-ed titled "It's Time to Talk to Syria," a fact that presents concerns about the Kerry appointment as well. In 2009, Mr. Hagel urged the Obama administration to open direct talks with Hamas.
Clearly, these are all positions that are well beyond the mainstream of American sentiment, interests, and historical policies. They provide a persuasive argument that Chuck Hagel is a fringe personality who represents the most extreme left-wing positions on the American political spectrum. The policy Chuck Hagel extends towards hostile nations is eerily reminiscent of Neville Chamberlin’s policies circa 1938; an approach history has not treated kindly.
With Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, the days of “we do not negotiate with terrorists” will be long gone. This paints a frightening picture for America and definitely Israel, when we currently live in a world of extremist governments, suicide bombers, and proliferating nuclear weapons.
During Mr. Hagel’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee last Thursday, fellow Republican Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.) rightfully accused Hagel of “appeasing our enemies while shunning our friends.” Sen. Inhofe was addressing Hagel’s tendency to encourage talks with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, all terrorist organizations dedicated to the destruction of Israel and America. Mr. Hagel failed to sign a letter in 2006 expressing US solidarity with Israel, causing Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) to feel “chill up his spine.” When Hagel’s fellow Republicans demonstrate grave misgivings about his nomination—due to his anti-Israel policies, we, as Jews committed to Israel’s security, should be rightfully concerned.
There are those who claim that Chuck Hagel’s entire record, voting history, and previous comments have been taken out of context; that his prior voting record in favor of military aid to Israel makes him pro-Israel. While Mr. Hagel claims that many of his statements over the years have been taken out of context, and that he has always been a “supporter of Israel,” his record indicates otherwise. This “supporter of Israel” is a man that has made a habit of voting and speaking out against Israel on a regular basis. In 2002, a year in which 457 Israelis had been murdered during The Second Intifada, Mr. Hagel kindly suggested that “Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.” It should be noted that this was a mere two years after Prime Minister Ehud Barak had offered a Palestinian state to Yasser Arafat. Reflecting on the cycle of Palestinians carrying out daily suicide bombings on innocent Israeli citizens, and surgical Israeli reprisals against armed terrorists, his ignorance and bizarre moral equivalency was further revealed when he elaborated that, “both Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a war not of their making.” In 2003, sounding much like the Palestinian spokeswomen Hanan Ashwari, he made the accusation that Israel keeps "Palestinians caged up like animals,” and again, in 2007, accused Israel of keeping the Palestinian people “chained down for many, many years.” With a record and rhetoric such as this, his recent claim of being an “unequivocal, total supporter of Israel” seems dubious, and more likely pitiful pandering in the face of his confirmation hearings.
Israel is the only real democracy in the political hot zone of the Middle East, and she is surrounded by hostile Arab nations. However, Mr. Hagel does not choose to identify the importance of working together with Israel. He does not understand, or believe in, the unique American-Israeli alliance forged to achieve our common military, social and political goals.
An honest assessment of Mr. Hagel’s true views about Israel, and where his loyalties lie, can be seen in his reaction to Israel's war against Hezbollah in 2006, where he described Israel’s defense against Hezbollah as "the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon." He later refused to sign a letter calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, although the country he represents does consider it one. Exactly how this position jives with his supposed strong support of Israel is troubling.
Not only has Mr. Hagel been accused of anti-Israel views, but he is also most likely an anti-Semite. He has accused AIPAC of scaring senators into voting a certain way, instigating that “the Jewish Lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” Not the pro-Israel Lobby, but the Jewish one. When nominated, Hagel apologized for previous statements about the gay community; however, one community about which he has not retracted his statement or apologized to is the Jewish one. This quote was brought up numerous times in Hagel’s confirmation hearing:
"Name one person in your opinion who's intimidated by the Israeli lobby in United States Senate?" Graham said. "Name one."
"I do not know," Hagel said.
"Well, why would you say it?" Graham responded.
The senator then asked about the other part of the quote, in which Hagel complained about the "dumb things they do."
Graham asked: "Name one dumb thing we have been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby?"
After another tense back-and-forth, Hagel said, "I cannot give you an example."
This is a man caught in McCarthy-esque accusations and has no explanation, response, or even apology. How is Mr. Hagel supposed to defend a country against our enemies when he cannot even defend his own opinions?
Sen. David Vitter (La.) stressed, in the aforementioned letter to Mr. Hagel, that, “whether they were intentional or not, your public comments echoed centuries-old, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of influence in government and dual loyalty. Therefore, I urge you to publicly apologize for the totality of your comments." When the potential Secretary of Defense of the United States of America is spreading conspiracy theories about Jews, and, despite confrontation by other senators, has still not apologized, we have a serious problem. This country is supposed to represent freedom and acceptance of all. When the man responsible for our defense is against us, there is a legitimate issue.
Upon hearing about the possible nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, a top Republican Senate aide emailed: "send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite." When asked to explain, he added, "Hagel has made clear he believes in the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy. This is the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is." The perception of Chuck Hagel as being an anti-Semite, anti-Israel, and a dangerous choice for our nation’s defense is not just a thought among those of us in Jewish circles, but is a fear shared within the Senate itself. This apprehension lends true concern to the prospect of Hagel’s appointment, and real uncertainty to the coming years.
This is a man who has shown more than a casual neglect for Jews and Israel. He has carried out actions —and made numerous public statements —which indicate that he is not only actively anti-Israel, but even an anti-Semite.
Hagel’s nomination sends a powerful message. It tells the world that we are not serious about fighting terror, that we are indifferent to the prospect of a nuclear Iran, and that we no longer consider Israel’s fate to be a cornerstone of American foreign policy. The fact that our enemies are receiving this nomination so favorably should resound loudly in the Senate. Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel is as serious a concern for American Jewry and Israel as anything we have confronted on the political scene in decades. This is a president who has unmasked his antipathy for America as a world super power, for a strong defense, and for the coveted relationship Israel has shared with the United States for so long. This hostility is now out in the open and is clearly manifested in the nomination of Chuck Hagel.