Israel comments haunt Chuck Hagel during confirmation

Chuck Hagel was sworn in as the new secretary of defense on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013.
Credit: Junko Kimura

Former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel faced an aggressive and sometimes repetitive line of questioning from members of his own party at his confirmation hearing on Thursday in front of the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

Early in the hearing, Republicans criticized Hagel for his comments on the "Jewish lobby." Hagel's original remarks were: "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here…. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator. Again, I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel."

Hagel responded during the hearing that he regretted using the term Jewish lobby. "I should have said pro-Israel lobby." He also said he should not have used the word "dumb."

"I can't think of a more provocative statement," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, going back to the comment later.

Hagel defended his record with Israel, saying, he "always said I am a supporter of Israel. In some cases I've said I am a strong supporter of Israel."

He stressed that he never voted against Israel in his 12 years in the Senate.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, insinuated that Hagel had agreed with comments that accused Israel of war crimes, playing selective excerpts from an interview.

The 2009 interview with Al Jazeera that Cruz used can be found below.

Cruz asked Hagel, "Do you think the nation of Israel has committed war crimes?"

To which Hagel responded, "No, I do not, senator. I'd want to look at the full context of the interview, but to answer your question, no."

The interview can be watched below:

The caller poses the question: "First of all, I believe very strongly the current leadership around the world, there is a moral failure going on... For example, if you look at Palestine there is a war crime and they are not dealing with it. In Sudan, they are dealing with it. They are really biased justice.... There is a genocidal war going on in Sri Lanka and nothing being done. My question is... these leaders, there is a moral failure. Unless we bring these leaders to a moral standard nothing can be done. What do you think about it."

"Well, I think you're exactly right, and I said in my opening statement that that leadership is critical."

GlobalPost senior correspondent Noga Tarnopolsky said from Jerusalem that the Israeli government had not taken a stance on Hagel.

"I'm pretty sure the Israeli government has no position on any US nominee to any position. It would be very inordinary for it to comment on such a matter. I have not heard a word on Hagel," she said.

Meanwhile, a United Nations report published on Thursday did find Israel's settlements violated the Geneva Conventions.

"The report states that a multitude of the human rights of the Palestinians are violated in various forms and ways due to the existence of the settlements," said a press release.

Read more on the UN report here.

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