Neocon smear of Hagel ricochets around web before ‘Atlantic’ article strikes it down

Sen. Hagel
Chuck Hagel (Photo: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES)

Whatever your thoughts are on the now official nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, one thing’s for sure: he deserves to get a fair hearing (both in public and in the Senate), free from smears. But the neoconservative machine doesn’t quite work like that, and it’s in overdrive.

One of the latest examples of the odious neoconservative smear campaign waged against Hagel is a claim that, in the midst of a dispute over whether to close the USO port in Haifa, Hagel said “Let the Jews pay for it” in a meeting with Jewish leaders. The context for the claim is that, according to the Washington Free Beacon story, Hagel led the “charge” to shutter the USO port in Haifa, Israel. The USO is a quasi-governmental support organization for American troops.

Here’s more from the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo:

Hagel, who served as president and CEO of the World USO from 1987 to 1990, expressed intense opposition to the USO Haifa Center during a tumultuous 1989 meeting with Jewish leaders, according to multiple sources involved in the fight to keep the post open.

“He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it’,” said Marsha Halteman, director for military and law enforcement programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which led the battle to keep USO Haifa operational.

Hagel’s campaign to close the storied USO port struck many observers, including the U.S. Navy and congressional leaders, as misguided. Those same critics argue today that Hagel’s animosity toward the Jewish state leaves him unsuited to be the nation’s next defense secretary.

“He essentially told us that if we wanted to keep the USO [in Haifa] open—and when I say ‘we’, he meant ‘the Jews’—he said the Jews could pay for it,” said Halteman, who recalled being taken aback by the comment.

I would normally ignore these smears, but this one has gotten some traction. It first traveled throughout the neoconservative ecosystem, bouncing from Commentary to the Weekly Standard. But it has also hit more respectable websites, like The Atlantic Wire, not to mention Elliott Abrams’ repetition of the smear on the website of the Council for Foreign Relations (in a repost of a Weekly Standard piece).

Websites like The Atlantic and Mediaite (where the smear also appeared) should be skeptical about uncritically quoting reports such as these, which seek to place Hagel beyond the pale before his confirmation hearing.

The first reason to question Kredo’s claim is that the source is dubious. The single source that claims Hagel made a reference to “the Jews” paying for the USO port is an operative from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), one of the premier neoconservative shops in Washington. Hagel’s skepticism of Israeli military force (in Lebanon) and his insistence that he is an American senator, not an Israeli one, surely rankled JINSA. So the group has a vested interest in defeating Hagel, and it’s clear they’re intent on smearing the man. And JINSA itself is not so reliable or trustworthy. For instance, one of the group’s early leaders was Stephen Bryen. As a Right Web profile of Bryen notes, “In his book The Armageddon Network, Michael Saba, a former director of an Arab-American organization, alleged that in 1978 he saw Bryen, then a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offer ‘Pentagon documents on the bases’ to officials of the Israeli government during a meeting in a Washington restaurant.” Another early leader in JINSA, Michael Ledeen, was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and the false claims of Nigerian yellowcake uranium in Iraq.

More importantly, the thrust of Kredo’s story is wrong. Steve Clemons’ reporting in The Atlantic makes that clear. Kredo wrote that Hagel “led the controversial charge to shutter the port during his tenure with the organization [the USO].”

But Clemons spoke with Israelis involved with the discussions over the USO port in Haifa and reports that when Hagel took over the USO, he “reviewed all of the USO facilities – including the one in Haifa – and decided to keep the Haifa operation open, expanding it in fact, while shuttering ten others in the Middle East region.” Clemons also notes “there is ample evidence that [JINSA’s] charge against Hagel is at best unsubstantiated by evidence and at face value completely untrue.”

All of this seems to be lost on Abrams. In his Weekly Standard-turned-Council on Foreign Relations blog post, he mentions that “the Israeli who headed the USO site, Gila Gerson, was later given a prize by the U.S. Navy for her work. There seems little doubt that USO Haifa was immensely successful and valued.” But Clemons went to speak with Gerzon (which is how it’s spelled in the Clemons post)–and what she tells him totally contradicts Kredo’s reporting, and thus, Abrams’ post.

