One of the Democratic talking points presented as reasons for pro-Israel voters to reelect President Obama was the degree of US/Israel cooperation on matters of defense. For example, former New York Mayor Ed Koch said this:
The statement of Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on intelligence gathering and military supplies provided by the U.S. to Israel was the best ever in the long relationship between the two countries. That again was clear evidence of President Obama’s commitment to Israel.
And David Golder of the Chicago Jewish News wrote,
What’s at stake is Israel’s security. President Obama has directed more security aid to Israel than ever before and funded the Iron Dome system to save Israeli lives from rocket attacks. He has defended Israel at the UN. He personally intervened to save the lives of Israelis surrounded by a mob at their embassy in Cairo, and he directed American personnel to help Israel douse the flames of the Carmel fire.
Just recently, the Administration extended loan guarantees to Israel through 2016, while engaging in the largest-ever joint military exercise between our countries.
On the greatest threat to Israel’s security, President Obama has left no doubt: Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon. He will not take any option off the table to counter this threat.
He has backed this promise with action – the most far-reaching sanctions ever imposed on the Iranian regime; an international coalition acting to cripple Iran’s economy and isolate its leaders; overt and covert collaboration with our allies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear efforts.
Today, the sanctions are biting and our resolve is unwavering. As the President said, “Israel is a true friend; it is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel.”
Most Jews bought it. The President received some 70% of the Jewish vote (down only a bit since 2008, when he got 78%). Most American Jews do care about Israel’s security, even if they embrace mistaken policies such as the ‘peace process’, so it seems that they were reassured that Obama was, if not the most pro-Israel President ever, at least harmless.
They were wrong. Exhibit A, presented even before the inauguration, is his apparent plan to nominate Sen. Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, the single official most relevant to continued cooperation between the US and Israel on security issues.
Hagel stands out in the US Senate as an opponent of Israel, and an opponent of sanctions on Iran. Here are a few facts about him:
1. In November 2001, Hagel was one of 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter requesting President Bush not meet with Yassir Arafat until forces linked to Arafat’s Fatah party ceased attacks on Israel.
2. In December 2005, Hagel was one of 27 Senators who refused to sign a letter to President Bush requesting the U.S. pressure the Palestinians to ban terrorist groups from participating in legislative elections.
3. In July 2006, Hagel called on President Bush to demand an immediate cease-fire when Israel retaliated against Hezbollah after the terrorist group attacked Israel, abducted two IDF soldiers, and fired rockets at Israeli civilians.
4. In August 2006, Hagel was only of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter asking the EU to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
5. In 2007, Hagel voted against designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization.
Israel and “the Jewish Lobby”
1. In October 2000, Hagel was one of only four Senators who refused to sign a letter expressing support for Israel during the second Palestinian intifada.
2. In July 2002, in a Washington Post op-ed, after several of the most deadly months of Palestinian suicide bombings, Hagel wrote that the U.S. was erroneously “making Yassir Arafat the issue,” that Palestinians could not be expected to make democratic reforms as long as “Israeli military occupation and settlement activity” continue, and that “Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.”
3. In November 2003, Hagel failed to vote on the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and occupation of Lebanon. The Act passed by a vote of 89 to 4.
4. In July 2006, Hagel called on the Bush Administration to take up the Beirut Declaration of 2002, also known as the “Saudi Peace Initiative,” saying it was “a starting point” that had been “squandered” by the United States. It calls on Israel to retreat from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and much of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, as a precondition for peace.
5. In calling upon President Bush to demand an immediate ceasefire after Israel responded to a Hezbollah attack in 2006, Hagel said: “This madness must stop,” and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend — the country and people of Lebanon.”
6. “The political reality is that … the Jewish [not ‘Israel’ — ed.] lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.” (Hagel interviewed in Aaron David Miller’s 2008 book The Too Much Promised Land)
7. In 2009, Hagel signed onto a letter urging President Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel and which has perpetrated dozens of suicide bombings that have killed or injured hundreds of civilians in Israel, including many Americans.
8. The National Jewish Democratic Council says Hagel has “a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.”
9. When questioned about his pro-Israel record during a meeting in New York with supporters of Israel, Hagel is reported to have said, “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. 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.”
1. On July 24, 2001, Hagel was one of only two U.S. senators who voted against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.
2. In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging that President Bush highlight Iran’s nuclear program while at the G-8 summit.
In every case that Israel has had to defend herself in recent years — the Second Intifada, the second Lebanon War and the two operations in Gaza — Hagel has spoken out against Israel. As Secretary of Defense, how would we expect him to argue if Israel again finds itself at war and asks for ammunition or spare parts for American weapons?
Despite the talking points, Obama has been relatively weak on sanctions against Iran, tugged kicking and screaming by Congress and even the Europeans — and even then has granted exemptions to Iran’s largest trading partners. Hagel’s softness on Iran and its proxies Hizballah and Syria is not likely to strengthen the administration’s stance.
Ed Koch, who urged Jews to vote for Obama, is now opposed to Hagel’s nomination, calling it a “terrible appointment.” But others, like Iran’s Press TV as well as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have only good things to say about him (CAIR endorsed him for President in the 2008 election).
The usual suspects, of course, are talking about Hagel’s “hardline” critics who support Israel’s “right-wing government.” But Hagel’s positions on Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, etc., are far from the norm in the Senate — either among other Republicans or Democrats — and themselves could be called ‘extreme’.
Nevertheless, its hard to imagine Hagel’s fellow senators voting against confirming a member of their exclusive club. It is pretty much Obama’s call.
So much for pre-election promises.