What To Do About Hagel?


Some national Jewish leaders, deeply worried and upset over the nomination of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, are in a quandary about whether or not to publicly speak out against his confirmation.

Mainstream Jewish groups generally don’t contest Presidential appointments and the leaders are not at all certain that their complaints could have an impact on the Senate vote. They also worry that if Hagel is confirmed, he could be less than responsive to their requests.

“He could stick it to us,” one said.

But some feel that as a matter of principle they should voice their reservations anyway.

Several pro-Israel groups have been very vocal in warning against the Hagel appointment on grounds that he is anti-Israel, having criticized the official pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and refused to sign on to some resolutions supportive of the Jewish state.

I think such rhetoric, and focusing the Hagel appointment on Israel, is a mistake, narrowing concerns about his views and making Israel front and center in the dispute. Hagel has shown to be less supportive of Israel than the great majority of Republicans in the Senate, but my real concern is his attitude toward Iran and the fact that it differs greatly from President Obama’s public statements on the issue.

The President has been clear in saying he refuses to accept the containment argument — that is the notion that it is too late to stop Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities to build arms so we should concentrate on containing them. But that’s something Hagel has indicated he can live with. And while Obama has kept the possibility of a military attack by the U.S. on the table, Hagel is opposed, insisting that a resolution can be reached through negotiations, which he also calls for in dealing with Hamas.

Those close to Obama insist that as president he will make the critical decisions and that he likes and trusts Hagel, who will offer up a fresh approach at the Pentagon. The Israel Policy Forum, a dovish group, has endorsed the appointment.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the mainstream Jewish organizations will choose to oppose Hagel publicly or save their fire, hoping to establish a positive working relationship once he is at the Pentagon.

was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at garyrosenblatt.substack.com.