The Fall and Rise of Chuck Hagel: A Good Sign for US-Israel Relations

Article excerpt

With today's Senate confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel as US secretary of Defense, it is worth taking a moment to review the fall and rise of Mr. Hagels nomination.

It is a welcome, if overdue, sign that daylight between American and Israeli policies may be becoming more politically acceptable in Washington.

When rumors of the nomination first arose in December, there was a flurry of attacks against the former Republican senator from Nebraska, and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that his nomination was doomed.

Jewish advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League claimed Hagel might be anti-Semitic, based mostly on his injudicious use of the term Jewish lobby. Elliott Abrams, the Republican foreign affairs official of Iran-contra infamy, outright leveled the charge.

But the real fear of many Jewish advocacy organizations was actually Hagels independent positions on Israel-related issues from Iran to the Palestinians. All the substantial weight of a long list of Jewish institutions was brought against the nomination.

It has been essentially unacceptable in Washington to acknowledge that the United States may at times have different priorities than Israel. Remember, for instance, the October presidential debate, when Mitt Romney criticized President Obama by saying, The president said he was going to create daylight between ourselves and Israel.

But when even Jon Stewart joked this month about the absurdity of the no-daylight requirement, its clear that Americans or at least the younger generation are getting tired of such an unquestioning close relationship.

Other well-known figures from Thomas Friedman to Colin Powell came to Hagels defense, groups like mine mustered grassroots support, and the president stood his ground. When Sen. Charles Schumer the Democrat from New York who is widely seen as a decisive vote in the confirmation hearings declared his support for Hagel, it became clear his appointment would go forward.

Since Mr. Obama announced his decision, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, has studiously avoided publicly opposing Hagel. Its choice to stay out of a fight it couldnt win indicates a recognition that political realities are shifting.

Could it be that holding Israel accountable for its illegal settlements, its demolition of homes, its killing of nonviolent activists another Palestinian, a young woman, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers this week in the occupied West Bank and its repression of the Palestinian people will be next?

Not so fast. While it is heartening to see the parade of support for Hagel and the Israel lobby in retreat, the Obama administrations defense of him has revolved entirely around the argument that he would continue current US policies toward Israel.

The National Jewish Democratic Council put it this way, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the Presidents lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Irans nuclear program. …