In the first interview published since President Barack Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense, former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel said his record had been “completely distorted” by his critics.
Hagel, who has come under fire from pro-Israel advocates since his name was first floated for the position last month, told the Lincoln Journal Star that his record demonstrates an “unequivocal, total support for Israel” when it is accurately assessed.
He also claimed that there is “not one shred of evidence” that he is anti-Israel, and that he never voted in a way that “hurt Israel.”
“Israel is in a very, very difficult position,” he told the paper. “No border that touches Israel is always secure. We need to work to help protect Israel so it doesn’t get isolated.”
Hagel’s detractors see his criticism of what he called the pro-Israel “Jewish lobby” in 2006, his skeptical take on the usefulness of sanctions against countries like Iran, and his expressed willingness to see the U.S. talk directly with the terrorist group Hamas as evidence that Hagel is a less-than-stalwart defender of Israel.
Also of concern to Hagel’s critics was his refusal to sign a 1999 letter condemning anti-Semetism in Russia even though all 99 of his Senate colleagues had done so.
“I didn’t sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counter-productive and didn’t solve a problem,” Hagel told the paper.
On Iran, Hagel said he did not support “unilateral sanctions” because he thought they would be ineffective and “isolate” the U.S. Hagel then went on to praise the U.N.’s sanctions against Iran, which he said are “working.”
“I have said many times that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism,” Hagel said. “I have also questioned some very cavalier attitudes taken about very complicated issues in the Middle East.”
Hagel said that his Senate confirmation hearings will give him an opportunity to clarify his views on Israel and Iran, and he welcomes “an opportunity to respond” to his critics.
“I fully recognize that confirmation is up to the Senate,” he told the paper. “All I ask is a fair hearing, and I will get that. I am very much looking forward to having a full, open, transparent hearing about my qualifications and my record.