Jury Out on Hagel

Local leaders question Sen. Chuck Hagel’s views, but are yet to discount him as defense secretary.   Olivier Douliery/MCT/Newscom
Local leaders question Sen. Chuck Hagel’s views, but are yet to discount him as defense secretary.
Olivier Douliery/MCT/Newscom

Jewish groups nationally are div-ided while others are taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding the nomination of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. Local leaders appear to reflect a guarded approach yet question Hagel’s views on Iran.

“Obviously the Jewish community has some concerns,” said Baltimore Jewish Coalition Executive Director Dr. Arthur Abramson. “I think the primary concern has to do with his attitudes on dealing with Iran, which certainly presents an existential threat to Israel. We expect the Senate’s due diligence, which is to ask key questions [to see] that his views are in concert with the best interests of American foreign policy.”

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin of Agudath Israel of Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic believes that Hagel will not be “crafting U.S. policy. That’s the president’s job.”

He noted that President Barack Obama has been very strong in his recent support for Israel. However, Rabbi Sadwin acknowledged that “some of Hagel’s statements have been troubling on Israel, Iran and global peace.”

Brian Sacks, president of the Baltimore Zionist District, said Hagel’s nomination is “disappointing given his slanderous, bordering on anti-Semitic comments regarding Israel and American Jews. However, what should be of real concern is his voting record regarding a nuclear Iran and Hamas.”

Sacks questioned why Obama chose such a polarizing figure.

Hagel’s positions on Iran also are weighing heavily on BZD Vice President Jay Bernstein, who noted Hagel’s opposition to sanctions against Iran and a potential military option against Iran.

“Not only are these positions wrong as a matter of policy, but they are contrary to President Obama’s own stated positions,” he said.

BZD’s Executive Director Fran Sonnenschein noted Obama’s “unquestionable support for Israel, but I do feel that Hagel’s track record lends for concern.”

Aaron Levin, co-chair of J Street Baltimore, said, “J Street supports the nomination. Hagel’s experience as a soldier and a senator have given him a deep insight into both the best uses and the inherent limitations of American military power in addressing the 21st century’s many challenges. Chuck Hagel has also demonstrated that he is committed to Israel’s security and its future as a democratic state with a Jewish majority living in peace with its neighbors.”

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, hopes to meet with his former colleague so he can explain his “current thinking on the future state and scope of our military, relationships with our allies, including Israel, and how he believes we should address challenges to our national security like Iran.”

In an interview with CNN, Cardin said that while agreeing with Hagel on some positions, he too wanted to learn more about Hagel’s position on Iran. He has been “very reluctant to support tough sanctions against Iran,” Cardin said.

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