Chuck Hagel’s refusal to sign the many US-Israeli sponsored anti-Iran bills, and his collaboration with two former heads of US Central Command in advising the President against war with Iran, put his candidacy for Secretary of Defense under serious scrutinity.
In early December 2012, the neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) produced a commercial highly criticizing Mr. Hagel. The commercial questioned his legitimacy as the next potential Secretary of Defense by highlighting that: a) he does not agree with the crippling sanctions on Iran, arguing that they are harming the lives of civilians more than they affect the government, b) he voted against labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, and c) he considers that “military action is not a viable, feasible, responsible option” against Iran.
His apprehension towards instigating yet another war in the Middle East has been viewed as disloyal to Israel, with congressman Eliot Engel claiming that Hagel holds an “endemic hostility towards Israel.” The ECI are not alone in condemning Hagel, having support, from groups such as: the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, the Republican Jewish Coalition, the National Jewish Democratic Council, The Israel Project, and the Zionist Organization of America.
While these groups may have lobbied against Hagel mainly in retaliation to his stance on Iran, it is also likely that their campaign was fueled by one of Hagel’s recent decisions. Namely, his signature on a policy statement urging the Obama administration to engage with Hamas, and foster reconciliation between the two main Palestinian factions.
His stance has driven Israeli lobbyists to label Mr. Hagel anti-Semitic and “against the State of Israel.” This riposte shows that a politician who strays slightly from the norm of unfettered and infinite support for Israel runs the risk of being classified as an anti-Semite.
However, Hagel continues to show active support for Israel; he simply doesn’t romanticize the “special relationship” to the degree that the ECI would expect. Hagel has always maintained this position front and centre, having previously stated:
I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator… I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.
Most politicians, especially those running for high office, are mindful of the need to pledge an undying allegiance to the interests of Israel, an allegiance which includes considering enemies of Israel as enemies of the United States. Natasha Mozgovaya of the Israeli daily Haaretz also reports that “every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community.” When interest groups, dedicated to the concerns of another state, influence domestic decisions in such a significant manner, it is not far-fetched to say that the purity of American democracy and sovereignty is under serious threat.
If Obama decides to nominate Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, the American government might, for the first time since the hostage crisis under President Carter, consider a diplomatic agreement with Iran. Hagel’s potential nomination will prove critical in determining the future of US-Israeli relations, and ultimately, the continued unwinding of US conflicts in the Middle East.
– By Danielle Morland
(Featured photo: Leon Panetta, Creative Commons, Wylio)