The Magazine

Totally, Unequivocally Hagel

Jan 21, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 18 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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On the day he was nominated as secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel gave an interview to the Lincoln Journal Star. His critics had “completely distorted” his record, he complained. Rather, Hagel claimed, his record shows “unequivocal, total support for Israel.”

Obama and Chuck Hegel

Obama and Chuck Hegel

AP

This is unequivocal, total nonsense.

Chuck Hagel was once proud not to be numbered among the “unequivocal, total” supporters of Israel. Hagel was once proud of his standing as a lonely figure in American public life who would stand up to those who unequivocally and totally supported Israel. Hagel was once a senator who, unlike his colleagues, was proud not to have been intimidated by “the Jewish lobby.” Hagel was proud of his votes against pro-Israel resolutions backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), aka “the Jewish lobby.” Hagel was contemptuous of those who signed AIPAC-endorsed pro-Israel letters.

No, Chuck Hagel was not one of those “unequivocal, total” supporters of Israel like his colleagues in the United States Senate. No siree!

For example, during the 2002 Palestinian terror campaign against Israel, Senator Chuck Hagel was willing to say that “both Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a war not of their making,” and that “Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.” After he left the Senate, Hagel became co-chair of the Atlantic Council. His vice chair on the board is Chas Freeman. Remember him? Freeman had been forced to withdraw as a nominee for an Obama administration intelligence post in 2009 because his hostility to Israel was so manifest. New York senator Chuck Schumer said, after Freeman withdrew, “His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration.” 

Hagel evidently hasn’t persuaded Freeman to mend his ways. Just a month ago, on December 1, 2012, here’s what Hagel’s vice chair, Chas Freeman, declared:

In some countries, like the United States, Israel can rely upon a “fifth column” of activist sympathizers to amplify its messages, to rebut and discredit statements that contradict its arguments, facts, and fabrications, and to impugn the moral standing of those who make such statements.

So far as we know, Chuck Hagel had no problem with what Chas Freeman said in December 2012. But in January 2013, Chuck Hagel morphed into Mr. Unequivocal and Total Supporter of Israel.

Chuck Hagel is, we suppose, entitled to try to pull off a confirmation conversion. A bunch of conversions, actually. Maybe he now really is pro-gay rights and pro-choice. Maybe in those cases his Senate voting record was merely a matter of political convenience. But Hagel’s contempt for those who were truly pro-Israel was so ingrained and so longstanding that one is entitled to doubt that his confirmation flip-flop on Israel is sincere. He’ll argue, under the pressure of confirmation hearings, that his comment about his colleagues being intimidated by “the Jewish lobby” meant no disrespect either for his fellow senators or for Jews. He won’t mean it.

When Hagel spoke of “the Jewish lobby,” he meant above all AIPAC. When he expressed disdain for various resolutions and letters, he was expressing disdain for AIPAC. Where is AIPAC on the Hagel nomination? So far, on the sidelines. Why? The organization appears to feel it can’t afford to antagonize the Obama administration, that it has a responsibility to maintain as much access to the administration in power as possible. One could respond: What price access? After all, as one wit mordantly commented, “If large groups in the organized Jewish community didn’t have political access, who knows what kind of anti-Israel politicians who loathe ‘the Jewish lobby’ might end up getting nominated for high-ranking positions?”

But in a way it’s good to have AIPAC sit this battle out. When the Senate votes not to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, no one will be able to blame “the Jewish lobby.” Though somehow we think Chuck Hagel and his friends will. Totally and unequivocally.

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