Clemons asks Gerzon, “Do you remember Chuck Hagel trying to close the Haifa operation?” She bluntly answers: “No.” Gerzon also told Clemons that “it was an absolute gift of God and for our volunteers when Chuck Hagel came to Israel.”

So the long and short of it is that that Kredo’s and Halteman’s smear against Hagel is false. Perhaps the confirmation hearing will shed more light on this specific issue. But in any case, it’s a lesson in how easy it is to spread smears in the age of the Internet. And the outlets who laundered Kredo’s smear should look more closely the next time they decide to uncritically reprint a hatchet job like the Washington Free Beacon’s.
 

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in American Jewish Community, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Neocons, US Politics

{ 31 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. biorabbi says:

    Again, this is outrageous. You have this Free Beacon reporting as face Hagel acting with venom towards Israel, singling out Jews, but then actual reporting occurs the Israelis in question seemed to like Hagel based on his tenure as the USO. Again, I don’t understand the protocol of having Hagel remain mute for several weeks while this smear goes forward. There is another story I found interesting alleging Hagel was very cold towards the Nebraska Jewish Community. But another story counters this with an actual interview with the Israeli born rabbi in Nebraska who talks about how warm Hagel was personally toward him, asking questions about his youth and the like.

    As a proud supporter of Israel, there is no there there. Hagel was friendly towards the state of Israel and Israelis. He was/is in the mainstream of political discourse. He is unique in being an old school non-intervention Republican which is an almost extinct entity.

    • Mooser says:

      One thing about you, Biorabbi, you never make judgements based on the inconsequential. You’re a deep thinker. And so consistent!

    • libra says:

      The more I look at William Kristol’s Hagel at ChuckHagel.com the more I like him. And now after all his endless earlier doubts, biorabbi is busy rehabilitating him.

      Now I find myself asking could Dan Crowther be right after all? Could this all be some carefully choreographed charade to smuggle a bat-crazy rabid McCain clone into the Pentagon? Perhaps that’s why he’s kept his mouth shut all this time, otherwise we’d see the foam oozing out.

    • libra says:

      Upcoming on Mondoweiss next week:

      biorabbi takes another look at Israel and discovers there’s no there there. “For years I was told it was the Jewish state but when looked closer it didn’t seem Jewish at all” he says. “Not with the way they treat the Palestinians”.

  2. this (clemmons/atlantic) was one of the most amazing rumor slapdowns i’ve seen in the last year (which is saying a lot during an election cycle). the neocons were clearly on desperado mode with a completely unsupportable claim (sliding in before the finishline right before the nomination) in a ridiculous neocon rumormill rag, the beacon. and before it got anywhere near the msm (seriously damaged goods) clemmons secures the most fantastic interviews with such choice quotes such as:

    “it was an absolute gift of God and for our volunteers when Chuck Hagel came to Israel.”

    i died when i read that, just unbelievable.

    great article wrapping it all up alex. and a huge shout out to clemmons, whose report was an explosion of fun to read after following that little ugly jinsa rumor trying so hard to get off the ground.

    • Kathleen says:

      Steve Clemons has been a persistent, polite thorn in the side of the I lobby for quite a few years now. And he is clearly well established and has been on MSNBC talking about the I/P conflict and the push to attack Iran by Israel and the Lobby in the most polite and factual terms possible. Spent a great deal of time at his website Washington Note and saw him lead a couple of conferences in DC the man is in many ways beyond measure with his pr skills. Communicated via emails with him quite a few times. He always answered this peasants questions etc with patience and brilliance. Am always amazed when hot shots like Clemons takes the time to communicate with the common folk.

      So exciting about Hagel’s nomination. Did not think Obama had the cajones to follow through on this one. The last hour on the Diane Rehm show focused on Obama’s second term team Hagel was talked about over and over again by the quest and callers. One of the guest talked about how Hagel had served in the military and knew the cost of war first hand unlike the Iraq warmongers “Cheney, Feith and Wolfowitz” called them out by name. Also talked about how General Jim Jones, Scowcrofts, Gates, and other heavy hitters who have come out in strong support of this nomination.

      Hope folks keep contacting their Reps and Obama in support of his nomination. The Hagel hearings are going to be a must watch. Schumer is sure to step in his own shit
      C

      • American says:

        kathleen,

        I remember you from TNW and agree…Clemons was unusual in his willingness to communicate with his readers. Had a lot of patience with us..lol.

    • Shingo says:

      Good point Annie,

      When this quote was brought to my attention yesterday, I Googled it and came across Clomon’s article right away. An invaluable piece by him.

  3. MarkF says:

    Call your senator. I just called “My Friend Ben” Cardin’s office to voice support for President Obama’s choice for Hagel. The person said they are definitely taking a count from the constituents and took my email address for a response. She said they are letting him know about the calls.

  4. Taxi says:

    Wow the media is just loving Chuck’s long-legged story. Everybody and their uncle is talking ’bout Chucky today. But not the way the smearers want the chatter to go down. So much pro Hagel comments from ordinary citizens, paired with much cynicism towards aipac.

    Oooooh noooooo it’s an own-goal by aipac! Hahahaha!

    And here’s “The Real Reason Republicans Hate Hagel”:
    link to readersupportednews.org

  5. Mooser says:

    TPM reports that AIPAC has decided, finally, to “sit this one out”, and then later make demands on Obama, prefacing those demands with, ‘C’mon now, we let you have Hagel…’

  6. Citizen says:

    Isn’t it time for Obama to let loose in his main media arm to defend Hagel against these specific lies? So far the democratic defense of Obama’s choice in the mainstream media has been, at best, lukewarm for Hagel and his POV, which actually accords with the majority of Americans at this juncture. Nobody is spelling out how far from a balance of power strategy we’ve been conducting in the ME, nor just how bloated our military budget, spending is. When England ruled the waves its formula was to match its two biggest enemies in military spending. We spend way more than the current top half dozen military spenders, and all but two of them (China, Russia) are our long-time traditional allies. They always say military cuts won’t solve our debt problems as its “only 20%” of our spending. But we could do with half the sum we spend, and still spend way more than any country. And what’s wrong with putting diplomats to work first instead of last, or not at all? Why our guns and butter policy? It’s actually very out-dated.

  7. seethelight says:

    The Free Beacon (or Free Bacon, as it is better known in DC) is a Bill Kristol creation with only one purpose: smear and distort anything that Kristol doesn’t like. As for Adam Kredo, he’s a bottom feeder of the worst kind. If FB was a paper publication, you wouldn’t wrap fish in it or put it under the bird cage.

  8. munro says:

    “He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it’,” said Marsha Halteman, director for military and law enforcement programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

    Hagel didn’t say ‘Let the Jews pay for it’.

    In Halteman’s words:

    “He essentially told us that if we wanted to keep the USO [in Haifa] open—and when I say ‘we’, he meant ‘the Jews’—he said the Jews could pay for it,” said Halteman.

    But even that isn’t true. Hagel kept the Haifa operation open, expanding it in fact, while shuttering ten others in the Middle East region.

    “Hagel USO” search results:

    Hagel: “Let the Jews Pay for it”
    link to commentarymagazine.com

    Chuck Hagel told Israel Supporters: “Let the Jews Pay for It!”
    link to unitedjerusalem.org

    Chuck Hagel: “Let the Jews Pay for It!”
    link to jewishpress.com

    Hagel: ‘Let the Jews Pay for it’
    link to unitycoalitionforisrael.org

    Chuck Hagel: “Let The JOOOOOOOSE Pay For it!”
    link to yidwithlid.blogspot.com

    Hagel: ‘Let the Jews Pay For It’
    link to weeklystandard.com

    Obama pick: “Let the Jews Pay for it”
    link to tomohalloran.com

    Report: Hagel Worked to Shut Down USO Port in Haifa, Israel
    link to nationalreview.com

  9. basimz says:

    Like the death of Monalete, the Zionist Lobby is closer to the “bull” than ever !

