The smear campaign launched by pro-Israeli groups and a few prominent Americans, including some Republicans, against former Nebraska senator and Vietnam war veteran, Chuck Hagel, who has been nominated by President Barack Obama as the country’s next defence secretary, has seemingly fizzled out. It happened when Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, described by a pro-Israeli journalist as “the most powerful Jewish Democrat in Congress”, who pro-Israelis were hoping would challenge Hagel for the job, changed his mind and announced his support for the leader proposed by the Pentagon.
Schumer has reportedly told Obama that Hagel’s responses during their 90-minute meeting were critical to his decision on the nomination. The nominated cabinet member endorsed Israel’s use of military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and retaliation against Hezbollah or Hamas.
Simultaneously, Hagel expressed “regret” to another Jewish Senator, Barbara Boxer of California, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he had used the term ‘Jewish lobby’ rather than ‘pro-Israel lobby’ which can be construed as anti-Semitic. He also pointed out that “most Americans, myself included, are overwhelmingly supportive of a strong US-Israel strategic and security relationship,” adding in his correspondence with Boxer that as secretary of defence “I fully intend to expand the depth and breadth of US-Israel cooperation”.
Does this sound like Hagel has succumbed to the pro-Israel lobby and his right-wing critics? Certainly, but in fairness, one should wait till he appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a few weeks and see whether the headline in the news website Mondoweiss — ‘Hagel prostrates himself before the lobby, gets votes’ — tells it like it is.
Schumer acknowledged after endorsing Hagel: “I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post. But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realises the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”
Alana Goodman of Commentary, a pro-Israeli monthly, had described Hagel a few days ago as “the most anti-Israel defence secretary nominee in memory, chosen at a time when Iran is on the verge of nuclear weapons capability. If pro-Israel Democrats cave on his confirmation, what would they possibly stand against?” Goodman and her allies miss the point that the main issue in the Middle East is Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territory and mistreatment of Palestinians inside Israel and those under occupation for 46 years.
Here’s what Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview with the New York Times Magazine last week on this subject: “The silence that Israel has been enjoying over the last few years will not continue, because even if the local inhabitants [Palestinians] do not want to resume the violence they will be under the pressure of the Arab world. Most of the world will support the Palestinians, justify their actions, level the sharpest criticism at us, falsely label us a racist state. Our economy will suffer gravely if a boycott is declared against us. The world’s Jews want an Israel they can be proud of and not an Israel that has no borders and that is considered an occupying state.”
Interestingly, Peres also “demanded an end to ... [colonies] and got a negative response, and they [members of the Likud-led government] are to blame for the ongoing activity in the ... [colonies]. President Obama thinks that peace should be made with the Muslim world. We, the state of Israel, do not appear to be thinking along those lines. We must not lose the support of the United States.”
A highlight of antagonistic debate over the Hagel nomination was the slanderous charge that he was anti-Semitic. Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionist, sees Israel’s next great crisis may come not with the Palestinians or Iran but with young American Jews, who are now disappointed with the Israeli leadership. He explained: “What role Hagel plays in Obama’s Iran policy remains anyone’s guess, but simply by being nominated Hagel has dealt a blow to the silly, lazy charges of anti-Semitism that have grown commonplace in Washington in recent years. And that alone is reason for enthusiasm.”
In the upcoming confirmation hearings, we will learn once again that the proof of the pudding is in the eating of what Hagel serves us all.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at email@example.com