Will Israel Block Hagel as Defense Secretary?

Obama Hagel Reuters crop

by James M. Wall

Former Nebraska Senator Charles (Chuck) Hagel (above right) may be nominated by President Barack Obama to be secretary of defense.

The President is known to like his old Senate colleague, a Republican who, like Obama, considered running for president in 2008. Unlike Obama, Hagel decided not to run.

Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, would provide Obama with a Republican in the upper echelon of his second-term cabinet, a nice touch in a season when the American movie-going public is discovering Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 “team of rivals” cabinet. The script for the film, Lincoln, is derived, in part, from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

What could possibly derail Chuck Hagel’s nomination? He meets all the qualifications in personal conduct, political experience, and friendship with the president and colleagues in the U.S. Senate.

None of this matters to the pro-Israel forces that have lined up with their attacks on Hagel. To them, the former Nebraska Senator does not meet the  test of being “100 percent  pro-Israel”. For the neo-conservatives, where Hagel is concerned, as Sherlock Holmes has said, “the game is on”.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank describes how vicously the neo-cons play their game. Milbank reported that neo-con guru, Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, published a smear under the headline: “Senate aide: ‘Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.’ ”

In the posting, this anonymous aide went on to accuse Hagel of “the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.” As evidence, the article included a quotation from Hagel referring to the “Jewish lobby.”

The Weekly Standard  writes that it has “obtained a fact sheet circulating widely on Capitol Hill”. The fact sheet, according to the Standard, “details the record on a number of issues of former GOP senator Chuck Hagel, a leading candidate to be nominated by President Obama as the next secretary of defense”.

The fact sheet focuses on issues neo-cons find unacceptable in a cabinet member. Of course, in any rational debate on Middle East politics, these same points could be seen as a positive reason to place Chuck Hagel in Obama’s cabinet.

Here is the National Review’s “fact sheet” with its reasons to reject Hagel:

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 one of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter asking the EU to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Politico used the headline, “some Jews” object to Hagel, to summarize the case against Hagel. Some samples:

The Times of Israel reported that “the nomination of Hagel would likely worry Israel supporters, who have criticized the former Republican senator for what they see as a chilly stance toward the Jewish state.” The English-language Israeli publication cited Hagel’s past positions on issues including the second Lebanon War in 2006 and Israel’s dealings with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. .  .  .  .

A top Israel advocate told The Daily Beast that “the pro-Israel community will view the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel in an extremely negative light. His record is unique in its animus towards Israel.”

“He is one of the most hostile critics of Israel that has ever been in the Senate,” Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told the newspaper The Algemeiner.

Media responses to this onslaught from the neo-con right, have not been plentiful. Just in time, however, John Judis, writing in The New Republic, arrives with this gift for those of us who find the pro-Israel attacks on Hagel to be both abhorent and utterly without merit.

He starts by identifying the forces aligned against Hagel:

The stories of Hagel’s looming nomination have aroused intense opposition–but almost exclusively from individuals and organizations that back Israel’s right-wing government and find Hagel’s views on Israel repellent.

These critics include the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is funded by gambling mogul and greater-Israel proponent Sheldon Adelson; the Zionist Organization of America, which also opposes a two-state solution; and a sundry collection of fellow travellers, including the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin.

Judis, a veteran reporter and columnist, comes to the Hagel story with sufficient information to reject the anti-Hagel uninformed smears from the neo-conservative right. He writes:

I know something about Hagel. I spent several months talking to him and to people who know him for a profile I wrote for The New Republic in 2007 when he was considering running for president. I can’t confidently say that he would make a good or great secretary of defense, but I can say with confidence that Hagel is an honorable man who served with distinction as a senator and that his foreign policy views, including his positions on Israel and its American lobby, are, if anything, a reason to support rather than oppose his nomination. . . . .

Unlike some Prairie Republicans, Hagel was a committed internationalist who saw NATO, the United Nations the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund as essential to American foreign policy. He wanted the United States to exert influence internationally, but by working with other countries.

This is the man President Obama has hinted he wants as his next secretary of defense. He may or may not make the appointment. If  he does, the forces that want cabinet officials “100 percent  pro-Israel” will step up their attacks.

These forces will be described as the Israel Lobby. But perhaps the time has come to ask, are we doing a favor to the “Israel Lobby” by granting them  a U.S. “lobby” status?

In the American political system, a lobby is a U.S. group that pushes decision-makers to do what the lobby believes is best on a particular issue.The National Rifle Association (NRA), for example, has long used its political power to block laws that curb what the NRA and its members believe is a God-given right for American citizens to own and shoot fire arms, including assault military weapons.

That belief will be intensively debated in the next few months in the aftermath of the mass school slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut. The NRA now has the burden of arguing its political case against the backdrop of Newtown.

