Forward Thinking

Chuck Hagel's Jewish Scorecard

By Nathan Guttman

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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

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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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