Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren on Tuesday night defended Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as a friend of Israel -- and dismissed comments the former senator made about Zionist influence on Capitol Hill – during an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”
President Obama spent his first term pushing from power long-standing Arab allies in Egypt and Tunisia, seeking to engage the now blood-soaked Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, pulling his punches against Iran’s nuclear program, and putting “daylight” between his Administration and Israel. Now for his second term, he has nominated for the highest posts bearing on the Middle East three figures who give the strongest indication we can expect much more of the same – John Kerry for State, Chuck Hagel for Defense and John Brennan for the CIA.
Chuck Hagel added three major Jewish Democrats to his list of endorsers, clearing his way to likely confirmation as secretary of defense.
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) each said they were satisfied Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, would advance the U.S.-Israel security relationship and would make a priority of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“I know some will question whether Sen. Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Schumer said in a statement Tuesday, a day after he conferred with Hagel. “But I don’t think so. Sen. Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality.”
Lawmakers generally take their lead on sensitive issues from colleagues who are affiliated with the interest group in question, and the endorsement of Jewish senators has been seen as critical to Hagel getting the job.
Also endorsing Hagel was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Hagel had drawn fire for past criticisms of Israeli policy, skepticism about the efficacy of unilateral Iran sanctions, wariness of the repercussions of a military strike on Iran, and willingness to engage with Iran and some terrorist groups, while also maintaining degrees of isolation.
In conversations with Schumer, Boxer and Wasserman Schultz, Hagel also apologized for having said the “Jewish lobby” is “intimidating” in a 2006 interview.