Israel mum on Hagel pick as US defense chief

Official warns against conflating opinions of some US Jewish leaders with Israeli governmental policy.

Chuck Hagel speaks in Islamabad 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mian Kursheed)
Chuck Hagel speaks in Islamabad 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mian Kursheed)
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.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, however, was less sanguine, issuing a statement that Israel should be “concerned, but not afraid” of Hagel’s “isolationist ideas.”
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 Israel.”
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 dangers.
“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 said.
He stated that one man does not set policy, and Hagel’s appointment was not a danger to the Israel- US relationship.
“Israel’s security establishment, and those who lead it, will know how to develop a positive and constructive dialogue with Hagel and the American security establishment,” he said.
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 Washington.
One official pointed out that Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman, who came out against the Hagel nomination, did not speak for the Israeli government.
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.
“Israel needs the full assistance of the US,” Nelson said. “It’s the only way Israel can remain secure.”
He cited US funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system as an example of the importance of this assistance.
Israel gets 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 its sovereignty.