Top Jewish Obama campaign surrogate: ‘Hagel is a patriot’

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Former Florida Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, a top Jewish surrogate to President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, told The Daily Caller that he has no problem with former Republican Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel being nominated as the next secretary of defense.

“This is my view: The president of the United States, President Obama, has a four year record — a very detailed record — that I would describe as the best in history [on Israel],” said Wexler, who is currently the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

“The best ever in terms of security, cooperation and security assistance with Israel. And the next four years I have full confidence it is going to be the same in terms of an A-plus record on security assistance and cooperation with Israel. … That will be the case no matter who the secretary of defense is.”

Hagel is reportedly Obama’s top choice to replace Leon Panetta as defense secretary next year, but not everyone is happy with the prospect of his nomination.

Among the issues critics of Hagel have raised is the former senator’s past call for direct talks with Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and, when he was in the Senate, his refusal to sign onto a letter urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization. He also voted against designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and once claimed that there was a “Jewish lobby” that politically “intimidates” elected officials on Capitol Hill.

Wexler admitted that he was not an “expert” on Hagel’s record. When TheDC pointed out Hagel’s comments on the so-called “Jewish lobby,” Wexler initially expressed disbelief.

“Did he say that?” Wexler asked, before going on to defend the pick.

“I don’t use the word ‘Jewish lobby.’ I don’t know what the ‘Jewish lobby’ is,” Wexler said later in the interview.

“Are we talking about the American Jewish Committee or [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] or thousands of Jewish Americans that care deeply about politics? I never felt intimidated if that’s the right word. I never felt intimidated.”

But, he added, “I do know [Hagel] and never once did I have any inkling that he wasn’t a strong supporter of the American-Israel relationship.”

Wexler said that while he may differ with Hagel on certain issues, such as whether the Iranian Revolutionary Guard should be designated a terrorist organization, he doesn’t have any concerns about the former senator being appointed secretary of defense.

“I would just offer caution in terms of branding people pro-Israel or less than pro-Israel simply because they support one strategy or another relative to Hamas or Iran or other enemies of Israel,” he said.

Wexler went on to praise Hagel as a “patriot.”

“Sen. Hagel is a patriot,” he said.

“He’s an American patriot. His No. 1 job should he be secretary of defense and should he be confirmed, his No. 1 responsibility, of course, is America’s defense. And his No. 1 job will be to extract the United States from the war in Afghanistan in a successful way.”

“And secondly, he is going to have the awesome responsibility of implementing a set of Pentagon budgets that will no doubt be challenging in a tighter fiscal environment,” Wexler added.

“Those are going to be his primary challenges. In terms of … America’s security relationship with Israel … yes, I have absolute 100 percent confidence that Sen. Hagel, should he be the secretary of defense, will reflect President Obama’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.”

On Tuesday, a number of prominent Republican senators, including John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, voiced concern over Hagel’s past positions and comments, noting that he would have to answer for them if he is ultimately nominated by Obama to take over the Pentagon.

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