Posted by on February 26, 2013 in Blog

The Senate finally approved Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense today, culminating a month-long ordeal of attacks, character assassinations, and questions about the Republican former Senator's loyalty to the United States.

The road to his confirmation has been a long one. After Hagel’s confirmation bid as Secretary of Defense was filibustered last week, some Senate Republicans and other groups have scrambled to find more “dirt” on the Republican former Senator.

His detractors have accused him of “anti-Israel bias” and have questioned his statements on the “Israeli lobby” and his association with “controversial” organizations like AAI and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Last week, the neoconservative Washington Free Beacon produced an email from Kenneth Wagner, a former Rutgers University  law student who claims that Hagel made the following statements in a speech at the university:

“I am sitting in a lecture by Chuck Hagel at Rutgers,” Wagner wrote in the email. “He basically said that Israel has violated every UN resolution since 1967, that Israel has violated its agreements with the quartet, that it was risking becoming an apartheid state if it didn’t allow the Palestinians to form a state. He said that the settlements were getting close to the point where a contiguous Palestinian state would be impossible.”

“He said that he [thought] that Netanyahu was a radical and that even [former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi] Livni, who was hard nosed thought he was too radical and so wouldn’t join in a coalition [government] with him. … He said that Hamas has to be brought in to any peace negotiation,” Wagner wrote.

Wagner told the Free Beacon that he was, “very surprised at [Hagel’s] attitude because I had been listening to politicians speak about the situation in the Middle East and the U.S. Israel relationship for about two decades…And it was probably the most negative thing I’d ever heard anybody in elected office say.”

Clearly, Wagner has not been listening very hard.

Though he is probably right to state that few US policymakers are willing to criticize Israeli actions in such a forthright manner, it should be noted that Hagel’s statements (if they are indeed Hagel’s statement, since no record exists other than this individual’s “contemporaneous account”) are really no cause for concern at all.

Several of the aforementioned points are statements of fact. Livni did refuse to join Netanyahu’s coalition in 2009, Israel has violated a number of UN resolutions and Quartet agreements, and settlements as they stand have dissected the West Bank into several non-contiguous pieces.

The remainder of Hagel’s comments, particularly his assertion that Israel is at risk of becoming an Apartheid state, are statements of concern for the Israeli state, not “anti-Israel hate speech.” One need look no further than the statements made by every single living head of the Israeli security service, the Shin Bet, in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers.

Asawin Suebsaeng at Mother Jones has a great collection of statements from the film, all from the mouths of Israel’s staunchest defenders.

Here are six examples of things said in the film that could get you pilloried in American politics:

1. "Talk to everyone, even if they answer rudely. So that includes even Ahmadinejad, [Islamic Jihad, Hamas], whoever. I'm always for it. In the State of Israel, it's too great a luxury not to speak with our enemies…Even if [the] response is insolent, I'm in favor of continuing. There is no alternative. It's in the nature of the professional intelligence man to talk to everyone. That's how you get to the bottom of things. I find out that he doesn't eat glass and he sees that I don't drink oil."—Avraham Shalom (1980-86), on negotiating with the enemy.

2. "We are making the lives of millions [of Palestinians] unbearable, into prolonged human suffering, [and] it kills me."—Carmi Gillon (1994-96).

3. "We've become cruel. To ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population." Our army has become "a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II. Similar, not identical."—Shalom, who clarifies that he is referring to the Nazis' persecution of non-Jewish minorities.

4. "We don't realize that we face a frustrating situation in which we win every battle, but we lose the war."—Ami Ayalon (1996–2000), regarding the wisdom of Israel's counterterrorism measures.

5. "To them, I was the terrorist.… One man's terrorist is another man freedom fighter."—Yuval Diskin (2005-11), candidly discussing the very first time he considered his profession from a Palestinian perspective.

6. "We are taking very sure and measured steps to a point where the State of Israel will not be a democracy or a home for the Jewish people."—Ayalon

What does it say about the state of our political discourse when commonplace statements by Israeli political leaders are labeled as “anti-Israel hate speech” when stated by US policymakers?

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