Former secretary of state Colin Powell defended the nomination of Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon on Sunday, downplaying some of the controversial remarks attributed to the former Nebraska senator.
That includes Hagel’s quip that members of Congress were intimidated by “a Jewish lobby” on Capitol Hill.
“That term slips out from time to time,” Powell told David Gregory on NBC’s Meet The Press. “There was an article this week that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has occasionally used the same thing. And so, Chuck should have said Israeli lobby, not Jewish lobby and perhaps he needs to write on a blackboard a hundred times it is the Israeli lobby. But there is an Israeli lobby. There are people who are very supportive of the State of Israel.”
Powell, a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, served under Republican President George W. Bush but endorsed his Democrat successor, Barack Obama. Hagel faces a tough conformation hearing since former Republican colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee believe he is against Israel and too soft on Iran and the anti-American forces in Afhanistan.
Powell said Hagel is a supporter of Israel but “It doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.”
Asked if he believed that Hagel saw the Israelis and Palestinians as equally to blame for the lack of progress in peace process, Powell said “He supports the peace process. But he is uppermost, a very, very strong supporter of the State of Israel. He's voted for billions and billions of dollars of aid to Israel. So, I have no question that when it comes to challenges that have anything to do with putting Israel at risk, Chuck Hagel will be on Israel’s side. And remember, he is working for a president. And he will follow the-- the policies of that president.”
Asked about Hagel’s statements in favor of continued engagement with Iran as it progresses toward nuclear arms, Powell said he did not believe Hagel opposed a military option as a last resort. “I think what Chuck Hagel has said is that nothing is ever off the table, but he’s one who believes in the prospects for negotiation,” the former secretary said.