While many in the American Jewish community are debating loudly and publicly
whether Chuck Hagel, US President Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of defense,
is anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic, there has been very little public comment
on the matter in Israel.
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the
Defense Ministry commented Tuesday on his nomination, with the highest
ministerial statement being a “we wish him well” comment from Home Front Defense
Minister Avi Dichter.
“There have been, in the past, nominations that
looked very worrisome to us, but in the end the reality was completely
different, both for good and for bad,” Dichter told Israel Radio. “I think we
have to be careful. We do not appoint people to different organizations
in other countries in general, and in the US in particular. Therefore, we
should say ‘welcome’ to whoever is appointed there.”
Reuven Rivlin, however, was less sanguine, issuing a statement that Israel
should be “concerned, but not afraid” of Hagel’s “isolationist
Rivlin said Hagel’s nomination did not affect Israel alone, “but
the global strategic balance of power. Hagel’s isolationist policies
change America’s strategy in the world and therefore will also have an impact on
The Knesset speaker said Israel needed to know how to deal with
this school of thought, and how to clarify the intensity of the current regional
“It is impossible to separate US security from security and
stability in the Middle East, and Iran’s threat is also a threat to the US,” he
He stated that one man does not set policy, and Hagel’s appointment
was not a danger to the Israel- US relationship.
establishment, and those who lead it, will know how to develop a positive and
constructive dialogue with Hagel and the American security establishment,” he
The absence of any public comment on the matter from the Prime
Minister’s Office or the Defense Ministry over the last few weeks flies in the
face of those in the US claiming that Israel is behind the campaign to nix the
Hagel nomination because of votes and statements he has made in the past
concerning Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the “Jewish lobby” in
One official pointed out that Anti-Defamation League director
Abe Foxman, who came out against the Hagel nomination, did not speak for the
The official said that those in the US who wanted to
paint the Israeli government in a negative light were conflating the public
comments against Hagel by some leaders of American Jewish organizations with the
State of Israel.
Another official said that the only body authorized to
speak on behalf of the government of Israel was the government of Israel, and it
had said nothing about Hagel or the nomination.
While leaders of many
American Jewish organizations have Israel’s interests at heart, they are
speaking for themselves and not Jerusalem, he said.
In a related
development, visiting Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson issued a statement,
saying that he had told both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he supported Hagel’s nomination. Nelson
met both men on Tuesday.
Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, said he had spoken to Hagel on Tuesday as well, and referred to the
former Nebraska senator as “a personal friend, a solid former US senator, and a
dedicated public servant and patriot.”
He was less charitable with
another colleague, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was also
visiting Israel. He took aim at Paul’s opposition to US foreign aid, including
his call to gradually cut foreign aid to Israel as well.
the full assistance of the US,” Nelson said. “It’s the only way Israel can
He cited US funding for the Iron Dome missile defense
system as an example of the importance of this assistance.
about $3 billion in US aid annually, some 74 percent of which must be spent in
the US. In a speech Monday in Jerusalem, Paul said the aid was not only bad for
the US, which must borrow the money it gives to other countries, but also bad
for Israel, since foreign aid increased its dependence and therefore impinged on