There is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli," former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star, in an interview published immediately after he was nominated by US President Barack Obama as the next US secretary of defense.
In his first statements since Obama's formal announcement, Hagel insisted that an accurate assessment of his record would demonstrate "unequivocal, total support for Israel," and panned critics for "completely distort[ing]" his positions.
Hagel has been hammered by fellow Republicans and Jewish groups over the past few weeks due to his previous refusal to sign on to a number of pro-Israel policy pronouncements, especially as regards the Iranian nuclear threat and the Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups. Hagel's commitment to Israel's security has thus been questioned, made worse by the surfacing of disparaging remarks he once made about the "Jewish lobby" in Washington.
Responding to said criticism, Hagel explained to the Lincoln Journal Star that he "didn't sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn't solve a problem."
"What's in Israel's interest," Hagel stressed, "is to help Israel and the Palestinians find some peaceful way to live together."
"Israel is in a very, very difficult position," he added, "No border that touches Israel is always secure. We need to work to help protect Israel so it doesn't get isolated."
With respect to Iran, Hagel highlighted that "I have said many times that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism," and clarified that he previously did not support unilateral sanctions against Tehran "because when it is us alone they don't work and they just isolate the United States."
"United Nations sanctions are working. When we just decree something, that doesn't work."
Regarding widespread speculation that he faces a tough confirmation battle, Hagel conceded that "I fully recognize that confirmation is up to the Senate. All I ask is a fair hearing, and I will get that. I am very much looking forward to having a full, open, transparent hearing about my qualifications and my record."
US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Monday reiterated opposition to Hagel's nomination, and confirmed the move faces "widespread and bipartisan opposition."
"I am profoundly concerned and disappointed by President Obama’s nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense," Cantor said.
"Recent reporting has made clear that Senator Hagel’s views and inflammatory statements about Israel are well outside the mainstream and raise well-founded doubts that he can be trusted to manage the special relationship the United States shares with our greatest Middle East ally."