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New Hagel Story Could Alter the Equation

Last week brought a new revelation of more proof of Chuck Hagel’s prejudicial attitudes toward Israel. But most observers concluded that the statements made over the weekend by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham that they would not support further delays as a vote on his nomination as secretary of defense as evidence that he would easily be confirmed once Congress returns from its recess next week. However the publication of yet another story today in which Hagel is reported to have made disparaging comments about Israel could alter that equation.

Our former colleague Alana Goodman broke last week’s story about a contemporaneous account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers University in which he made the outrageous charge that the U.S. State Department was being run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Today Goodman is at it again as she reports that there was yet another Hagel speech at the same venue three years later in which he again offended Israel and its supporters.

Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel said Israel is on its way to becoming an apartheid state during an April 9, 2010, appearance at Rutgers University, according to a contemporaneous account by an attendee.

Hagel also accused Israel of violating U.N. resolutions, called for U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas to be included in any peace negotiations, and described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “radical,” according to the source.

Like the 2007 speech, no tape of these remarks has yet surfaced making it easy for Hagel to dismiss the controversy by saying he “doesn’t recall” them as he did in a letter to Senator Graham. Graham was willing to say that he would take Hagel at his word about that. But can he, or any other pro-Israel senator of either party, really believe any further denials or disavowals from Hagel?

It may be that without a tape or official transcript of these events, the mainstream media will ignore the controversies as some have done with the 2007 Rutgers speech. Others will say it doesn’t meet their standard of a genuine bombshell since Hagel can deny them. Of course, some sectors of the media will find nothing wrong with these insults just as many continue to be amazed that anyone is bothered by Hagel’s boasts about standing up to the “Jewish lobby.”

But this latest story does make it clear that the person who has been chosen to lead the Pentagon in the second Obama administration is someone who is willing to parrot the ravings of the most radical anti-Israel figures in the Democratic Party. In effect, what the president has done is to nominate someone who is not only outside of the mainstream of either the Republican or Democratic Parties on Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran but is another Jimmy Carter.

This development once again puts the onus on Democrats to explain why they are willing to rubber stamp the president’s choice of someone whose views are antithetical to the maintenance of the U.S.-Israel alliance. Senators like New York’s Chuck Schumer spent the weeks prior to Hagel’s disastrous confirmation hearing saying they couldn’t oppose the nominee so long as mainstream and generally liberal Jewish groups were silent about his record. But that changed over the weekend when the American Jewish Committee demanded that the Senate not act on Hagel’s nomination without more debate about his questionable statements and even the Anti-Defamation League demanded an explanation. Even if the New York Times isn’t interested in Hagel’s statements, Jewish Democrats ought to be.

But before Democrats can act, Senate Republicans must not signal that they will give Hagel a pass on his own recognizance. Both Graham and McCain need to say that they will not accept any further disavowals from Hagel of what is a pattern of offensive statements that can’t be washed away by his post-nomination conversion to a position of support for Israel and a tough stand on Iran.

Hagel and the White House may feel they still have the odds in their favor. But if the GOP stands its ground, it will allow Democrats who were never happy about Hagel to start edging away from an unqualified and unsuitable nominee.



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