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Hagel Hearings Focus Attention on the Role of the Pro-Israel Lobby

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2013

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearings which questioned former Senator Hagel (R-NE), President Obama’s selection as Secretary of Defense, focused attention upon the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in influencing U.S. Middle East policy.  
Initially, there was an effort to prevent Hagel’s nomination by falsely referring to him as “anti-Israel” and, in some cases, even “anti-Semitic.” What critics focused on was Hagel’s willingness to criticize the pro-Israel lobby because it “intimidates a lot of people up here.”  
“When President Obama failed to succumb to this pressure and named Hagel to the Defense Department post, his critics, still determined to derail him, used the hearings to question him almost exclusively about Israel.  
Time Magazine, reviewing the hearing, asked why the Senators referred constantly to Israel, 106 times, and barely mentioned Afghanistan and the issue of military suicides. The Time (Feb. 5, 2013) On-Line headline was, “Just Who Do They Represent: At Hagel Hearings, Concern for Israel Tops U.S. Troops in Combat.”  
Author Benjamin Friedman notes that Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), by himself, made reference to Israel a total of 16 times. Sen. Lee never mentioned Afghanistan and the 66,000 U.S. troops there even once. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) mentioned Israel 10 times, without referring to Afghanistan. Similarly, Sens. Rou Blount (R-MO) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) each referred to Israel a half dozen times — and neither mentioned Afghanistan.  
According to Time, “In nearly 8 hours of interrogation and testimony, Israel and its interests were referred to by the Senate Armed Services Committee a total of 106 times. On the other hand, there were a mere 24 references made to Afghanistan and the Americans fighting there …”  
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lamented that the committee focused almost entirely on Hagel’s previous quotes about Israel and did not ask relevant questions about future U.S. policy with regard to Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other regions of the world.  
Editorially, The New York Times (Feb. 5, 2013) noted that, “One dispiriting lesson from Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary is the extent to which the political space for discussing Israel forthrightly is shrinking. Republicans focused on Israel more than anything … but they weren’t seeking to understand his views. All they cared about was bullying him into a rigid position on Israel policy. Enforcing that kind of orthodoxy is not in either America’s or Israel’s interest. … Mr. Hagel … has repeatedly declared support for Israel and cited 12 years of pro-Israel votes in the Senate. But that didn’t matter to his opponents, who attacked him as insufficiently pro-Israel and refused to accept any deviation on any vote. … The truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israel policy in Israel than in this country … J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group … has argued for vibrant debate and said ‘criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the state of Israel.’ In fact, it is essential.”  
During the hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Hagel “to name one person, in your opinion, who’s intimidated by the Israeli Lobby in the U.S. Senate?” Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus (Feb. 5, 2013) declared that, “One answer could have been ‘the two of us’; Graham, for example, by asking such a silly gotcha question, and Hagel for not standing up for his past words that reflect the belief of many who have watched the Senate over the years … When Graham asked Hagel to ‘name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby,’ the answer should have been, ‘a good part of today’s eight-hour hearing.’”  
Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein (Feb. 18, 2013) wrote: “This was a dispiriting event on several levels. Hagel stepped away from the moderate, realistic and candid positions he had taken in the past. He allowed himself to be hectored into submission about his criticism of the Israel lobby, which does indeed bully politicians into ‘dumb’ acts like meaningless expressions of protest of Iranian behavior that Hagel refused to vote for, and on far more serious issues like Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.’”  
Discussing the Hagel hearings, Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute, writes (Washington Examiner, Feb. 5, 2013): “You’d think our defense posture toward China is an important issue, but I count only five references … The ‘special relationship’ — with Israel embraced by everyone at the hearing including the nominee — was special enough to win Israel 166 references … more than any other country. Is Israel really 33 times as important to the U.S. as an emerging superpower with 19 per cent of the world’s population? … Chuck Hagel admires Pres. Eisenhower’s farewell address warning of a burgeoning ‘military-industrial complex.’ Lately, he may be finding Washington’s farewell address equally relevant, ‘A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils,’ our first president cautioned — chief among them, needless entanglements in foreign quarrels.” •

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