Israel, Hagel and the politics of the extreme

  • Article by: JASON LEWIS
  • Updated: March 2, 2013 - 4:40 PM

There’s a much more vibrant debate about Israel in Israel than there is here.

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How is it that a cabinet nominee who once renounced his country, threw away his war medals and has been a reliably liberal vote in the U.S. Senate gets broad Republican support and thus breezes to confirmation as secretary of state — while a former GOP senator from Nebraska with two purple hearts from Vietnam and endorsements from an array of national-security officials gets sidetracked by his own party?

Yes, one might think that John Kerry, the Democrat from Massachusetts, would run into more trouble from Lindsey Graham, John McCain and James Inhofe than Chuck Hagel would. Then again, one might think that in the midst of fiscal insolvency, Senate Republicans would not be so fixated on another military adventure in the Middle East.

The problem for Hagel was — and is — that he’s fed up with war. Avoiding more needless American bloodshed is paramount for the decorated vet, and that has driven a wedge between Hagel and his GOP colleagues.

To be sure, the nominee was considered something of an apostate for supporting President Obama in 2008, and he sometimes (as his hearings demonstrated) shoots before he aims. But if Hagel’s willingness to talk with Iran was the deal-breaker, what to make of the fact that Truman talked with Stalin, Nixon with Mao and Reagan with Gorbachev?

Well, can we be honest? It was Chuck Hagel’s criticism of the “Jewish lobby” that required for the first time in history 60 votes to confirm a defense secretary. Had Hagel not uttered, “I am a United States senator, not an Israeli senator,” he’d have been easily ensconced as defense secretary in early February.

Which is not to say past statements aren’t fair game for any constituency. But by any objective standard, well-financed groups — such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), with more than 100,000 members — wield considerable influence in Washington, especially with Republicans.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Israel, the discourse too often breaks down between extremes. It is a false choice pitting the idiocy of the “Holocaust-denying Jewish banker conspiracy type” against an “Israel can do no wrong” crowd that deals in charges of anti-Semitism the way Al Sharpton deals in racism.

In fact, there’s a much more vibrant and open debate on Israeli policy in Tel Aviv than there is in Washington. Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish prime minister, has now been forced to join hands with dovish rivals to form a coalition that may jump-start negotiations with the Palestinians.

In a perfect world, the Palestinians would immediately give up any right of return to “Israel proper” in exchange for a halt to all settlements on the West Bank. But any talk of “1967 borders” is a nonstarter for Hagel-hating hard-liners, even though Mahmoud Abbas is no Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian president has already dismissed the idea of 5 million Arab refugees reclaiming property in what is now Israel.

Besides, Israel has little choice but to move on a two-state solution. Keeping control of the “occupied territories” is demographically impossible for the Jewish state. As Col. Uri Dromi, former director of the Israel Democracy Institute, once said, “Either we give the Palestinians equal rights, in which case, Israel ceases to be Jewish, or we don’t, in which case, Israel ceases to be democratic. The only way for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic is for it to pull out of the territories.”

The clarion call of the Israeli homeland has always been “never again.” Likewise, America has long prided itself as a safe haven for the victims of political persecution worldwide. But the United States can ill afford to establish military tripwires around the globe — in Asia, in Europe, in the Middle East. As Henry Kissinger famously proclaimed, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

And you don’t enhance our national security by financing an empire with borrowed money — the costs in blood and treasure are just too great.

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Jason Lewis is a nationally syndicated talk-show host based in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the author of “Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights” from Bascom Hill Publishing. He can be heard locally from 5 to 8 p.m. on NewsTalk Radio, 1130-AM, and at jasonlewisshow.com.

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