Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

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

By Ari Fleischer, CNN Contributor
updated 7:28 AM EST, Mon January 14, 2013
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
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT