It’s official. Chuck Hagel is the U.S. Secretary of Defense. As the New York Times (February 27, 2013) reported, “After escaping a filibuster from members of his own party, Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, prevailed in a 58-to-41 vote — the narrowest margin for any defense secretary on record.”
More important than the partisan nature of the vote is the impact it could have on Israel. As JTA (February 27, 2013) explained, “A number of centrist Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, had expressed concerns about past Hagel comments, particularly his claim in 2006 that a ‘Jewish lobby intimidates’ Congress, as well as his skepticism of sanctions and military moves that would keep Iran from advancing its suspected nuclear weapons program.”
According to the Unity Coalition for Israel’s Daily News (February 27, 2013), “The B’nai B’rith International, the longstanding liberal Jewish advocacy organization ordinarily supportive of the Obama Administration released the following statement: ‘During the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Hagel did not assuage our reservations on how he would approach such topics as terrorism, Iran and Israel…We are concerned that Hagel, unlike the vast majority of his Senate colleagues, underestimates the threat of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezb’allah.’…The B’nai B’rith expressed deep concern that Hagel was in the minority when 88 of his Senate colleagues urged the European Union designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization and was…’troubled that Hagel, during his confirmation hearings, undermined the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He appeared to endorse a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran before being advised that containment was not administration policy.’
We wonder why this vote ended up being more of a partisan issue than a Jewish issue. The twelve Jewish members of the Senate — Ben Cardin, Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, Brian Schatz, Bernie Sanders, Ron Wyden, Barbara Boxer, Frank Lautenberg, Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Michael Bennet, and Al Franken — all Democrats, voted strictly along party lines. Many Jewish organizations also kept quiet. Notably absent from the debate was AIPAC, which claimed that it gets into the fray about policy, not personnel. One has to wonder who is making the defense policy, if not the person who heads the department.
According to Lee Smith, writing in Tablet Magazine (February 27, 2013), “Pro-Israel Obama supporters on the Hill and in the press keep trying to make the case that in spite of how it might look on the surface, the administration cares deeply about the U.S.-Israel relationship…If the administration cared that much about Israel, it wouldn’t nominate a secretary of defense who referred to defenders of the U.S.-Israel relationship as the ‘Jewish lobby.”
A member of the President’s Cabinet would be expected to have similar views to those of the President, who is, after all, his commander in chief. He would also be expected to be one of “the best and the brightest.”
I am nonplussed by the man’s qualifications and distraught at his apparent feelings about Jews and Israel. Even more, I am completely appalled by the lack of interest on the part of many influential Jews who could have done something about it.