Skip to main content

Chuck Hagel is a friend to Israel

By Aryeh Azriel, Special to CNN
updated 7:30 AM EST, Mon January 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chuck Hagel's nomination has been criticized on issue of support for Israel
  • Nebraska Rabbi Aryeh Azriel says he's long seen Hagel's backing for Israel
  • He says critics of Hagel are grasping at straws to question his views
  • Azriel: Critics are wrong to hurl charges of anti-Semitism against Hagel

Editor's note: Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, born and raised in Tel Aviv, has been the senior rabbi at Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska, since 1988.

(CNN) -- It's clear from the coverage of the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel for the 24th secretary of defense that many of those opposing him do not know him personally, as I do. The facts speak for themselves: His record shows strong support for Israel.

As a person who grew up in Israel and now as a rabbi in our home state of Nebraska for the past 25 years, I have found a great love in Chuck's heart for the Israeli people and their desire to live in peace and security. In numerous encounters, I was enthralled with the depth of his knowledge, the strength of his convictions, the integrity of his character and the honesty in his search for peace.

Rabbi Aryeh Azriel
Rabbi Aryeh Azriel

Take the matter of recent accusations against him, which say that as president of the United Services Organization in the late 1980s, Chuck went on a crusade to close a USO post in the Israeli port city of Haifa. An organization most associated with Bob Hope, the USO is a private, nonprofit whose mission is to support American troops by providing morale, welfare and recreation-type services.

Chuck's tenure there is remembered for turning around a financially troubled organization and bringing it back to fiscal health in the lead up to Operation Desert Storm. When Atlantic magazine recently conducted an investigative report, both the longtime director of the USO mission in Haifa and a former commander in chief of the Israeli Navy came to his defense.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Reversing the fortunes of a near-bankrupt organization requires making tough choices, and there may have been some logic in closing that outpost, but in this case, the Haifa operation was kept open and 10 other operations were closed in the Mediterranean. In fact, it was not until 2002, near the end of Chuck's first term in the U.S. Senate, that the USO's Haifa office was closed.

Ari Fleischer: Hagel is wrong on why U.S. supports Israel

Others have pointed out that as a U.S. senator, he opposed sanctions against Iran, an example frequently used to show that he was not being supportive of Israel.

McCain's 'serious concerns' about Hagel
Iran cheers Hagel nomination
Hagel tapped for Defense Secretary
Chuck Hagel's controversial nomination

Iran has been on my mind for a long time. The danger is clear for the security of Israel and the entire Middle East. But I know Chuck's preference is for multilateral sanctions over unilateral sanctions, and what's wrong with that?

Cuba is a prime example of decades of unilateral sanctions not working. Americans need only go to cities on or near the Canadian border such as Windsor, Niagara Falls and Vancouver to purchase the famed Cuban cigars.

But when dealing with Iran, we do not have decades to wait the regime out. The danger is real. The consequences are overwhelming. Like Chuck, I would rather have the world powers behind a united effort to stop and reverse the nuclear ambitions of Iran's leadership.

I use these two examples to show that accusations against him of being anti-Semitic and not being supportive of Israel are groundless.

As a student of world history in general and Jewish history in particular and as one who knows and abhors anti-Semitism, I think it cheapens the lives and the memories of my people when the label is attached and used on someone who may not share the same policy views as those opposing his nomination.

It is despicable and revolting when name-calling becomes more important than the substance at hand. We, all children created in God's image, need to be extremely careful in uttering words that hurt and make sure to introduce only words that heal.

Indeed, a real friend of anyone, including Israel, is supposed to be frank and offer counsel, especially when there is so much at stake.

Finally, American support for Israel is best when it is bipartisan, as it has been historically. Recent efforts to smear Chuck get us further away from support for Israel being a bipartisan issue, and ultimately that hurts the long-term security of the state of Israel.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Aryeh Azriel.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT