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Hagel: No Evidence I'm Anti-Israel

Chuck Hagel dismisses allegations that he is against Israel, saying critics have "completely distorted" his record.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 1/8/2013, 12:14 AM

Obama and Hagel
Obama and Hagel
Reuters

Chuck Hagel, who was nominated on Monday by President Barack Obama as Secretary of Defense, dismissed allegations that he is against Israel.

The former Nebraska senator said in an interview that an accurate assessment of his record will demonstrate "unequivocal, total support for Israel" and endorsement of tough international economic sanctions against Iran.

Critics have "completely distorted" his record, the former Nebraska senator told the Lincoln Journal Star, a local newspaper based in his home state.

At last, Hagel said, with his nomination announced by the president, he has an opportunity to set the record straight.

He added that there is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one (Senate) vote that matters that hurt Israel."

"I didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem," Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star.

Critics have hammered Hagel for not joining most of his Senate colleagues in signing on to a number of policy pronouncements that sometimes were sought by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobbying organization in Washington.

"How does that further the peace process in the Middle East?" Hagel asked. "What's in Israel's interest is to help Israel and the Palestinians find some peaceful way to live together."

As for allegations that he has been soft toward Iran's apparent efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capacity, Hagel pointed to his support for strong international sanctions, including those now in place.

"I have not supported unilateral sanctions because when it is us alone they don't work and they just isolate the United States," he told the Lincoln Journal Star.

"United Nations sanctions are working. When we just decree something, that doesn't work," he added.

"The distortions about my record have been astounding," Hagel told the newspaper, adding it's important to answer now with an accurate assessment of his positions.

But, Hagel noted, it's also important to recognize that "the president is commander-in-chief and he makes the final decisions" on those issues.

"The secretary of defense has the responsibility to give the president the best advice I can give him on national security matters," Hagel said.

"I will do that. I will give him my most honest advice," he added, noting he also would always be truthful with members of Congress.

"I fully recognize that confirmation is up to the Senate. All I ask is a fair hearing, and I will get that. I am very much looking forward to having a full, open, transparent hearing about my qualifications and my record.

"All I look for is an opportunity to respond," Hagel said.

Recognizing that his views on Israel and Iran have been the focus of most of the opposition to his nomination expressed in advance by some senators, he told the newspaper he looks forward to responding with a more accurate understanding of his views.

"I have said many times that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism," he said. "I have also questioned some very cavalier attitudes taken about very complicated issues in the Middle East.

"Israel is in a very, very difficult position. No border that touches Israel is always secure. We need to work to help protect Israel so it doesn't get isolated," he added. "Furthering the peace process in the Middle East is in Israel's interest."

The Republican Jewish Coalition, along with countless others, has cited a long list of Hagel’s anti-Israel policies, asserting that his nomination would “be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel.”

Obama has defended Hagel's record, saying he "is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."

Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Sunday that Hagel as Secretary of Defense would be "the most antagonistic Secretary of Defense toward the state of Israel" in U.S. history.

“Not only has he said you should directly negotiate with Iran, sanctions won’t work, that Israel should directly negotiate with the Hamas organization, a terrorist group that lobs thousands of rockets into Israel, he also was one of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union that Hizbullah should be designated as a terrorist organization," Graham said in a television interview.

“He has long severed his ties with the Republican Party. This is an in-your-face nomination by the president," Graham said. "And it looks like the second term of Barack Obama is going to be an in-your-face term."

Arutz Sheva recently posted an op-ed with Hagel's record. Click here to read it.