In a March 2007 speech at Rutgers University, Chuck Hagel said that the U.S. Department of State was an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office, according to a contemporaneous report of the event. The contemporaneous report consists of notes by Republican political consultant and Hagel supporter George Ajjan, who wrote about the speech on his website the following day.
As a Hagel supporter — then (Hagel was testing the waters for a presidential run) and now (Ajjan says he still would support Hagel for president) — Ajjan had no reason to give a false report on what Hagel said. Moreover, Ajjan stands by his report. “If I wrote it, then that’s what happened at the time,” he says.
This, in part, is what Ajjan wrote about Hagel’s speech, which was closed to the press:
The State Department has become adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Minister’s office…
Wow. A very bold statement by Hagel bound to further raise the ire of the “Jewish Lobby” (yawn…), but it does express his strong belief in a comprehensive solution to problems in the Middle East. Hagel mentioned this theme several times – comprehensive, he said, in the sense that all tools should be used to achieve American foreign policy objectives (diplomatic, political, economic, and military), but also comprehensive in the James Baker sense of addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict holistically as both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have proved too lazy and too incompetent to do.
The final paragraph appears to be Ajjan’s commentary, not what Hagel said. But the claim that State Department “has become adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Minister’s Office” is vintage Hagel — cracker barrel in tone and ignorant in substance.
By 2007, the State Department had become less aligned with Israeli policy than during Bush’s first term. The shift, spearheaded by Secretary of State Rice, is accurately described in this report:
Rice was a strong backer of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom she described as a true partner for peace. She pushed hard for Palestinian elections, which in 2006 resulted in a victory for Hamas (in a 2008 essay in Foreign Policy magazine she held firm to the notion that elections were the right way to go despite the outcome). She described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as vital to solving the Iran problem, and she was the administration’s point person for pursuing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, forging close ties with Israeli leaders who favored negotiating with the Palestinians.
In other words, Hagel had things backwards. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who saw his performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The revelation of Hagel’s 2007 comment reminds us that the nominee’s biggest drawback is not his anti-Israeli views, as hostile and divorced from the mainstream as they are, but rather his sheer stupidity.
JOHN adds: I’ve been meaning to make some observations along the following lines, and this may be as good a time as any.
I disagree somewhat with many of my fellow conservatives with respect to the diagnosis of anti-Semitism. It is a commonplace that criticizing the policies of the government of Israel does not make one an anti-Semite. But this is a straw man; to my knowledge, no one has ever argued that anyone who criticizes Israel, for its foreign policies or otherwise, is an anti-Semite. Similarly, no one argues that anyone who criticizes the government of Poland, say, must be bigoted against Poles.
This red herring is used to obscure what really does happen: there are a considerable number of people, of whom Hagel appears to be one, who are obsessed with Israel, and not in a good way. Against all evidence, they assert that Israel’s accommodating the Palestinians is the key to peace in the entire Middle Eastern region if not the whole Arab world. History tells us that the supposed centrality of Israeli-Palestinian relations to everything that goes on within 2,000 miles is a fantasy, yet the fantasy persists in men like Chuck Hagel. If only Israel would yield to the Palestinians, then everything else would fall into place.
This obsession with Israel is usually combined with a hyper-critical attitude toward its conduct. The Tutus can slaughter a million Hutsis–or was it the other way around?–and hardly anyone appears to care. If Chuck Hagel ever commented on that particular bloodbath, or if he was especially bothered when a million people were killed in the Iran-Iraq war, I never heard about it. But let Israel defend itself against thousands of rocket attacks and assorted other terrorist threats, and let an Israeli bomb fall near a school because that’s where the terrorists locate their rocket launchers, and my Lord! You would think the world is coming to an end. This strange imbalance, which we see in people like Chuck Hagel, must have a cause somewhere.
I suppose it is possible that people like Hagel can be bitterly hostile toward Israel without having anything against Jews, although once again, history seems to point us in the opposite direction. Here, however, is the clincher: the same people, like Hagel, who are obsessed with the tiny, vulnerable nation of Israel are also obsessed, domestically, with the “Jewish lobby”–once again, in defiance of all evidence. What makes denunciations of the “Jewish lobby” so irrational is that Israel enjoys, and has enjoyed for the sixty-plus years of its existence, overwhelmingly broad support from the American people. If every Jew in America were to vanish, it would not make a perceptible dent in Americans’ support for Israel, particularly when that country comes into conflict with its Muslim neighbors. American politicians don’t support Israel because of the sinister machinations of any lobby, Jewish or otherwise, but because 1) a large majority of their constituents, in particular the overwhelming majority of Christians, support Israel, and 2) most politicians no doubt reflect, in their personal views, this American consensus. Moreover, of course, there are good strategic reasons for our alliance with Israel.
All of this seems so blindingly obvious that when someone likes Chuck Hagel talks about American policy being dominated by a “Jewish lobby,” one can only conclude that some twisted impulse is at work.
Most of my fellow conservatives are very, very slow to attribute repellent views and comments like those expressed by Chuck Hagel to anti-Semitism. But I say, if a person is a) obsessed with Israel, so as to attribute outsized significance to whatever that country does and to view its weakening as the sine qua non of world peace; b) hypercritical of Israel in a way that does not apply to any other country; c) convinced that “Jews” are somehow dictating policies that are contrary to American interests, when in fact those policies are broadly supported by the American people; and d) so caught up in all of the above that he repeatedly makes assertions that are in plain conflict with the facts–are “stupid,” as Paul says–then the person we are describing is an anti-Semite.