Chuck Hagel’s Pro-Israel Record

Former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel (NE)

Conservatives seem to have learned from their campaign to block of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s Secretary of State bid that the goal is to go on the attack early, before a nomination is even in place. That’s one explanation for their concerted attack on former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) who is thought to be the top choice to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta when he retires sometime early next year.

The opposition to Hagel is also centered around the premise that he is somehow “anti-Semitic” and anti-Israel and would be unwilling take action against Iran over its nuclear program. But delving into the Senator’s statements, however, it’s clear that Hagel has a long history of pro-Israel sentiment and concern about Iran. The following is a collection of some of Hagel’s public statements on Israel during his time in the Senate:

  • “We have always been a strong ally of Israel — since the formation of Israel in 1948. We’ll continue to be a strong ally of Israel.” [10/15/2000]
  • “A close friend and ally, Israel, remains threatened by some of its neighbors. Violent Islamic extremism finds refuge in Iraq, Iran, and Syria and seeks to make inroads elsewhere in the region. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a threat. […] Both Israelis and Palestinians have unmet obligations, neither side can justify further inaction. American leadership can push and prod but we cannot force Israelis or Palestinians to negotiate.” [11/15/2005]
  • U.S. Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) today sent a letter to Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, calling for the United Nations to offer a strong resolution condemning recent statements by Iranian President Mohammed Ahmadinejad and by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ali Khameni threatening the existence of Israel and the United States. [12/21/2005]
  • The United States will remain committed to defending Israel. Our relationship with Israel is a special and historic one. But, it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice.” [07/30/2006]
  • Hagel also supported legislation opposing terror groups that reject the two-state solution, voted for a measure expressing solidarity with Israel during the Second Intifada, and cosponsored resolutions lauding the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship.” And Hagel has supported numerous measures to strengthen sanctions on Iran over its nuclear and missile programs.

    Just last year, Hagel expressed concern about what Egypt’s revolution would mean for Israel’s security. “Not since the 1967 and 1973 wars in the Middle East have we seen such a dangerous time,” he said on CNN in February, 2011. “But this is even maybe more dangerous because it’s more unpredictable, that the bilateral relationship, the first peace treaty with an Arab country that Israel had and still has and has been very important to Israel’s security has been with Egypt.”

    Referring to the charges of anti-Semitism against Hagel, Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of the liberal pro-Israel group J Street, told the New York Times: “It is simply beyond disturbing to think that somebody of Chuck Hagel’s stature and significant record of national service is being slandered in this way.”

    Indeed, numerous journalists have come out to defend Hagel against the neocon smears. Here’s the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank criticizing those who point to Hagel’s assertion that there’s a “Jewish lobby” trying to influence members of Congress as evidence that he’s anti-Semitic:

    But Kristol, and then others, went further, publishing a passage from a 2008 book in which Hagel is quoted as saying: “The political reality is that . . . the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

    That was a dumb phrase — many Christians are pro-Israel and many Jews aren’t — and Hagel said he misspoke (he used the phrase “Israel lobby” elsewhere in the interview). But, as an American Jew who has written about anti-Semitism in political dialogue, I don’t see this as anti-Semitic or anti­-Israel. The sentence preceding the quote said that “Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values.”

    “Using charges of bigotry to, yes, ‘intimidate’ people with whom you disagree about public policy is exactly what drives conservatives batty when it comes to affirmative action, welfare and abortion,” the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart wrote on Tuesday. “And if they want African Americans, feminists and other liberal groups to assume their good faith on those sensitive subjects, conservatives should extend that same good faith — absent overwhelming evidence — to gentiles who don’t share their enthusiasm for Benjamin Netanyahu.”