Forward Thinking

A Threat to Israel in America’s Cuba Policy?

By Steven Windmueller

Obama is caricatured as Che Guevara, an iconic symbol of Cuba’s revolution, on the cover of Brazilian magazine Veja / Getty Images

As a life-long Democrat, I was deeply disturbed by the Obama Administration’s decision to act unilaterally on the Cuban question. The policy option may have been a valid one, but the process invoked raises major concerns.

Realizing that his presidency would be without a Democratic majority in either the Senate or House for the remainder of his term, did Obama decide that his Administration would conduct the business of foreign policy outside of the traditional policy framework of bipartisanship?

The embargo on Cuba was set into place 54 years ago, in 1960. We need to remind ourselves that both Republicans and Democrats embraced the actions taken at that time by the Eisenhower Administration.

Obama’s arbitrary action, taken without any public input or Congressional oversight, raises a set of challenging questions. Do each of the president’s recent pronouncements, including his executive order on immigration and the Iran nuclear agreement, suggest a different framework for decision-making by this White House? Will we continue to see a series of new political pronouncements without the engagement of the Congress or the input of public opinion?

I introduce these questions in the context of my particular concern for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Could such a proactive decision-making pattern have some potential linkage to a change in America’s special and historic relationship with Israel? Could the Administration’s frustration with the Netanyahu government produce a similar outcome, namely a shift in its balance of support?

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Chuck Hagel's Jewish Scorecard

By Nathan Guttman

getty images

The debate over the possible nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel for defense secretary is not dying down.

The White House has yet to formally announce whether Hagel will be its pick for the top Pentagon post, although President Obama has signalled to insiders that he is the likely choice. And the president did come out in Hagel’s defense in his Sunday Meet the Press interview, calling the Nebraska Republican “a patriot”.

Where does the Jewish community stand on Hagel as Defense Secretary? All over the map.

Leading the detractors is, of course, Abraham Foxman of the Anti Defamation League whose remark that Hagel’s comments on the pro-Israel lobby “border on anti-Semitism” triggered the entire debate. The American Jewish Committee’s David Harris weighed in on the same side with an anecdote reminding the public of Hagel’s refusal to sign a letter condemning anti Semitism in Russia. Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed “concern” over the possibility that Hagel will take over as defense secretary, although he did add that such a nomination will be something “we will work with.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition was first to criticize Hagel, calling his nomination “a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel.”

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Chuck Hagel's Pushback

By Nathan Guttman

getty images
Chuck Hagel

In a two-page document titled “Facts on Chuck Hagel” supporters of the former Nebraska Senator are fighting back against claims he is anti-Israel.

The paper, unsigned and circulated among reporters, attempts to refute claims raised against Hagel by some in the pro-Israel community and statements, including in a Washington Post editorial, that he is not the appropriate choice for Defense Secretary.

The paper quotes from Hagel’s book America: Our Next Chapter in which he writes that “at its core there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel” and that any agreement with the Palestinians “should not include any compromise regarding Israel’s Jewish identity.”

Hagel’s supporters bring two former U.S. diplomats, both Jewish, Daniel Kurtzer who was ambassador to Israel and Aaron David Miller, a Middle East adviser at the State Department, to vouch for Hagel’s support for Israel.

On the issues, the paper notes that Hagel’s support for talking with Hamas was in the context of “inducing Hamas to modify its behavior” and mentions that he was an original co-author of a bill urging the international community to boycott Hamas.

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