Chuck Hagel, anti-Semite?

It has been suggested that Chuck Hagel is an anti-Semite. It has also been suggested that it is an outrage and a smear to call Barack Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense an anti-Semite. For my part, I don’t know. But these accusations and defenses have come from serious people.

First, the naysayers, because denying the charge is actually easier than leveling it. (“How dare you?” often suffices as a riposte.)

Here are the arguments:

1. Chuck Hagel is not an anti-Semite because some Jews — in Israel, in Nebraska, in the Senate — like him.

2. Chuck Hagel is not an anti-Semite because he believes in a strong US-Israel relationship and has said so.

3. Chuck Hagel is not an anti-Semite because that’s a smear used to tar those who: a) disagree with the Likud; b) disagree with current Israeli policy; c) have the guts to stand up to the Jews/Jewish lobby/Israel.

Let’s take these arguments on one by one:

“Jews like him!”: Just because you can persuade some Jews you do not hate them does not mean you can dodge the “anti-Semite” bullet. To assuage the sure-to-follow screams of Hagelites, we must add the corollary; just because some Jews despise you doesn’t automatically mean you are an anti-Semite, either. Bottom line: “Some Jews” won’t help. Jury still out.

Next: Chuck Hagel is not an anti-Semite because he believes in a strong US-Israel relationship. First, failing to believe in the relationship doesn’t make you an anti-Semite, unless your views are informed by a hatred of the Jews. On the other hand, it is manifest that despite protestations to the contrary, Chuck Hagel does not believe in the US-Israel special relationship. A review of his work makes clear that he is persuaded that the relationship has come at the cost of better US-Arab and US-Muslim relations. He is not convinced that Israel’s democratic government makes it somehow special in the Middle East. And he is absolutely convinced that Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is central to all the problems of the Arab and Muslim world. Should our readers entertain doubts on this question, a rapid perusal of his many statements on the imperative of concessions to the Palestinians should convince you otherwise.

Last, on the notion that Chuck Hagel is not an anti-Semite because he simply has the courage to stand up to the Likud, Zionist, Jewish lobby, etc. … this is rank garbage. Yes, it’s commonly strewn about Washington, but that doesn’t make it attar of roses. No one is saying that Chuck Hagel is an anti-Semite because he loves the peace process. Otherwise, Dennis Ross, come on down. Hates AIPAC? Oh please. Get in line. It does not take courage to do these things; just some rich patrons and a loud voice – viz. the ultra-left J Street.

Now let’s come to the accusation itself. There are just a few straws in the wind that prompt some to believe that underneath it all, Hagel just doesn’t care for the Jews or Israel. Partly, it’s his reported reference to “the Jews,” and the clear fact that despite ample evidence to the contrary, he believes there is a monolithic creature that is “the Jews.” Partly, it’s his comments about “the Jewish lobby” despite the fact that the pro-Israel lobby is made up of both Christians and Jews. But these are far from dispositive. Perhaps it’s Hagel’s conviction that were it not for “the Jews,” US relations with the Middle East would be copacetic. Or his rather single-minded desire to protect Iran from unilateral US sanctions when other states just won’t go along. Even there, however, he has many political fellow travelers who have not been touched by the stench of Jew hatred. It could be his failure to stand against antisemitism with 99 other members of the Senate, or his rather inexplicable eagerness for direct talks with Hamas and Hezbollah, both designated terrorist groups. There, he’s a bit of a lone wolf in mainstream politics. It could even be his questionable taste in friends around Washington, or the fact that the government of Iran has welcomed his nomination.  (Then again, so has the government of Israel.)

Certainly, there is a pall that hangs over the man when it comes to questions about both Jews and Israel. As to the protestation of Hagel’s eager defenders that he is not an anti-Semite, I would only ask: How do you know? Certainly, I do not know that he is one, nor am I convinced he is not. I suspect that he is a man of uneven temperament; that, I can attest to personally, having worked with his staff for some years. Let’s just say that there are reasonable questions that may be asked about Hagel’s views of both the Jews and the US-Israel relationship.

Let this joke, oft told by one of my grandfathers (who knows which) be your guide: What’s the difference between a Jew and an anti-Semite? The Jew hates Moshe, Benji, and Schmuel. But he loves the Jews. The anti-Semite? He loves Moshe, Benji and Schmuel, he just can’t stand the Jews. Think about it.

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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

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