Now that leading Jewish Democrats have endorsed the Hagel nomination for defense secretary, his confirmation is likely to be approved, despite the fact that a liberal newspaper such as The Washington Post challenged the appropriateness of the nomination. Even The New York Times at one stage conceded that “some Obama aides had doubts about the wisdom of the choice.”
Christians United for Israel this week brought over 400 of its members to Washington to lobby against the appointment. However major Jewish organizations such as the ADL and the American Jewish Committee have withdrawn from the controversy and the only Jewish group continuing to battle against the nomination is the Zionist Organization of America. Individual Jewish Democrats such as Alan Dershowitz and Ed Koch have also become silent.
Although a flow of prominent Democrats have been denying Hagel’s long record of both hostility toward Israel and opposition to any kind of confrontation with Iran, over the past few weeks we have heard even more damning previous Hagel statements casting doubt on his approach.
There has been a concentrated campaign by J Street and liberals like Peter Beinart and columnists Tom Friedman and Roger Cohen lauding Hagel as the ideal candidate and accusing critics challenging his political bona fides of indulging in McCarthyism.
The greatest concern is Hagel’s approach to Iran. His oft stated view, contrary to that expressed during the election by President Obama, is that he is opposed to resorting to military action and believed that a nuclear Iran could be contained. If this is the case, the world, and Israel in particular, must be concerned that a policy of appeasement toward Iran is in the pipeline.
His appointment would obviously be welcomed by the Iranians. The state owned Iranian press TV has already pointed out that “anti-Israeli ex-Senator Chuck Hagel … has consistently opposed any plan to launch military strikes against Iran.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry anticipated potential “practical changes” in U.S. foreign policy which would achieve an improvement in relations between Washington and Tehran.
Yet now Hagel emphatically tells the media and U.S. Senators that he is solidly behind the U.S.- Israel alliance and would in fact be committed toward increasing joint cooperation on missile defense.
Above all, he is adamant that despite whatever he may have said in the past, he is currently totally committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear power and “no options are off the table in our efforts to prevent this.”
One thing is clear. Chuck Hagel recognizes that public opinion and Congress oblige him to perform a dramatic about-turn in relation to his former policies on Iran.
The Senate will have to determine whether he is sincere about his changed attitudes and whether he can be relied upon to stand by his current commitments.
The government of Israel recognizes that this is a domestic issue to be determined within the United States and has, correctly, assiduously avoided making statements or becoming engaged in the issue.
This column was originally published in Israel Hayom