It’s all up to Chuck Schumer now.
If the Democratic U.S. Senator from New York announces his support to confirm Chuck Hagel, a former Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska as President Obama’s Defense Secretary, he will provide cover for pro-Israel Democratic U.S. Senators like New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez to likewise support the nomination. If Schumer opposes the Hagel nomination, other pro-Israel Democratic Senators, including Lautenberg and Menendez will also vote against it, and Hagel will not be confirmed.
To understand what is at stake, let me restate the Hagel record on the American-Israel alliance as I did in my December 23, 2012 column, “A Chuck Hagel appointment would pose a dilemma for Lautenberg and Menendez.”
In his Monday December 17, 2012 Wall Street Journal column, the highly respected journalist Bret Stephens described the Hagel record on Israel as follows:
“In 2002, a year in which 457 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks (a figure proportionately equivalent to more than 20,000 fatalities in the U.S., or seven 9/11s), Mr. Hagel weighed in with the advice that ‘Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.’ This was two years after Yasser Arafat had been offered a state by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David.”
“In 2006, Mr. Hagel described Israel’s war 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. In 2007, he voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, and also urged President Bush to open “direct, unconditional” talks with Iran to create ‘a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations.’ In 2009, Mr. Hagel urged the Obama administration to open direct talks with Hamas.”
One would be hard pressed to find a U.S. Senator more hostile to Israel than Chuck Hagel. Yet if one studies the rhetoric of Mr. Hagel, it becomes clear that his hostility extends to the American Jewish community as well. Hagel has spoken about how “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” and how he is not cowed by it.
In an interview in 2006 with retired U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller, Hagel said, “I’m a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator. I’m a United States Senator. 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 a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”
Stephens accurately appraises the Hagel rhetoric as follows: “Read these staccato utterances again to better appreciate their insipid and insinuating qualities, all combining to cast the usual slur on Jewish-Americans: Dual loyalty.”
It is therefore not surprising that during his tenure as U.S. Senator, Hagel had a remarkably poor relationship with his Jewish constituents at home in Nebraska. An article in the Sunday, December 23, 2012 Algemeiner Journal, one of the nation’s leading Jewish community websites, has the title, “Nebraska Jews Recall Senator Chuck Hagel as ‘Unfriendly’ and ‘Unmovable’ on Israel, ‘Didn’t give a Damn About the Jewish Community’”
One wonders why Obama would appoint a Defense Secretary with such a record of hostility towards Israel and the American Jewish community. The answer is clear on its face: Obama intends to substantially downsize the American commitment to Israel during his second term, both in terms of priority and level of American military assistance. Chuck Hagel will provide Obama the cover to do this.
The best evidence of this new Obama administration second term policy can be found in its actions – or lack of same –in the recent United Nations General Assembly vote granting the Palestinians non-member state status. Caroline Glick, the highly acclaimed American-Israeli journalist and deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, described the Obama UN policy shift as follows:
“Obama enabled the Palestinians to get their non-member state status at the UN by failing to threaten to cut off US funding to the UN in retaliation for such a vote.”
“Both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush issued such threats during their tenures in office and so prevented the motion from coming to a vote. Given that the Palestinians have had an automatic majority in the General Assembly since at least 1975, the only reason their status was only upgraded in 2012 is because until then, either the PLO didn’t feel like raising the issue or the US threatened to cut off its financial support to the UN if such a motion passed. This year PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas said he wanted to have a vote and Obama responded by not issuing a threat to cut off UN funding. So the Palestinians got their vote and, as expected, it passed overwhelmingly.”
“Seeing the upgrade as a Palestinian move is a mistake. It was a joint Palestinian-American move”.
With such a Hagel record of hostility towards Israel, it seems inconceivable that Chuck Schumer would support the Hagel nomination. Yet I have no doubt that he will.
Contrary to his record, Chuck Hagel has been issuing protestations of his “unequivocal, total support for Israel.” This is about as credible as Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Mantle, and Zsa Zsa Gabor claiming that they were always devout practitioners of monogamy.
Schumer is scheduled to meet with Hagel this week. I have no doubt that at this meeting, Hagel will aver his undying love for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. He will also give Schumer some worthless pledge of support for the Jewish State.
Schumer is no fool, and he will still have his doubts about Hagel. He does not want to defy Obama, however, and he will claim that Hagel has now given him the necessary assurances to support the nomination. The other pro-Israel Democratic Senators, including Lautenberg and Menendez will vote for the nomination as well. Hagel will thus be confirmed, and Obama will be well on his way to attaining his goals of downsizing and deprioritizing America’s commitment to Israel.
This is one time where I truly pray that my prediction is wrong.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.