Abrams, a former Reagan and Bush administration official, said he never meant to frame the debate about Hagel in such an incendiary manner in both his Weekly Standard piece and during his interview on NPR last Monday. On NPR, Abrams said Hagel “appears to be” an anti-Semite and that he “seems to have some kind of problem with Jews.”
But Abrams backed away in his NRO piece, saying that he was referring to the fact that the “press has carried several articles now suggesting some sort of a problem between him and the Jewish community.” Never mind that all of those articles quote Abrams or his neoconservative allies as the ones making the suggestions.
Abrams even makes clear from the onset of his NRO essay that he doesn’t intend to engage with Hagel’s record and in no way wants to imply that Hagel should not be confirmed because of his policy views. Instead, the bulk of the piece is used to further attack Hagel’s past statements on Israel under the guise of further suggesting that Hagel is anti-Semitic. In particular, Abrams takes issue with Hagel once telling an audience member at a talk that he was U.S. senator, not an Israeli senator:
What, then, is the meaning of his reply if not this: that he is loyal to the United States, and his oath is to the Constitution of the United States only, “not to Israel,” unlike some people, who put Israel’s interests first. This remark seems to me more than merely irascible; it suggests that those who challenged his views have different loyalties. Can such a statement really be left unexamined and unchallenged? [...]
Today most pressure from the organized Jewish community over foreign-policy issues is related to the security of Israel and the Iranian nuclear-weapons program. To be treated with indifference by an elected official is bad enough. To be told by a future nominee for very high office that, “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” and “my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States” is insulting and unacceptable. It suggests that Senator Hagel believes such lobbying by American Jews to be illegitimate and offensive, and is indeed evidence of loyalty to another country.
Hagel himself has explained what he meant regarding the “Israeli senator” line. “A couple of these guys said we should just attack Iran,” Hagel said, adding, “And this guy kept pushing and pushing. And he alluded to the fact that maybe I wasn’t supporting Israel enough or something. And I just said let me clear something up here, in case there is any doubt.”
Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to six Secretaries of State who first published the quote that Abrams takes issue with, said, “I think Hagel has a view that is not commonly expressed among senators and representatives, and that is, yes, we have a special relationship with Israel, but that special relationship is not exclusive.”
“I am very supportive of the state of Israel. So is Senator Hagel,” former Bush administration Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell said on Sunday. And Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeline Albright said on Friday, “I think that Senator Hagel has been somebody that has voted for help for Israel over the years, has made very clear his support for Israel, and has talked about the historic bond. And so I think that is just a charge that doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Further rebutting Abrams’ accusations, a Senior Rabbi at an Omaha, Nebraska synagouge who has known Hagel for years today said “the facts speak for themselves: His record shows strong support for Israel.”
The easily debunked article comes at the end of what hasn’t been a banner week for Elliott Abrams’ already shaky credibility, which has lead to his critics calling on Abrams to actually apologize. The past seven days have seen his employer distance itself from his comments and CFR President Richard Haas calling his statements “over the line.”