Potential defense secretary under fire for record on Israel

Click photo to download. Caption: Former U.S. senator Chuck Hagel. Credit: U.S. Senate.

(JNS.org) One of President Barack Obama’s potential appointees for Secretary of Defense has come under fire for what critics call a record that is unsupportive of Israel.

The candidate, former U.S. senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), currently chairs the Atlantic Council think tank, which on Dec. 11 published a column titled “Israel’s Apartheid Policy” (http://www.acus.org/new_atlanticist/israels-apartheid-policy). 

Hagel is also co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and serves on the Secretary of Defense’s Policy Board, and while in the senate was part of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees. When Hagel was being considered for the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board appointment in 2009, Ira Forman—then executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), and in 2012 the Obama campaign’s Jewish Outreach Director—opposed the move.

“If [Hagel] was taking a policy role, we’d have real concerns,” Forman said at the time, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

Hagel has taken a “long list of actions” exhibiting his “failure to support Israel,” the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) said Dec. 14. Choosing him for Secretary of Defense would be “a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement.

RJC pointed to a number of letters signed by most other senators, but not Hagel: an August 2006 letter asking the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization (12 senators did not sign), a November 2001 letter asking President George W. Bush not to meet Yasser Arafat until Arafat took steps to end violence against Israel (11 senators did not sign), and an October 2000 letter in support of Israel (four senators did not sign). 

A letter Hagel did sign in March 2009 urged Obama to directly negotiate with Hamas, RJC added.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (R-RI), however, defended the former Nebraska senator’s appointment on the basis of his time as a Vietnam veteran.

“Chuck Hagel has the experience as a combat veteran with two purple hearts and an understanding that the decisions that are made in Washington ultimately are carried out by young men and women across the globe,” Reed told Politico. “That is a very important intellectual, emotional asset.”

Additionally, a Hagel appointment “should be welcomed by anyone frustrated by years of war and foreign meddling, and out-of-control spending at the Pentagon,” Christopher Preble—vice president of the Cato Institute think tank—wrote in a Dec. 13 online post. Hagel “understands war, and doesn’t take it lightly,” according to Preble.

Posted on December 14, 2012 .