Many times recently the Israel/Palestine issue has turned the New York Times into a small-town newspaper, whose function seems to be to chronicle the life of the Jewish community and Israel. That was the case when the newspaper made front-page news of a Manhattan synagogue’s decision to endorse Palestinian statehood. It is the case again today: Tom Friedman wants Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary, because he is the Defense Secretary that Israel needs, to save Israel from itself. Friedman knows he is up against a powerful community:
because Hagel once described the Israel lobby as the “Jewish lobby” (it also contains some Christians) [a]nd because he has rather bluntly stated that his job as a U.S. senator was not to take orders from the Israel lobby but to advance U.S. interests, he is smeared as an Israel-hater at best and an anti-Semite at worst. If ever Israel needed a U.S. defense secretary who was committed to Israel’s survival, as Hagel has repeatedly stated — but who was convinced that ensuring that survival didn’t mean having America go along with Israel’s self-destructive drift into settling the West Bank and obviating a two-state solution — it is now.
I am certain that the vast majority of U.S. senators and policy makers quietly believe exactly what Hagel believes on Israel — that it is surrounded by more implacable enemies than ever and needs and deserves America’s backing. But, at the same time, this Israeli government is so spoiled and has shifted so far to the right that it makes no effort to take U.S. interests into account by slowing its self-isolating settlement adventure. And it’s going to get worse. Israel’s friends need to understand that the center-left in Israel is dying. The Israeli election in January will bring to power Israeli rightists who never spoke at your local Israel Bonds dinner. These are people who want to annex the West Bank. Bibi Netanyahu is a dove in this crowd. The only thing standing between Israel and national suicide any more is America and its willingness to tell Israel the truth. But most U.S. senators, policy makers and Jews prefer to stick their heads in the sand, because confronting Israel is so unpleasant and politically dangerous. Hagel at least cares enough about Israel to be an exception.
Really, what should it matter to the United States that a tiny ally “makes no effort to take U.S. interests into account” through its “settlement adventure”? Friedman is saying that Israel is isolating the United States, because the U.S. lacks the political ability to make policy that is not guided by Israel. Walt and Mearsheimer said very much the same thing; and Friedman said it before a year ago when he wrote that Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”
This column is itself a symptom of the problem; Friedman must proffer that Hagel is “out of the mainstream.” How can that be? Because of Hagel’s
stated preferences for finding a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear program, his willingness to engage Hamas to see if it can be moved from its extremism, his belief that the Pentagon budget must be cut, and his aversion to going to war again in places like Iraq and Afghanistan
What a crazy world we live in. And this is the core power of the Israel lobby, its ability to dominate the discourse, to define conventional wisdom, to conflate American and Israeli interests, and to punish those who opposed the Iraq war and who seek non-militant answers in the Middle East. Look what happened to Barack Obama! (And yes I think this reflects the prominence inside the establishment of Jews: how many readers feel included by Friedman’s comment, “your local Israel Bonds dinner.”)
Of course Friedman as an Iraq war hawk has the ability to address this rightwing Zionist community. So his endorsement is worrying to the neocons. At 6:30 this morning, Bill Kristol posted an angry response at the Weekly Standard, leaping on the “out of the mainstream” statement. Kristol defines what the mainstream is, cossetting Israel forever:
So Hagel, “unlike most U.S. senators, policy makers and Jews” will seek confrontation with Israel. Is that what we want in our next defense secretary? Is that what most U.S. senators—dismissed by Friedman as “stick[ing] their heads in the sand”—want? In any case, Friedman confirms that on Israel as well, Hagel’s views place him out of the policy-making mainstream.
Tom Friedman came to praise Chuck Hagel. He may have ended up burying him.
Meantime, four former national security advisers, including Zbig Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci and the Obama public servant James Jones stand up for Hagel in stentorian tones in a letter to the Washington Post:
We strongly object, as a matter of substance and as a matter of principle, to the attacks on the character of former senator Chuck Hagel. Mr. Hagel is a man of unshakable integrity and wisdom who has served his country in the most distinguished manner in peace and war.
He is a rare example of a public servant willing to rise above partisan politics to advance the interests of the United States and its friends and allies.