Commentary Magazine


Last Call for Accountability on Hagel

There isn’t much doubt Chuck Hagel will finally be confirmed as secretary of defense this week when the Senate reconvenes. Some Republicans have abandoned their support of delaying the nomination. Meanwhile, Democrats–even those who have reputations as stalwart friends of Israel–have closed ranks behind President Obama’s choice. The result is that a man who was widely ridiculed for his incompetent performance during his confirmation hearing and who has a long record of troubling stands on Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah will soon be running the Pentagon. As Pete wrote earlier today, having a “dim-witted” secretary of defense who isn’t up to the task of helping to set policy is bad for national security. There is also good reason to worry that whatever influence Hagel does have will be used to downgrade the alliance with Israel and to act as a brake on efforts to isolate Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

But before the book on the Hagel confirmation fight is closed, it’s worth re-examining one of the excuses used by some Democrats in refusing to stand up against such an unsuitable nomination. Many of those who otherwise count themselves as staunch friends of Israel—and who almost certainly would have gone to the barricades to oppose a similar candidate had he been put forward by a Republican president—have defended their support of Hagel by saying that it was impossible for them to speak out on the issue when Jewish and pro-Israel groups were silent. While many Jewish groups did keep quiet about Hagel, the initial reluctance of others went out the window in the last weeks as more information came to light about Hagel’s past statements about Jews and Israel. Earlier this month, Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, said Hagel’s statements were disturbing and called for an explanation. 

The latest to do so was B’nai B’rith International. On Friday, it said it was troubled by Hagel’s record as well as by his statements and urged the Senate to re-examine his record before voting. In doing so, it joined the American Jewish Committee, another large mainstream and generally liberal organization, in calling for a halt to the rush to confirm Hagel.

Prior to this, the Zionist Organization of America had made its negative views about Hagel very clear. The Republican Jewish Coalition had also been doing its best to galvanize opposition to the nomination. But since neither group can be said to represent the views of most liberals, it was possible for Hagel’s defenders to say they didn’t represent most Jews. But with ADL, AJC and B’nai B’rith speaking up, that just isn’t possible anymore.

There should be no misunderstanding, heading into the final debate about Hagel, about the insincerity of his confirmation conversion in which his past positions on Israel and its foes were abandoned. Israel-bashers are confident that the process by which Hagel morphed into a supposed ardent backer of the alliance with the Jewish state will be forgotten once he is ensconced in the Pentagon. But the willingness of so many pro-Israel Democrats to turn a blind eye to Hagel’s shortcomings in an effort to please President Obama is a shocking abandonment of principle. This is a not insignificant point that deserves to be brought up whenever some of the Democrats, like New York’s Chuck Schumer, who will vote for Hagel this week, parade their pro-Israel credentials in an effort to garner support and raise funds. It may be too late in the game to expect these politicians to behave in a manner that is consistent with their past statements, but, like Hagel, they should be held accountable.

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