By Henry Siegman
February 5, 2013
Of the many controversial statements made by Senator Chuck Hagel over the years, none seemed to enrage Senator Lindsey Graham more than his remark that the Israel lobby intimidates U.S. Congressmen into advocating “stupid” policies. He challenged Hagel to name one such senator and to identify one such stupid policy.
The challenge created an unusual opportunity for Hagel, for there could be no better and conclusive evidence of the Israel Lobby’s power of intimidation of U.S. senators on the subject of Israel than these hearings themselves, and most particularly Senator Graham’s own behavior.
Unfortunately, Hagel could not take advantage of that opportunity. Had he done so, his nomination by President Obama to head the Department of Defense would undoubtedly have been dead in the water, for his former Democratic colleagues are no less guilty of yielding to that intimidation than Hagel’s former Republican colleagues.
But the truth of Hagel’s charge must be affirmed, particularly by those who are more concerned about Israel’s ability to survive as a Jewish and democratic state than about jeopardizing contributions to their own electoral campaigns. The truth that needs to be affirmed speaks not only to the existential dangers created by the current Israeli government’s illegal and often immoral behavior in the Occupied Territories but to the violation of the shared values that supposedly form the foundation of the unprecedentedly close ties between Israel and the United States.
It is not enemies of Israel but some of its most loyal and patriotic citizens, six former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet, the internal national security agency on which Israel’s security and existence depend, who blasted the policies of the government headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu as threatening Israel’s very survival because of its colonial ambitions in the West Bank and its lack of interest in reaching a peace accord with the Palestinians. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand lectured Senator Hagel that America’s ties with Israel are “fundamental” and not to be questioned, even if according to Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, its right wing government’s policies have put the country on a path to apartheid, a judgment with which two former Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, concur.
The heads of the IDF reportedly refused to implement a demand by Prime Minister Netanyahu to prepare for an assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities, believing it would have catastrophic consequences for Israel. Whether they are right or wrong—given their unanimity, the high likelihood is that they were right—no one can question the patriotism of these generals and security chiefs or their motives. Successive Israeli governments trusted them and relied on their judgments in safeguarding Israel’s existence. But such words of caution, when expressed by an American Congressman, are considered heretical, because the Israel lobby says so.
This record of Senate and House members’ gutlessness in their subservience to the Israel Lobby was exemplified by Senator Graham’s rudeness in his questioning of former Senator Hagel, repeatedly cutting him off as he was speaking. Apparently he believes that if he could have gotten Hagel to admit even one instance of disagreement with a policy of the current Israeli government, he would have made his case that Hagel is an enemy of the Jewish State, if not the Jewish People.
Of the many letters adopted by the Senate and the House to which Graham and other Senators referred, including letters criticizing Hamas, some of which Hagel would not sign onto, not one addressed the fact that the Likud, the party headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, to this day officially opposes a Palestinian state in even one square foot of the West Bank, or that even after Netanyahu made his speech committing his government to a two-state solution, members of his cabinet and his party established a “Greater Israel” Parliamentary Caucus whose official goal is the prevention of Palestinian statehood and the annexation of all Palestinian territories.
The attacks on Hagel for his occasional dissent from Israel’s policies came from a man from a political party that has established entirely new depths of abusive attacks on the policies and the personality of the President of the United States and on the policies of their Democratic colleagues. Neither Graham nor any of his Republican colleagues have, to the best of my knowledge, expressed publicly a word of criticism of colleagues who established as their goal the defeat of every policy proposal that would be made by President Obama, irrespective of its merit, in the expectation that their stonewalling would lead to his defeat in the upcoming presidential elections. Yet they proclaim that the slightest criticism of even the most reprehensible policies of Netanyahu and Israel’s government disqualifies a person from serving in a high office in the U.S. government. How does one explain the Senators’ bizarre notion that criticism of their own government’s policies is a responsible exercise of their duties but criticism of a foreign government’s behavior—in the case of Israel, of course, but not of any other foreign government—is not, except in terms of the Israel lobby’s “influence” (to use the term preferred by Senator Graham).
Senator Hagel’s confirmation has to await action by the Senate Committee and by the full Senate. But we do not have to wait for confirmation that with respect to the Middle East peace process, the U.S. Congress remains in the grip of the Israel lobby. This was more than fully confirmed at last week’s hearing.
Henry Siegman is the president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He also serves as a non-resident research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.