January 19, 2013

Chuck Hagel, Anti-Semite?

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It looks like Chuck Hagel is going to be confirmed as President Obama’s next Secretary of Defense, and I for one am very happy. Hagel, the former Republican Senator, had received pushback from a number of different commentators as “unacceptable” for a few different reasons.

One of which was that he believes in trimming the defense budget, which, in an era of fiscal austerity, I consider to be a sign of prudence on the part of the former soldier.

The second critique frequently voiced against Hagel was that his eagerness to engage the Iranian government in diplomacy somehow espoused weakness. Yet, after witnessing the catastrophic over-eagerness exhibited in the rush to war in Iraq, it is hard to fathom how a desire to settle things diplomatically ought to immediately disqualify a Secretary of Defense. Hagel has never taken military force off the table, he has simply expressed a desire to see out the diplomatic process before any rash decisions are made.

However, the wrongheadedness of those critiques pales in comparison to the most heated charge levied at Hagel, that he is anti-Semitic.

I’d like to present a quote about Israel and let you decide if it exhibits anti-Semitism. Here we go:

Jewish people, namely Israelis, are the “descendants of apes and pigs.”

Now that is some pretty cut and dry anti-Semitism. That’s the type of rhetoric that has so imperiled the Jewish people time and again throughout history. Who said those awful words, you might ask?

It certainly wasn’t Chuck Hagel.

It was Mohamed Morsi, the President of Egypt.

Now, what were the comments that led the Council on Foreign Relations’ Elliot Abrams to say that Hagel “appears to be … frankly an anti-Semite”?

(A few other allegations were made against Hagel’s interactions with Jewish people but have since been overwhelmingly disproven).

When asked about the influence, on Capitol Hill, of some groups that advocate for what they see as Israel’s best interest, Hagel replied:

“The political reality is … that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel.”

Abe Foxman, the President of the Anti-Defamation League, called the comments “troubling” saying that it was “pretty disturbing language which … borders onto conspiratorial.”

Now, I know that there is a history of anti-Semitism that relies on portraying Jewish people as deviously duplicitous and power-hungry. However, Hagel’s language was at worst inopportune and slightly inaccurate.

It cannot be considered anti-Semitic to acknowledge that groups like AIPAC lobby politicians to support causes that they believe are in the best interests of their cause. Hagel’s decision to label those groups broadly as the “Jewish lobby” is inaccurate insofar as it presumes the lobby represents greater American Jewish interests. Furthermore, the idea that reflecting on such groups’ behavior as being successful in influencing politicians to support their causes, out of fear of not doing so, could serve as a description of any powerful lobbying group on Capitol Hill.

That the label “anti-Semite” can be so loosely thrown about is dangerous not only in its deceitfulness but it devalues what true anti-Semitism, displayed by comments like Morsi’s, looks like.

Fortunately, enough senators have declared their support for Hagel that his appointment should proceed smoothly. Hopefully, those who would so casually throw around the term “anti-Semitic” think twice before they do so again.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin