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 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT