Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Hagel's wrong on why U.S. supports Israel

By Ari Fleischer, CNN Contributor
January 14, 2013 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel was nominated by President Obama for defense secretary.
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel was nominated by President Obama for defense secretary.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In 2006, Hagel said 'the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here'
  • Ari Fleischer: The support for Israel isn't because of 'intimidation,' but merit
  • Polls show most Americans view Israel favorably, but don't support Iran or Palestinians
  • Fleischer: Israel is a steady friend of the U.S. and a tolerant democracy

Editor's note: Ari Fleischer, a CNN contributor, was White House press secretary in the George W. Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and is the president of Ari Fleischer Sports Communications Inc. He is a paid consultant and board member for the Republican Jewish Coalition, which opposes the Hagel nomination. Follow him on Twitter: @AriFleischer

(CNN) -- "The political reality is ... that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here." -- Senator Chuck Hagel, 2006

As a result of those words and his voting record, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination has turned a decades-long, bipartisan confirmation process for secretary of defense into an acrimonious one.

While some leading figures such as the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman and the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Abraham Cooper say Hagel's words are borderline anti-Semitism, I'm less worried about anti-Semitism and more worried about the judgment of a potential defense secretary who thinks Israel has won support because of "intimidation," not merit.

Ari Fleischer
Ari Fleischer

Israel is widely supported by the American people because Israel deserves to be supported. Israel is a lonely democratic ally and a steady friend of the United States in a dangerous and tumultuous region. Their people are like the American people -- free, independent, capitalistic and tolerant.

A Gallup poll taken last year showed 71% of the American people view Israel favorably while only 19% view the Palestinian Authority favorably and just 10% view Iran favorably.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In a Pew Research Center study last month, 50% of adults said they sympathize more with Israel in its dispute than with the Palestinians. Just 10% sympathize more with the Palestinians, while about as many (13%) volunteered that they sympathize with neither side.

Contrary to Hagel's logic, Israel doesn't enjoy widespread American support because anyone -- from any faith -- intimidated someone else; Israel earned the support of the American people because of its people's values.

Opinion: Hagel is a friend to Israel

The danger in what Hagel said is if he thinks Israel is supported on Capitol Hill because of intimidation, then it's not hard to see why Hagel is so soft in his support for our ally. He sees himself as an independent voice willing to stand up to intimidation, and he wears his anti-Israel votes as badges of honor.

Chuck Hagel's controversial nomination
Iran cheers Hagel nomination
Hagel tapped for Defense Secretary

But Hagel isn't independent. He's alone.

His position on Middle Eastern matters is so outside the mainstream of both parties that almost no one agrees with him.

In 2000, Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.

Peter Beinart: What's behind Hagel nomination fight

The following year Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President George W. Bush to continue his policy of not meeting with Yasser Arafat until the Palestinian leader took steps to end the violence against Israel.

John Cornyn: Why I can't support Hagel

Contrary to America's longstanding bipartisan position, Hagel has called for direct talks with terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah. In 2007, Hagel voted against labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the group responsible for the death of many American servicemen in Iraq, a terrorist organization.

And in 2008, he was one of two senators on the banking committee to oppose a bill putting sanctions on Iran. One of the measure's biggest backers was an Illinois senator named Barack Obama.

I'm a New Yorker and neither of my senators -- Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand -- supports Israel because someone muscled them into that position through intimidation. They both support Israel because the lobby that wants them to support Israel is an American lobby, made up of people from both parties and all religions and from people with no religion or political party at all.

But if Chuck Hagel believes that it's intimidation and not sound judgment that has caused his colleagues to support Israel, then Chuck Hagel should not be confirmed as our next secretary of defense.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ari Fleischer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT