WASHINGTON – The possible nomination of Chuck Hagel
as the US secretary of defense is sparking criticism among pro-Israel
The former Nebraska senator and Vietnam veteran is considered the frontrunner to replace Leon Panetta
and has been known to criticize Israel and the pro-Israel lobby in the US.
Hagel was the first Republican senator to publicly criticize the war in Iraq and has declined to endorse the use force against Iran
if negotiations don’t persuade it to give up its nuclear program.
In 2009 he signed a paper urging President Barack Obama
to advance a Hamas-Fatah unity government.
Hagel also refused to be included in AIPAC's statements of support of Israel. In a 2006 interview with veteran diplomat Aharon Miller he claimed that "the Jewish lobby" intimidates many Americans.
"I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel,” he said.
Hagel with Obama (Photo: AP)
“I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” he told Miller for his book “The Much Too Promised Land,” released in 2008.
“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,” the ex-senator said.
Former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block told politico.com that Hagel's record "speaks for itself, on issues like consistently voting against sanctions on Iran to stop their pursuit of nuclear weapons capability, refusing to call on the European Union to name Hezbollah - which has killed more Americans than any terrorist group in the world except al-Qaeda - as a terrorist organization."
In his Wall Street Journal column, conservative journalist Bret Stephens wrote, "In 2002, a year in which 457 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks, Mr. Hagel weighed in with the advice that 'Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.'
"This was two years after Yasser Arafat had been offered a state by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David."
Furthermore in 2006, Hagel accused Israel of "systematic destruction of an American friend - the country and people of Lebanon.”
In 2007, the former Nebraska senator voted against designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.
Conversely, Hagel's nomination is being endorsed by the more liberal-leaning pro-Israel group J Street.
Daniel Kurtzer, a US ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush is also supportive of Hagel's nomination claiming his views on AIPAC are "far from unusual among lawmakers.
"Anybody who has ever talked to senators or congressmen behind closed doors knows you hear a lot of that," Kurtzer told politico.com. "A lot of people won’t talk about that publicly, but Hagel talks about it in pubic. One can question whether it’s good politics from his standpoint, but it’s not a view that’s foreign on the Hill.”
Kurtzer described the criticism of Hagel’s policy views “terribly misguided.”
“I found him in all the years I served, including as ambassador to Israel, to be a supporter of Israel and a man also ready to discuss very frankly with the Israelis the concerns we had about certain Israeli policies,” he said.