Is Chuck Hagel an anti-Semite?

In writing about Chuck Hagel, I have been disinclined to accuse him of anti-Semitism. One can hold noxious views about Israel without disliking Jews. And if one isn’t terribly bright, one can sometimes state anti-Israel views in ways that suggest (but don’t prove) anti-Semitism.

But this piece by Elliott Abrams makes me wonder whether Hagel has a problem with Jews. Abrams cites two sources of concern. The first is the view of the Jewish community in Nebraska, Hagel’s home state:

The former editor of the Omaha Jewish Press recalled that “Hagel was the only one we have had in Nebraska, who basically showed the Jewish community that he didn’t give a damn about the Jewish community or any of our concerns.” Another community leader commented that “During his last year in office, we knew he was not going to run again, he never returned any of our calls.”

The second source of concern is Hagel’s attitude towards the Sixth Fleet’s USO Center in Haifa, Israel. Despite the great success of that facility (the Israeli who headed it was given a prize by the U.S. Navy for her work) Hagel wanted to shut it down. Fair enough, if you’re a fiscal hawk. But in stating his case, Hagel said, “Let the Jews pay for it.”

The evidence marshaled by Abrams should be of concern to the Senate Armed Services Committee in its consideration of Hagel’s nomination:

They ought to call as witnesses some of the Nebraska Jewish leaders who recall Hagel as a man hostile to their community and ask why they formed that conclusion. They ought to call those who attended the USO meeting where Hagel said, “Let the Jews pay for it,” and ask about his demeanor at that session. That the USO had budget problems is clear, but what other locations did Hagel seek to close? Did he ever suggest that the Japanese or Germans or Emiratis or Italians pay for a USO site? Did he ever suggest that Italian-Americans or Japanese-Americans pay for USO facilities overseas? Did he ever try, in good faith and without bigotry, to work with the American Jewish community and the government of Israel to see if, in fact, additional private support could be found for the immensely popular Haifa site—or did he just say, “Let the Jews pay for it,” with the hostility recalled by Nebraskan Jews?

Perhaps there are answers, and perhaps Mr. Hagel actually has no problem with “the Jews.” But one purpose of confirmation hearings should be to find out.

We already knew that Hagel is not above low prejudice — his comments about the gay nominee for ambassador to Luxemburg demonstrate that. It is hardly far-fetched, therefore, to believe that Hagel’s references to Jews and the “Jewish lobby” reflect prejudice.

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