Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized President Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. Some American Jews say he’s an anti-Semite.
Another place Hagel is unpopular? Israel.
Unlike many of his former Republican colleagues, Hagel never seemed to march in lockstep with Israeli conservatives, opposing unilateral sanctions on Iran while in office and urging Obama to negotiate with Hamas after his retirement from the Senate in 2009. Reuben Rivlin, speaker of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, says Hagel’s “isolationist” policies should be of concern to Israel.
“Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried,” Rivlin explains, though he adds that one person doesn’t determine America’s foreign policy.
Writing in the right-leaning Jerusalem Post, the columnist Herb Keinon criticizes Hagel’s “problematic voting record on Israel” and his “soft” stance on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Hagel, Keinon argues, is the wrong kind of American conservative:
Hagel, a former Nebraska senator, is a Republican. But he is what some described as a Brent Scowcroft Republican, a so-called “country club” Republican not endowed with the pro-Israel reflexes that so many officeholders in the Republican party have come to possess since the days of Ronald Reagan.
A few years ago former senator Chuck Hagel would have sailed through his confirmation hearings. But thanks to the rightward swing of the GOP since George W. Bush left office in 2008, Hagel faces tough opposition from his fellow Republicans. (Liberal Democrats aren’t happy about Obama’s choice either.)
Like the U.S., Israel has experienced a right-wing resurgence. Instead of the Tea Party, Israelis have the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, the third-biggest political party in Israel. Although its leader, Avgidor Lieberman, resigned as foreign minister because of a corruption scandal in December, Yisrael Beiteinu has announced it will run on a joint ticket with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in elections scheduled for January 22, 2013.
Netanyahu is widely expected to win, having skillfully taken advantage of nationalist sentiment in Israel while exploiting a fractious center-left. But relations with the U.S. also suffered under Netanyahu’s watch. The Israeli leader has been less than cooperative with the U.S. on Palestine and Iran and also supported Mitt Romney, an old friend, for president. Now, writes Sever Plocker, a columnist for Israel’s leftist Yedioth Ahronoth, “it’s time [for Obama] to settle the score.”
Plocker worries that Hagel’s appointment – “Obama’s revenge” – will mean the “cold shoulder” for Israel, leading to a reduction in aid and diplomatic cooperation. He writes that the former senator has shown his true colors, and they’re not the white and blue of Israel’s flag:
In the numerous interviews he has given, Hagel comes off as a conservative politician who is disgusted by what he views as the excessive influence of the American Jewish lobby, supports dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue (he makes it a point not to mention the military option), is against tightening the sanctions and is willing to extend a hand of reconciliation to Hamas . . .
. . . Netanyahu [does] not have the option of asking Obama to reconsider Hagel’s nomination. He lost that privilege when he made the mistake of heading the anti-Obama camp during the 2012 elections; a mistake we are all paying for.
Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. diplomat, tells the centrist daily Haaretz that the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu “is probably the most dysfunctional of any two I’ve come across when studying or working on this issue.”
“Everything flows from that,” he continues. “There is a profound sense of mistrust between large numbers of Jewish elites in this country and Obama. And the attack on Hagel in some respects is an attack on Obama, because people know that Hagel is a reflection of many of the things that the President also feels.”
Hagel, meanwhile, denies the charge that he is “anti-Israel.”
“I didn’t sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn’t solve a problem,” he said in comments carried by Yedioth Ahronoth. “How does that further the peace process in the Middle East? What’s in Israel’s interest is to help Israel and the Palestinians find some peaceful way to live together.”