As the Senate takes its time voting on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary, new reports indicate that the controversial nominee failed to disclose damning Senate speeches he delivered to contentious groups known for their anti-Israel bias.
On Tuesday, February 12, Fox News Channel aired reports of two speeches that Hagel delivered in 2007 in connection with the Israel-Arab conflict to such groups as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee as well as James Zogby’s Arab American Institute. As part of the confirmation hearings, the nominees must hand over transcripts and notes of all speeches, whether they are official or informal, for Senate review, and Hagel failed to produce them.
According to Fox News, one of Hagel’s speeches was given at the Rutgers University’s Center for Middle East Studies and another was delivered to the National Council on US-Arab Relations.
While testing the waters for a presidential run in 2007, Hagel’s speech at Rutgers is drawing fresh scrutiny.
According to a report in the Washington Free Beacon, Republican political consultant and Hagel supporter George Ajjan wrote about the speech on his website the following day, giving a “point by point through some of the more important elements of his speech.”
According to his report, Hagel’s exact words were, “The State Department has become adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Minister’s office.”
Ajjan’s reaction to the statement describes the impact Hagel’s words had on the crowd:
“Wow. A very bold statement by Hagel bound to further raise the ire of the “Jewish Lobby” (yawn…), but it does express his strong belief in a comprehensive solution to problems in the Middle East...comprehensive in the James Baker sense of addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict holistically as both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have proved too lazy and too incompetent to do,” he wrote.
Confirming his 2007 account of the event, Aijan said he was “taking notes as Hagel was speaking.”
“If I wrote it, then that’s what happened at the time,” Ajjan told the Free Beacon.
He added that the event was closed to the press.
“When Hagel said the State Department was becoming an adjunct of the Israeli ministry, I think that was during the Q&A,” said Ajjan. “Even in the blog, I was surprised that he said that. It was a very bold statement.”
Fox News obtained a partial recording of Hagel’s address and was described by the Investigative Project on Terrorism as “a de facto propaganda arm of the Arab world.”
Asked about Washington’s role in achieving peace between Israel and the Arabs, Hagel responded, “There’s no question in the Arab-Israeli issue that Israel is a nation today as a result of the United States” and went on to say that American support for Israel cannot exist “at the sacrifice of our friendships with the Arabs.”
Conferences hosted by the group have reportedly featured speakers who have accused Israel of waging campaigns of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide,” Fox claimed.
Now, Jewish groups are seconding the call of Senate Republicans for further review of Chuck Hagel’s record before a vote is held on his confirmation.
On Thursday, February 14, a 58-40 Senate vote delayed a final yes or no vote on the former Nebraska senator’s appointment. Sixty votes were needed to proceed.
“Chuck Hagel has served this country, and his state, with distinction, as we have had the privilege to tell him in person,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris said in a statement Feb. 15. “But in light of his complex record in the Senate and controversial statements he has made since his public service on strategic and political affairs— notably grappling with the range of pressing Middle East issues—AJC believes that further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”
Following the Washington Free Beacon report last week, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matthew Brooks demanded a response from Hagel and said “Senate Republicans are right to insist that final action on this nomination not be rushed.” Hagel previously came under fire after the revelation of 2008 remarks to Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller that “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here (on Capitol Hill).”
AJC’s Harris said regarding Hagel’s controversial comments, “we feel it especially important that Senator Hagel be given a full opportunity to clear the air, so that the Senate can have a more thorough picture of the nominee’s views.”
The AJC’s warning on Hagel is a sign that mainstream Jewish groups—not just partisan groups such as the RJC—are increasingly concerned about Hagel. “AJC is a strictly non-partisan organization,” Harris said. “We speak up now only out of concern for policies we deem vital to our nation and central to our organizational mission.”
Before the AJC’s statement, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Mort Klein last week called out Jewish groups, including the AJC, for not publicly opposing Hagel’s confirmation. Jewish organizations are “frightened of making an issue seem more important to Jews than others,” he told the Jerusalem Post.
Jewish groups outside of the ZOA and the RJC had never before last week made clear that they “oppose [Hagel] because he is horrible on Iran, he is horrible on terrorism, horrible on Israel, horrible on fighting radical Islam,” according to Klein (until that reality changed with AJC’s statement).
“I was called by major Jewish leaders, personally called, and [they] told me to stop our campaign against Hagel,” Klein said.