By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
I first met Israeli-born Rabbi Aryeh Azriel in 1983, shortly before he was ordained by the Hebrew Union College. Over the years we’ve encountered each other many times at conferences and on his frequent visits to Israel. For the last quarter-of-a-century he has been the spiritual leader of Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chuck Hagel, whom President Obama has nominated as his Secretary of Defense, is a former senator fromNebraska. Rabbi Azriel writes about him in a CNN blog: “Those opposing him do not know him personally, as I do. The facts speak for themselves: His record shows strong support forIsrael.”
Azriel continues: “I have found a great love in Chuck’s heart for the Israeli people and their desire to live in peace and security. In numerous encounters I was enthralled with the depth of his knowledge, the strength of his convictions, the integrity of his character and the honesty in his search for peace.”
Abe Foxman, the head of the US Anti-Defamation League, isn’t exactly a bleeding heart liberal. He has spent a lifetime exposing enemies of Israeland of the Jewish people. Yet the headline of his long and balanced opinion piece about Hagel in today’s Ha’aretz reads: “The Defense Secretary isn’t bad for the Jews.”
It’s possible that those who’re saying otherwise have inside knowledge that’s hidden from the rest of us. But it may also have something to do with the fact that a former Republican senator about to join this Democrat administration must expect much fury and subversive activity from his former party colleagues.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is as close to being a card-carrying Republican as it’s possible for a leader of a foreign government. He demonstrated it in many ways during the US presidential election campaign last year. His friend and ardent supporter, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, is said to have spent around a hundred million dollars (!) on Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates in that campaign.
Hagel’s reported view on how to deal with Iran don’t tally with Netanyahu’s who has made Iran a cardinal issue that overshadows other urgent matters in his election campaign. It may be in the prime minister’s interest to tell voters before next week’s vote that only he, the strong leader of Israel, can save the country from peril. Many Israelis view Netanyahu’s fixation on Iran as a diversionary and counter-productive tactic.
All this may have contributed to the theory why the government ofIsraeland its supporters abroad have wanted to make known their anti-Hagel view to the world. If it means perhaps somewhat unjustly tarnishing his image, so be it. That’s probably what prompted Azriel to state unequivocally that “accusations against him of being anti-Semitic and not being supportive ofIsraelare groundless.”
Azriel implies that not Hagel but the campaign against Hagel is bad for the Jews: “Recent efforts to smear Chuck get us further away from support forIsraelbeing a bipartisan issue, and ultimately that hurts the long-term security of the state of Israel.”
I don’t know Chuck Hagel and had never heard of him before his nomination. But I know Rabbi Azriel. Also, given his record, I take seriously what Abe Foxman has to say. As the efforts to paint Hagel as a villain may have a different, sinister, agenda, there seems to be less cause for panic and more reason to have confidence in Obama’s choice.