New Hagel Story Could Alter the Equation (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Jonathan S. Tobin 02/19/13)
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Last week brought a new revelation of more proof of Chuck Hagel’s
prejudicial attitudes toward Israel. But most observers concluded
that the statements made over the weekend by Senators John McCain and
Lindsey Graham that they would not support further delays as a vote
on his nomination as secretary of defense as evidence that he would
easily be confirmed once Congress returns from its recess next week.
However the publication of yet another story today in which Hagel is
reported to have made disparaging comments about Israel could alter
Our former colleague Alana Goodman broke last week’s story about a
contemporaneous account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers
University in which he made the outrageous charge that the U.S. State
Department was being run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Today
Goodman is at it again as she reports that there was yet another
Hagel speech at the same venue three years later in which he again
offended Israel and its supporters.
Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel said Israel is on its way to
becoming an apartheid state during an April 9, 2010, appearance at
Rutgers University, according to a contemporaneous account by an
Hagel also accused Israel of violating U.N. resolutions, called for
U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas to be included in any
peace negotiations, and described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu as a “radical,” according to the source.
Like the 2007 speech, no tape of these remarks has yet surfaced
making it easy for Hagel to dismiss the controversy by saying
he “doesn’t recall” them as he did in a letter to Senator Graham.
Graham was willing to say that he would take Hagel at his word about
that. But can he, or any other pro-Israel senator of either party,
really believe any further denials or disavowals from Hagel?
It may be that without a tape or official transcript of these events,
the mainstream media will ignore the controversies as some have done
with the 2007 Rutgers speech. Others will say it doesn’t meet their
standard of a genuine bombshell since Hagel can deny them. Of course,
some sectors of the media will find nothing wrong with these insults
just as many continue to be amazed that anyone is bothered by Hagel’s
boasts about standing up to the “Jewish lobby.”
But this latest story does make it clear that the person who has been
chosen to lead the Pentagon in the second Obama administration is
someone who is willing to parrot the ravings of the most radical anti-
Israel figures in the Democratic Party. In effect, what the president
has done is to nominate someone who is not only outside of the
mainstream of either the Republican or Democratic Parties on Israel,
Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran but is another Jimmy Carter.
This development once again puts the onus on Democrats to explain why
they are willing to rubber stamp the president’s choice of someone
whose views are antithetical to the maintenance of the U.S.-Israel
alliance. Senators like New York’s Chuck Schumer spent the weeks
prior to Hagel’s disastrous confirmation hearing saying they couldn’t
oppose the nominee so long as mainstream and generally liberal Jewish
groups were silent about his record. But that changed over the
weekend when the American Jewish Committee demanded that the Senate
not act on Hagel’s nomination without more debate about his
questionable statements and even the Anti-Defamation League demanded
an explanation. Even if the New York Times isn’t interested in
Hagel’s statements, Jewish Democrats ought to be.
But before Democrats can act, Senate Republicans must not signal that
they will give Hagel a pass on his own recognizance. Both Graham and
McCain need to say that they will not accept any further disavowals
from Hagel of what is a pattern of offensive statements that can’t be
washed away by his post-nomination conversion to a position of
support for Israel and a tough stand on Iran.
Hagel and the White House may feel they still have the odds in their
favor. But if the GOP stands its ground, it will allow Democrats who
were never happy about Hagel to start edging away from an unqualified
and unsuitable nominee.
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