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Haggling over Hagel: Assault on Obama nominee is misguided

By ALEX DRAGONE | February 14, 2013

President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, has come under fire. Long before his hearing, Hagel faced attacks on his credentials, views and character reminiscent of Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination. Of course, the most vicious of these attacks has been the labeling of Hagel as an anti-Semite. Where does this view stem from? In a 2008 interview, Hagel said:

“The political reality is that…the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people [on Capitol Hill]... 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.”

Now, Hagel’s term “Jewish lobby” is not accurate; he should have said “Israeli lobby.” But in light of the greater context of the quote, it is a minor mistake and his intention was clear. The other part of the anti-Semitic charge is the context of Hagel’s quote. Here, he is saying that he will not put Israeli interests above those of the United States of America. To me, that seems like not only a reasonable response, but the correct one. Hagel did not run to advocate for the people of Israel, no matter how noble their cause or liberal their government.

For too long, questioning the nature of the American-Israeli alliance has been taboo in politics, in part due to the efforts of the “Israeli lobby.” A well-funded and influential group of neoconservatives, some Jewish, some evangelical Christians, has made voicing reservations about the alliance into anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Such a development is troubling; is not supporting an alliance with a nation going against that nation? Am I an anti-Indian if I do not believe we should enter into an unshakeable alliance with India, even if that means increased tensions and possible war with India’s rivals, Pakistan and China? Of course not. It simply means that I don’t think we should overextend our influence when it could result in unforeseen consequences.

On the day of its inception, Israel was invaded by a coalition of Arab forces, which it beat handily. Ever since, Israel has been remarkably successful in its wars, greatly increasing the size mandated in the 1947 partition plan. Israel had American weapons in these wars, but an arms deal does not constitute the kind of support I am criticizing — we make arms deals with plenty of nations, but they do not receive a promise of eternal American protection.

The point is that Israel is a powerful nation that does not need to be coddled by America or any other nation. One negative aspect of the alliance that Israel supporters should consider is what it means for Israeli independence. America gives much to Israel, and in return it expects to be informed of and consent to Israel’s actions. One example of this is the Israeli airstrike on the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak in 1981. The American government, supposedly Israel’s greatest friend, likened the attack to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

If Israel feels it is threatened by a foreign power, it should not have to consult America before responding, just as we do not feel obligated to inform foreign powers of our military activities in advance. Similarly, if Israel wants to build settlements in Palestinian territory, that issue is between it and the Palestinians — America has no business scolding Israel on its foreign policy, as if it were a rebellious child. And, if Israel feels the need to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, it should not have to seek American approval before doing so. Israel should be treated as any other nation, and that means with respect and neutrality.

The effects of the American-Israeli alliance on the U.S. should also be considered. Our constant support for Israel has made us guilty by association in the eyes of Israel’s enemies. Across the Arab world, the U.S. is resented for its support of a state that has humiliated the Arabs time and time again. Israeli actions are by default assumed to have American backing. If we gave Israel the same level of treatment we gave other friendly Arab countries, a major cause of anti-Americanism in the Middle East would be eliminated.

Also, if Israel launches into a full-scale conflict with Iran or some other Arab state, there would be a huge uproar in the neoconservative camp to join Israel in the war effort. To put a war with Iran in perspective, Iraq had an army of only 375,000 men in 2003 and the country is only 169,235 square miles. Iran currently has a military of 545,000 men and a square mileage of 636,372. We would do well to heed the words of our Founding Fathers and seek “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

Alex Dragone is a freshman History and Writing Seminars double major from Woodcliff Lake, N.J. 

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