I am an American rabbi who loves America and loves Israel. I also happen to have dual American-Israeli citizenship, and I served in the Israel Defense Forces.
I write in support of President Obama and his nomination of Chuck Hagel. I understand the concerns that have been expressed, but have less sympathy for the outright distortions and attacks on his character.
Here’s how I see the big picture:
With elections behind us and both President Obama’s national security team and the next Israeli government falling into place, it is time for the president to make good on his support for a two-state solution and launch a bold new peace initiative in the Middle East. President Obama already has made clear his commitment to a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has made clear that he will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear arms. The American people and an overwhelming majority of American Jews voted in November to re-elect the President and to pursue a bold second term agenda.
So when the president nominates Hagel, a decorated military veteran and distinguished senator who shares his urgency for U.S. leadership in the Middle East, we should stand with him. And when a few groups try to derail Hagel’s confirmation by smearing him as anti-Israel, it is our job as American Jews to set the record straight.
Hagel’s strong support of Israel is evidenced clearly in his record. Over his 12-year Senate career, Hagel voted for nearly $40 billion in aid to Israel. He co-sponsored legislation that condemned and helped to combat terrorism against Israel and supported sanctions against Iran.
And Hagel hasn’t only defended Israel with his voting record; before it was popular to say so in Washington circles, Hagel spoke passionately and often of the need for the United States to help Israel achieve a two-state solution. Those views put him in line with over 80 percent of American Jews, and the last three Israeli prime ministers and U.S. presidents.
We need a two-state solution, and we don’t have much time. We saw last year in Gaza that it only takes a single spark to reignite the conflict into violence. Only a political agreement can achieve a lasting end to this conflict. Without one, both Israelis and Palestinians will continue to lose hope, abandoning leaders who speak of compromise in favor of stubborn replacements who claim peace is impossible. Soon, the Palestinians might decide that without negotiations, violence presents their best chance at achieving a state. And when Jews become a minority in the area under Israeli control, Israel will lose either its Jewish character or its democracy, compromising its founding principles and inviting unprecedented global isolation.
That is not a future that we should accept as inevitable. Hagel understands the unique role that the United States can play in bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations. Over his long career, Hagel has demonstrated a keen appreciation for political over military solutions, and his deep knowledge of the appropriate uses and limitations of military force made him a key voice in the debates over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is why the president wants him. We need that kind of voice now, by the president’s side, as he works toward a two-state solution to defend Israel’s Jewish and democratic future.
Recognizing the importance of Hagel’s confirmation, dozens of Jewish leaders, political leaders, and national security experts, including former ambassadors to Israel, have vouched for his pro-Israel credentials. So has Israel’s own deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, who said he saw firsthand that Hagel “believes in the relationship, in the natural partnership between Israel and the United States.”
Given Hagel’s notable supporters, perhaps it is his opponents who are outside the mainstream. The anti-Hagel campaign is being conducted by the same groups who tried and failed to make us question President Obama’s commitment to Israel. But we can’t afford inaction. This is not just a question of choosing our battles wisely. We who are pro-Israel and pro-peace need, in the words of Isaiah, “to raise our voice like a shofar.” For our sake, and for the America and Israel we love.