Supporters of Israel are raising alarm over the likely nomination of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, for previous statements he has made about Middle East policy.
At center stage are comments Hagel has made about the “Jewish” lobby, reports Politico.
“The political reality is [….] that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” Hagel said during a 2006 interview with former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller. “I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel.”
Hagel, who would replace Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary, also told Miller that he never signed letters circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC] to show support for Israel or tough stands against her enemies, such as Iran, because he felt they were “stupid.”
While Nebraska Senator, Hagel was the first to publicly criticize the war in Iraq and declined to say the U.S. should use force against Iran to stop its reported pursuit of nuclear weapons.
He also urged President Obama in 2009 to unite opposing Palestinian factions Hamas and Hezbollah under one government. Hezbollah is considered to be a terrorist group by the United States.
The National Jewish Democratic Council said in 2007 that Hagel “has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.”
Hagel defended his stance in his 2008 book, The Much Too Promised Land, by writing his first allegiance is to upholding the United States Constitution.
“I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” Hagel wrote. “I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”
Several Republican lawmakers voiced their concerns over the possible Hagel nomination on Monday
“I know of no ‘Jewish Lobby,’” Arizona Republican Senator John McCain told reporters, adding that he hopes Hagel “would identify who that is” should he become nominated.
In an e-mail statement to the Daily Caller, New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte said she is “concerned” with Hagel’s previous comments on Israel and Iran, and vowed to to “vigorously question him on those prior positions.”
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said that while he likes Hagel and considers him a friend, “these comments disturb a lot of people and he’ll have to answer those questions.”
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio also said he “disagrees” with Hagel’s “Jewish Lobby” statement, and that should he become the nominee, “there’ll be a hearing. His entire public record and all his public pronouncements will be reviewed as a part of that process. And we’ll move on from there.”
Hagel does have Jewish supporters. Daniel Kurtzer, a U.S. ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush, told Politico that Hagel’s comments about “the Jewish lobby” may have been impolitic, but his views on that point are far from unusual among lawmakers.
“Anybody who has ever talked to senators or congressmen behind closed doors knows you hear a lot of that,” Kurtzer said. “A lot of people won’t talk about that publicly, but Hagel talks about it in public. One can question whether it’s good politics from his standpoint, but it’s not a view that’s foreign on the Hill. … A lot of lawmakers resent being called anti-Israel if they don’t sign these letters. Then, they go out and sign these letters.”
Kurtzer called the criticism of Hagel’s policy views “terribly misguided.”
“I found him in all the years I served, including as ambassador to Israel, to be a supporter of Israel and a man also ready to discuss very frankly with the Israelis the concerns we had about certain Israeli policies,” he said.
Dylan Williams of the left-leaning J Street praised Hagel as “an outstanding choice for Secretary of Defense,” and that “the center of the [Jewish] community is exactly where Sen. Hagel is on issues relating to Israel.”
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) said Hagel is “very knowledgeable about our defense and our intelligence establishment,” and would make “an excellent Defense Secretary.”
Former Florida Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, a top Jewish surrogate to President Obama’s presidential campaigns, told the Daily Caller that he has no problem with Hagel being the next Secretary of Defense.
“This is my view: The President of the United States, President Obama, has a four year record — a very detailed record — that I would describe as the best in history [on Israel],” said Wexler, who is currently the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
“The best ever in terms of security, cooperation and security assistance with Israel. And the next four years I have full confidence it is going to be the same in terms of an A-plus record on security assistance and cooperation with Israel. … That will be the case no matter who the secretary of defense is.”