    If Hagel goes down in defeat, the Lobby better dissolve or self-destruct.

    Better it than the Jews of Israel.

  10. Denis says:

    It’s a bit shocking that there would have ever been a USO in Haifa, or anywhere in Israel. Overseas they are usually restricted to major US ports and areas of major military operations like Iraq (4 USO centers) and Afghanistan (7 centers). I mean, the entire US 5th Fleet is HQ’d in Bahrain and there’s only one USO there. Haifa??

    But if there was a USO in Israel at one time, it’s gone now. I can find no indication at the USO website of any Israel USO operations back to at least 2009. I guess “the Jews” didn’t want to pay for it after all. lol

    Nothing more to see here, move along . . .

  11. hass says:

    Excuse me, but what’s wrong with saying “Let the Jews pay for it”, exactly? Doesn’t Israel define itself as the “Homeland of the Jews”? Don’t pro-Israel lobbyists insist that support for Israel is inherent in being Jewish, and that even Jews who criticize Israel are “Self-Hating Jews” … and yet anyone who says “The Jews” is an anti-Semite? Are we similarly not allowed to directly refer to “The Swedes” or “The Dutch”?

    • MRW says:

      Yeah, these circumlocutions are getting too tedious. Stephen had it right on another thread. It’s “It allows only two choices — support us or be exposed as an anti-Semite. Catch-22.” Which is a politer (!) version of Mooser’s 1, 2, 3, 4, FUs.

    • eGuard says:

      Maybe it was even more simple. Marsha Halteman interviewed for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). So when they talkend about the USO Haifa funding, Hagel could have said: “Well, if you want to keep HSO, you should fund it.” Nothing wrong so far, “you” can mean two correct things: Marsha or JINSA. Only afterwards did Marsha turn it into her interpretation.

    • American says:

      I sincerely doubt Hagel said it that crassly .
      Consider the source.

  12. Mooser says:

    “version of Mooser’s 1, 2, 3, 4,”

    Not mine, my dear MRW, I wish I could say it was, but the article was written by Gabriel Ash. I just flog the link around a lot.

  13. Before we all get too excited over the Chuck Hagel as the Messiah of the left, lets keep a few things in perspective.

    The pro-Israel lobby will now look to McCain, Lindsey Graham and Cornyn (all on the armed services committee) to lead the charge in an attempt to neuter Hagel. If Hagel backtracks significantly, then they have won a significant victory.

    Why was he nominated at all? Obama, and some sectors of America’s ruling elite, realize the status quo with the Palestinians is inherently unstable. Their will be a new intifada and renewed pounding of Gaza. That will inflame the Arab street, and could lead to the overthrow of the Saudi and Jordanian regimes. Obama wants stability, and that means Israeli concessions to Palestinian demands, not more settlements, not de facto apartheid.

    But by merely pressuring Israel, the U.S. is declaring the status quo to be untenable. That leads to an inconvenient truth: it is untenable because the Palestinians remain a subjugated people.

    Yes, the Hagel nomination is the opening shot in the attempt to push back against Bibi. Even liberal Zionists like Tzipi Livni realize Israel’s policy of annexation combined with ghettoization is unstable for the simple reason that Israel’s Jews will be ruling over an Arab majority. But they have no alternative because removal of any but a tiny fraction of the settlers would trigger a civil war.

    I am not one of those who puts any hope in liberal Zionism (or Barak Obama) to resolve the conflict with a just and lasting peace.

  14. bijou says:

    Think about the fact that on an Israeli passport, one is not identified as an “Israeli” but rather as a “Jew” or an “Arab.” This is how they CHOOSE to self-designate as NATIONALS. So now if an American uses the same terminology he is anti-Semitic???

  15. RE: “So the long and short of it is that that Kredo’s and Halteman’s smear against Hagel is false.” ~ Alex Kane

    MY COMMENT: So what if it’s false! ! !
    “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but facts will never sway
    us.”
    ~ Neocon Creed