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An e-newsletter delivering updates and analysis on current issues about Israel and the Middle East conflict

January 1, 2013

President Obama is still considering Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense: Here's why we should oppose it

Dear Friend of FLAME:

Have you heard?  For the past two weeks President Obama has been floating former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel's name as a candidate for his next Secretary of Defense, to replace the outgoing Leon Panetta.  This would be a disastrous move for Israel.  That's why this week's Hotline is devoted to urging you to tell the President you oppose this appointment.

The Hagel "candidacy" has already gathered a heady steam of opposition---from pro-Israel advocates, from those who advocate a tough stand on Iran's nuclear weaponization and, interestingly, from supporters of gay rights.

Here's the quick overview:  Hagel supports a go-slow, non-confrontational, diplomacy-oriented approach to dealing with America's enemies.  First, he embraces President's Obama's attempts to "engage," rather than pressure our sworn enemies, such as radical Islamists, and especially the Iranians.

Second, he has advocated that Israel capitulate to the Palestinians with no reciprocity, and he's made prejudicial remarks about the so-called "Jewish lobby."

Third, 14 years ago Hagel made comments disparaging a diplomatic appointment of James Hormel, because the man is openly gay.  This, of course, annoys gay-rights advocates, such as the Log Cabin Republicans, who took out an ad in the New York Times, which claimed Hagel is "Wrong on Gay Rights. Wrong on Iran. Wrong on Israel."

We should admit straightaway that the Secretary of Defense does not make foreign or defense policy: He (or she) follows the policies set by the President.  However, no matter whom you voted for in the Presidential elections, I'm confident that if you're reading this, you don't completely approve of President Obama's handling of Middle East affairs.

Mr. Obama has outright bungled some things---like insisting that Israel stop settlement activity as a precursor to peace talks with the Palestinians, something even the Palestinians hadn't demanded.  (You may recall that Israel acquiesced, but the Palestinians waited until the settlement moratorium was almost over before they rejoined the talks . . . and then promptly left again.)

In addition, Mr. Obama has by definition been soft on the Iranians, since his regime of sanctions against them has not deterred or even slowed their headlong race to build nuclear weapons.

In short, Mr. Obama needs a Secretary of State who will resist his weaker foreign policy instincts, not someone who automatically supports them.  If Chuck Hagel were approved as Secretary of Defense, we can expect him to be a "yes man" to the President, not someone who would offer challenging perspectives on Israel and Iran, which is what the President sorely needs.

Please take five minutes to read this week's FLAME Hotline featured article, below, by incisive Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens. Above all, Stephens focuses on why Hagel would be bad for Israel . . . and why pro-Israel advocates should raise our voices against his appointment.

With your help, we can help stop Chuck Hagel from being nominated as Secretary of Defense.  I hope you'll let President Obama know your opinion about this possible appointment.  Please take a minute to write the White House a short email condemning this unwise choice.  Whether you're a Democrat, Republican or Independent, let the President know your affiliation, so he understands that Hagel stirs bipartisan opposition.

Please go to write the President this minute and speak your mind!

Thanks again for your support of Israel and your support of FLAME.

Jim Sinkinson
Vice President, FLAME


Have you seen the recent FLAME hasbarah message titled "The Most Practical Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Can the two current proposed solutions bring peace to the region?" This piece tells the truth about the failed "peace process" and proposes a bold new solution---that Israel and the Palestinians get real and embrace peaceful co-existence without a formal treaty and without a formal Palestinian state. Fair warning: This proposal will rile those who advocate yet another round of peace negotiations. I hope you'll review this outspoken position paper and pass it on to your friends, members of your congregation and colleagues. If you agree that FLAME's outspoken brand of public relations on Israel's behalf is critical, I urge you to support us. I hope as this year comes to a close, that you'll consider giving a donation now, as you're able---with $500, $250, $100, or even $18. (Remember, your donation to FLAME is tax deductible.) To donate online, just go to Now more than ever we need your support to ensure that Israel gets the support it needs---from the U.S. Congress, from President Obama, and from the American people.

Chuck Hagel's Jewish Problem
The would-be secretary of defense has some curious views.
By Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2012

Prejudice—like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations—has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," the odor is especially ripe.

Ripe because a "Jewish lobby," as far as I'm aware, doesn't exist. No lesser authorities on the subject than John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of "The Israel Lobby," have insisted the term Jewish lobby is "inaccurate and misleading, both because the [Israel] lobby includes non-Jews like Christian Zionists and because many Jewish Americans do not support the hard-line policies favored by its most powerful elements."

Ripe because, whatever other political pressures Mr. Hagel might have had to endure during his years representing the Cornhusker state, winning over the state's Jewish voters—there are an estimated 6,100 Jewish Nebraskans in a state of 1.8 million people—was probably not a major political concern for Mr. Hagel compared to, say, the ethanol lobby.

Ripe because the word "intimidates" ascribes to the so-called Jewish lobby powers that are at once vast, invisible and malevolent; and because it suggests that legislators who adopt positions friendly to that lobby are doing so not from political conviction but out of personal fear. Just what does that Jewish Lobby have on them?

Ripe, finally, because Mr. Hagel's Jewish lobby remark was well in keeping with the broader pattern of his thinking. "I'm a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator," Mr. Hagel told retired U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller in 2006. "I'm a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I'll do that."

Read these staccato utterances again to better appreciate their insipid and insinuating qualities, all combining to cast the usual slur on Jewish-Americans: Dual loyalty. Nobody questions Mr. Hagel's loyalty. He is only making those assertions to question the loyalty of others.

Still, Mr. Hagel managed to say "I support Israel." This is the sort of thing one often hears from people who treat Israel as the Mideast equivalent of a neighborhood drunk who, for his own good, needs to be put in the clink to sober him up.

In 2002, a year in which 457 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks (a figure proportionately equivalent to more than 20,000 fatalities in the U.S., or seven 9/11s), Mr. Hagel weighed in with the advice that "Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace." This was two years after Yasser Arafat had been offered a state by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David.

In 2006, Mr. Hagel described Israel's war against Hezbollah as "the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon." He later refused to sign a letter calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In 2007, he voted against designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, and also urged President Bush to open "direct, unconditional" talks with Iran to create "a historic new dynamic in U.S.-Iran relations." In 2009, Mr. Hagel urged the Obama administration to open direct talks with Hamas.

In fairness to Mr. Hagel, all these positions emerge from his belief in the power of diplomatic engagement and talking with adversaries. The record of that kind of engagement—in 2008, Mr. Hagel and John Kerry co-authored an op-ed in this newspaper titled "It's Time to Talk to Syria"—hasn't been stellar, but at least it was borne of earnest motives.

Yet it's worth noting that while Mr. Hagel is eager to engage the world's rogues without preconditions, his attitude toward Israel tends, at best, to the paternalistic.

"The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to become isolated in the Middle East and the world," he said in a 2006 Senate speech. It's a political Deep Thought worthy of Saturday Night Live's Jack Handey. Does Mr. Hagel reckon any other nation to be quite so blind to its own supposed self-interest as Israel?

Now President Obama may nominate Mr. Hagel to take Leon Panetta's place at the Pentagon. As a purely score-settling matter, I almost hope he does. It would confirm a point I made in a column earlier this year, which is that Mr. Obama is not a friend of Israel. Perhaps the 63% of Jewish-Americans who cast their votes for Mr. Obama last month might belatedly take notice.

Alternatively, maybe some of these voters could speak up now, before a nomination is announced, about the insult that a Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would be. Jewish Democrats like to fancy their voice carries weight in their party. The prospect of this nomination is their chance to prove it.


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