The nomination of former former Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary is being contested based on allegations that his support for Israel lacks sufficient enthusiasm. For this his critics contend he not only should be disqualified but that he may also be guilty of anti-Semitism.
Hagel’s defenders have countered that he is being misinterpreted and misjudged. They argue that he really does support Israel, and that his stating an obvious truth — that there is a Jewish lobby that is very influential in determining America’s Middle East policy — does not mean that he harbors animosity against Jews.
Hagel’s nomination should not need to be defended against irrelevant accusations. If there are genuine deficiencies he has to oversee the defense of the United States, not being Israelphilic enough should not be one of them.
What does the United States owe Israel that political candidates for high office in this country must be vetted by Jewish interests? Does the Senate also need approval of the Israeli Knesset before confirmation of candidates for cabinet posts?
America’s virtually absolute and abiding support of Israel comes with significant costs beyond the $3.2 billion per year in military aid the United States provides. The seething enmity of Israel’s Muslim neighbors, who perceive the United States’ Middle East policy as blindly prejudiced in favor of Israel and its apartheid-like suppression of the indigenous Arab population, resulted in the 1967 and 1973 Arab oil embargoes. It certainly was a contributing factor in the 9/11 attacks on the United States by radical Muslims.
The erosion of American civil liberties in the reactionary panic that followed the 9/11 attacks, along with the consequent Iraq and Afghanistan wars that have killed and maimed tens of thousands of Americans and significantly contributed to the colossal national debt that now threatens the economic viability of our nation, are arguably costs associated with the United States’ unquestioning pro-Israel foreign policy.
And just what does the United States get in return for these severe sacrifices? What does Israel have that America so badly needs? Not oil or any other essential export. Does this costly support derive from some moral imperative that the United States must back fellow democracies? Unlikely. When considered expedient to its interests, America has shown no compunction in supporting vicious tyrants, including several of Israel’s close neighbors. And, would the United States necessarily need Israel as a military ally in the Middle East if it had not alienated most of the region by its unquestioning support of Israel?
So what is it then? Why has the United States so saddled up with Israel and its troubles?
American Jews comprise less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population, but they are an extraordinary people whose accomplishments in every admirable aspect of human endeavor magnificently exceed their small numbers. Their singular talents and abilities translate into levels of success that have placed them among the wealthiest, highest educated and most powerful people in the country. Their influence, therefore, is disproportionately great relative to their small population.
Hagel was not only honestly forthright — often a suicidal quality in a politician — but also accurate when he spoke about the Jewish lobby’s inordinate influence on U.S. Middle East policy. That influence is augmented by the support of America’s evangelical Christians who believe they will get an extra harp in heaven for defending the Judeo-Christian Holy Land from its heathen enemies. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a leading critic of the Hagel nomination, is the Senate’s chief Christian crusader defending the Holy Land from any insufficiently pro-Israel nominee for defense secretary.
Such mixing of politics with religion creates a catalyst for calamity, like the one we have been enduring in the Middle East between Israel, its subjugated Palestinian population and their angry Arab neighbors. Regardless of the extra harp in heaven awaiting Graham or the sympathies of Jewish Americans for Israeli Jews, the best interests of America are not always or necessarily congruent with Israel’s.
America’s entanglement in the Israeli/Arab conflict has cost us much. That conflict has fumed and flamed for more than 60 years now, setting much of the Western world on edge. If there is a solution to be found, we need to start evaluating the situation with the objective honesty that Hagel has demonstrated, and to recognize that our support of Israel cannot continue to be unconditional nor our foreign policy so one-sided.