Chuck Hagel said Monday an accurate assessment of his record will demonstrate “unequivocal, total support for Israel”
Today begins the new Spring Semester for me and, like every year, I will be teaching a class on Israel and the Middle East.
It seems important to at least acknowledge the difficulty of teaching such a class at a time when it is a black mark against an American politician to even be thought of as holding less than unequivocal support for Israel.
It isn’t clear what Hagel’s statement even means, let alone how we ought to interpret it. Does he mean to say that he supports the policies of the current rightwing Israeli government? That he supports the Israelis when it comes to the peace process? That he generally likes Israelis and wants them to flourish? That he would never publicly disagree with anything that the Israeli government says or does?
My sense is that Hagel’s critics on the question of Israel and/or Jews would require every American politician to agree with the current rightwing Israeli government and never publicly disagree with anything the Israeli government says or does. It’s not clear why they desire this or why they think it’s good policy for the United States or for Israel … but that doesn’t seem to matter.
I’m no radical when it comes to Israel — my father was born there and many of my family members live there today; I wish its citizens well, I worry for them in times of strife, and I wouldn’t want to see the country or its citizens harmed in any way — but even a cursory glance at this blog makes clear that I am not unequivocal or total in my support of the Israeli government.
I don’t think that the current governing coalition is acting in the best interests of the citizenry; many of the policies pursued by the Netanyahu government seem incredibly problematic or counterproductive to me. I doubt that I’m the only one who feels this way and I suspect that a fair number of Israelis feel this way; in other words, Israelis are not unequivocal in their support for the current Israeli government.
Of course, no one is unequivocal in their support for any government. The critics of Chuck Hagel, for example, are openly and very vocally critical of their own government, and they’re well within their rights to act this way. I don’t demand uniformity in thinking about our government and its policies, just as I don’t demand it with regard to thinking about Israel.
So perhaps Hagel’s critics believe he opposes the idea of Israel or that he wants to use his position as Secretary of Defense to damage Israel in some existential way. That makes more sense than the criticism that he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Benjamin Netanyahu — which doesn’t matter at all — but it’s also a charge that’s completely without proof. And that, perhaps, is why critics have resorted to intimating that he’s an anti-Semite based on the way that three of his former constituents in Nebraska felt when they met with him to ask that he toe the AIPAC line on some policy or other.
In the end, it’s incredibly frustrating that we can’t have a conversation about Israel that doesn’t begin with everyone expressing their complete and total support for the Netanyahu government and it’s sad that anything less than this level of support allows people to tar you as an anti-Semite.