That is what lobbies do; they argue their cause.  Some lobbies hang on to their power too long, as was the case with the Tobacco Lobby,  that only now has become something of a pariah in American life.

It is important to keep in mind, however, as we consider a congressional debate over guns or tobacco, that our gun laws and our restriction on the sale of and advertising of tobacco, apply only in the U.S. They are domestic issues.

The political discourse over the President’s cabinet is very much a domestic issue. Let us be clear about this; input from a foreign power has no place in these decisions.

When Israel’s “myrmidons”  (myrmidon: A faithful follower who carries out orders unquestioningly) infiltrate every segment of our American culture, including our religious institutions, and our media, academic and political structures, they are exclusively promoting the interest not of this country, but of a foreign power, the state of Israel.

An Obama nomination and Senate confirmation of Chuck Hagel would be a major step in breaking the grip of Israel’s myrmidons in this country.

Pre-Christmas Note: Many readers have been returning to a link to a 2010 Wall Writings posting, Behind a 30 Foot Prison Wall, “Merry Christmas” Becomes a Media Lie. To revisit the link, click on the posting’s title.

The photo at top is from Reuters.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Media, Middle East Politics, Obama, Politics and Elections. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Will Israel Block Hagel as Defense Secretary?

  1. J. Martin Bailey says:

    I have followed the career if Charles Hagel in the Senate and before. (I grew up in Iowa, not far from the Nebraska border.) He would be a strong Secretary of Defense and an excellent part of President Obama’s cabinet. I believe that those of us who are concerned about a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East and around the world should encourage his appointment and confirmation–especially if the pro-Israel lobby mounts a campaign against him.

  2. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thank you, Jim,for pointing out most clearly that a US lobby is supposed to be dealing with “Domestic” American issues. It is not supposed to be a lobby for a foreign country. Otherwise, it should be registered and designated as such. Taking your lead on this, It is high time for Americans to defend our country against blatant foreign intervention.

    Myrmidons (thanks for teaching me this new word today) who blindly follow Israel against American strategic interests and traditions of justice and moral high ground, should turn the tables on the Israel Lobby by investigating such foreign entities who have been given an open field to trample on every vital American interest, if it does not meet with the approval of a foreign power, in this case, Israel.

  3. MICHAEL G says:


  4. litwinkot says:

    Thank you Jim, for this compendium of references and establishing context. I suggest we read this as another “Chas Freeman” moment, which first occurred at the start of Obama’s first term when Freeman withdrew his name rather than suffer the usual claptrap now effusing from the same gang of myrmidons. Freeman would have made a great National Security advisor and would have brought some sanity and clarity to Obama’s foreign policy. Back then in 2009 you might have decided that Obama was just overly cautious and having rookie stage fright. However, I fear that this time, Obama will have neither the moral clarity nor the courage to stick to the passenger in his trial balloon.

    I myself think Hagel would make a better Secretary of State.

    As the President has immediately jettisoned his campaign promises not to touch social security and to raise taxes on folks “like him” who make over $250,000 a year, his political timidity and political calculations, unlike those of his purported model, Abraham Lincoln, will betray the better angel of his nature. Remember Senator Obama carrying around a copy of Team of Rivals during the initial primaries in 2007? All for show, I’m afraid. This time he will rationalize his calculations by fearing a Republican come-back in 2014. After that he will rationalize his timidity and compromises and betrayals by claiming he’s a lame duck.

    Best wishes for the Holidays and for the New Year.

  5. litwinkot says:


    “Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, said President Obama was partly to blame for allowing all of this hysterical criticism of Hagel to grow without comment.

    “’I find that, unfortunately, a symptom of being not willing to stand up for people you want to surround yourself with,’ Mr. Brzezinski said in an interview. ‘That’s not a good way to protect presidential territory…I would say: Make an announcement that Kerry and [Hagel] are the team that he wants, and let’s see where the chips fall.’”

    As quoted in: http://news.antiwar.com/2012/12/20/chuck-hagel-faces-relentless-assaults/

  6. Samia Khoury says:

    We have watched Mr. Obama getting a slap in the face when he ordered Israel to stop the settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. But to meddle with the appointment of the secretary of Defense would be the optimum of arrogance, and would be a great humiliation for the president of a super power to cave in at this stage. This is indeed a “Domestic” issue, and if Israel succeeds in preventing this appointment, then the US administration will only confirm who is really running the show.

  7. Patricia says:

    I want Israel’s influence stifled in my country.I want AIPAC registered as a foreign agency as well as any other Israeli Lobby.

  8. Excellent post, Jim, as always. I wait with bated breath as my experiential-pessimistic self tells me that Obama will choose the easy way out, throw Hagel and the Palestinians under the bus, and nominate…someone, anyone acceptable to the Zionist Lobby. That’s the (un)American way.

  9. Fred says:

    Sadly, it’s more of the same– Israel and AIPAC rule regarding our mideast policy. Israel First, last and always. All American leaders must know—the Israel lobby will tolerate no criticism of the apartheid state of Israel. no matter what crimes or violations of International Law it commits.

    Fight back America! Call your Senators to support Hagel and to stop kow towing to the Isralel Lobby. It is, and has been for decades, a national disgrace that the Israel Lobby determines our mideast policy. Our Congress people are afraid to speak out against Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people, and give Israel billions of dollars while American programs face huge cuts.

    Once agains, money and the pro Israel media are in command on this issue. This needs to change, and if we don’t change it, no one will.


  10. I think (and hope) that, finally, AIPAC and its ilk will be overplaying their hand on Hagel’s nomination. He is deeply respected as a man of great integrity, pragmatism, and intelligence by colleagues in the Senate from both parties. The most positive outcome would be for the lobby to make a very public and strident stand against Hagel only to have it backfire. I think the more likely scenario will be that the majority of the lobby (outside of the more “fringe elements”) recognize that this will be a lost cause for them and will adopt a “so what” strategy instead.

  11. Gene St.Onge says:

    This could be a defining moment in our history, assuming our President has the wisdom and courage to seize it. By holding fast to the nominations of both Hagel and Kerry, Obama could signal the beginning of the end for the jackals who control our foreign policy, mainly through our Congress, in a manner that supports the most right wing leadership elements in Israel, i.e. the Israel lobby. If we are ever to develop a strong and effective Middle East policy, this needs to be Step 1!

  12. Clyde Farris says:

    I have always admired Chuck Hagel. I only hope President Obama has the courage to nominate him and see his appointment through.

  13. Mike Jackson says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with you, Jim, on this. However, to complicate the issue is Hagel’s anti-gay record, which is starting to galvanize gay oposition.

  14. Pingback: Israel: ‘Thou shalt not vote for Hagel’ | Rehmat's World

  15. As I get into my second comment to this posting by Jim Wall, I invite readers to re-visit this month-old (November 2012) commentary by Jim. It addresses another act in this theater of the absurd played out by hapless U.S. presidents forced to prostrate and humiliate themselves and their country before the awesome controlling power of the Zionist Lobby; Ambassador Chas Freeman was the tragic victim in that 2009 instance. Then, I encourage readers to ponder the “déjà vu” aspect of the potential 2013 nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel to be a crucial cog in Obama’s wheel of governance:


    Last night, as I began to shut down my computer, this scenario came to my mind:

    My guess is that Obama, with the specter of Ambassador Chas Freeman before him – and with the specter of (senator) Charles Schumer right behind Freeman – will tuck his tail between his legs, grovel before the omnipresent, omniscient Zionist Lobby and nominate someone “safer,” anyone other than Senator Hagel.

    Something approaching a play on words flashed through my mind as I contemplated a place for Senator Hagel in Obama’s second administration: Could “Hagel” be a “Hegel”ian Test for Obama? Georg Hegel’s philosophical system involves the viewing of reality via a dynamic process determined by the dialectics of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Applying Hegel to Hagel,

    –Obama or a non-Zionist staffer might posit “Chuck Hagel would be a great SECDEF: right for the times, right for America, right for the ‘peace’ for which DoD should be in constant search as it ‘provides for the common defense’.”
    –Obama mulls the thesis, considers what the impediments to nominating Hagel might be, and squirms and becomes nauseous-diarrheic simultaneously at the vision of the Zionist Lobby that looms ominously over Washington, D.C.
    –Obama synthesizes by considering (i) his experience with Chas Freeman, whom Obama privately acknowledges he threw under the train in 2009, (ii) that dratted Zionist Lobby, manifested so visibly not only during the Freeman debacle but via the 29 standing ovations by 535 cheerleading Senate-House acolytes of Netanyahu and Zionist Israel in May 2011 and all too many other humiliations, and deciding (iii) “The hell with the Palestinians. I’ll just let POTUS 45 deal with them, if they still exist in 2017. Sorry, Hagel, my choice to run DoD is a slam-dunk winner, big time: female, hispanic, Zionist, adored by AIPAC and Zionist Israel (and even by Cuba haters!), just as cross-the-aisle Republican as Hagel: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for SECDEF!”

  16. genesto says:

    O please, not Ros-Lehtinen! That would be major step backwards, even for our Israel-loving government!

  17. revlarrygeorge says:

    Jim, thank you yet again for your pointing out the key issues here. I phoned the White House comment line (202) 456-1111 repeatedly until I got through to leave a “stand by Hagel” comments. Of course this is only one of the many kinds of contacts I trust will be made, by all who care — calls and faxes to the White House. all our senators (and an extra push to let Schumer know his loyalty to Netanyahu over his sworn duty to this country is on display for all to see.)

  18. Pingback: Hagel Defenders Battle Neocon Opposition « Wallwritings

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