Neoconservative Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow
Elliott Abrams in a National Review Online (NRO) post on Saturday backed away
from his charge that Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel is anti-Semitic, but in the very same piece, Abrams again suggested that Hagel may be anti-Semitic.
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.”