Skip to main content

Chuck Hagel is a friend to Israel

By Aryeh Azriel, Special to CNN
updated 7:30 AM EST, Mon January 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chuck Hagel's nomination has been criticized on issue of support for Israel
  • Nebraska Rabbi Aryeh Azriel says he's long seen Hagel's backing for Israel
  • He says critics of Hagel are grasping at straws to question his views
  • Azriel: Critics are wrong to hurl charges of anti-Semitism against Hagel

Editor's note: Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, born and raised in Tel Aviv, has been the senior rabbi at Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska, since 1988.

(CNN) -- It's clear from the coverage of the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel for the 24th secretary of defense that many of those opposing him do not know him personally, as I do. The facts speak for themselves: His record shows strong support for Israel.

As a person who grew up in Israel and now as a rabbi in our home state of Nebraska for the past 25 years, 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.

Rabbi Aryeh Azriel
Rabbi Aryeh Azriel

Take the matter of recent accusations against him, which say that as president of the United Services Organization in the late 1980s, Chuck went on a crusade to close a USO post in the Israeli port city of Haifa. An organization most associated with Bob Hope, the USO is a private, nonprofit whose mission is to support American troops by providing morale, welfare and recreation-type services.

Chuck's tenure there is remembered for turning around a financially troubled organization and bringing it back to fiscal health in the lead up to Operation Desert Storm. When Atlantic magazine recently conducted an investigative report, both the longtime director of the USO mission in Haifa and a former commander in chief of the Israeli Navy came to his defense.

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.



Reversing the fortunes of a near-bankrupt organization requires making tough choices, and there may have been some logic in closing that outpost, but in this case, the Haifa operation was kept open and 10 other operations were closed in the Mediterranean. In fact, it was not until 2002, near the end of Chuck's first term in the U.S. Senate, that the USO's Haifa office was closed.

Ari Fleischer: Hagel is wrong on why U.S. supports Israel

Others have pointed out that as a U.S. senator, he opposed sanctions against Iran, an example frequently used to show that he was not being supportive of Israel.

McCain's 'serious concerns' about Hagel
Iran cheers Hagel nomination
Hagel tapped for Defense Secretary
Chuck Hagel's controversial nomination

Iran has been on my mind for a long time. The danger is clear for the security of Israel and the entire Middle East. But I know Chuck's preference is for multilateral sanctions over unilateral sanctions, and what's wrong with that?

Cuba is a prime example of decades of unilateral sanctions not working. Americans need only go to cities on or near the Canadian border such as Windsor, Niagara Falls and Vancouver to purchase the famed Cuban cigars.

But when dealing with Iran, we do not have decades to wait the regime out. The danger is real. The consequences are overwhelming. Like Chuck, I would rather have the world powers behind a united effort to stop and reverse the nuclear ambitions of Iran's leadership.

I use these two examples to show that accusations against him of being anti-Semitic and not being supportive of Israel are groundless.

As a student of world history in general and Jewish history in particular and as one who knows and abhors anti-Semitism, I think it cheapens the lives and the memories of my people when the label is attached and used on someone who may not share the same policy views as those opposing his nomination.

It is despicable and revolting when name-calling becomes more important than the substance at hand. We, all children created in God's image, need to be extremely careful in uttering words that hurt and make sure to introduce only words that heal.

Indeed, a real friend of anyone, including Israel, is supposed to be frank and offer counsel, especially when there is so much at stake.

Finally, American support for Israel is best when it is bipartisan, as it has been historically. Recent efforts to smear Chuck get us further away from support for Israel being a bipartisan issue, and ultimately that hurts the long-term security of the state of Israel.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Aryeh Azriel.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:06 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 7:17 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT