A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Even Tom Friedman gets it right

"If ever Israel needed a U.S. defense secretary who was committed to Israels survival, as Hagel has repeatedly stated but who was convinced that ensuring that survival didnt mean having America go along with Israels self-destructive drift into settling the West Bank and obviating a two-state solution it is now."Headline: "Give Chuck a Chance."Another Headline: What's at Stake in the Hagel Affair? "The real meaning of the Hagel affair is what it says about the climate inside Washington. Simply put, the question is whether supine and reflexive support for all things Israeli remains a prerequisite for important policy positions here in the Land of the Free. Given America's track record in the region in recent decades, you'd think a more open debate on U.S. policy would be just what the country needs, both for its own sake and for Israel's. But because the case for the current "special relationship" of unconditional support is so weak, the last thing that hardliners like Bill Kristol or Elliot Abrams want is an open debate on that subject. If Hagel gets appointed, it means other people in Washington might realize they could say what they really think without fear that their careers will be destroyed. And once that happens, who knows where it might lead? It might even lead to a Middle East policy that actually worked! We wouldn't want that now, would we?"MJ Rosenberg weighs in. Not for the faint of heart!Bernard Avishai invites Americans to stop supporting the policies of West Bank fanatics. Hold onto your hats (and your mittens).And just to round things out Connie Bruck at the New Yorker, "Chuck Hagel and His Enemies." She quotes New York Congressmen Gary Ackerman: You know, not everybody who disagrees with Israels policies is anti-Semitic, otherwise half the Jewish population of Israel would be anti-Semitic! 

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

It's unfortunate that the comment posted by "Jeff" has disappeared. It was not off-topic and it was not disrespectful. It should have been allowed to stand.

Frank Gibbons: Thank you for your words of support. I have twice posted it and it has twice disappeared, so I guess its no accident or glitch. As you say, it met the ground rules for comment, so there's no reason to remove it. Perhaps, I'm being banished.

An tiarna tugann s an Tiarna a thgann s ar shil.

Maybe this is off topic, but I saw this in the news from Human Rights Watch - "Palestinian Rockets Unlawfully Targeted Israeli Civilian" ...

Agree, Frank. I saw your comment, Jeff, and was impressed by it.

Jim McCrea: Are we going to have a translation from the Gaelic? Or is it Hebrew?

(Arabic.)(The Editor giveth, and the Editor taketh away. Question ye not intolerance of dissenting views.)

Agreed, Frank, Crystal and Gerelyn. Jeff wrote a well-written comment that meets dotC's guidelines in every respect I can see.I believe Ms. Steinfels is depriving this thread of valuable input. I hope she reconsiders so all may judge for himself or herself.

oops --- "for themselves."I am off to recover from a malfunctioning GI system before the power may go out in an upcoming winter storm.

Jeff: now I am curious to see it. Would you be willing to email it to me?

Thanks for the links Ms. Steinfels. It's nice to see the American media begin to shift.

I have to agree with the others. You'd think a more open debate would be supported here, especially following a post advocating for a more open debate in general. But at least it is thanks to Margaret Steinfels that there are some threads about Israel at all.

Just to clarify: Many of my posts try to talk about the United States and our military, diplomatic, economic, and political policies vis a vis Israel. The defensiveness of many comments here and on other such posts suggest that we cannot talk about those policies lest questions are raised about their merit both for the United States and for Israel. It seems that we can only talk about Israel and its "enemies," the Palestinians, the Iranians, Hezbollah, Hamas (for the moment the Turks and maybe the Egyptians). Such defensiveness may seem appropriate, in fact, it obviously does to some. But denial and avoidance are not going to get the United States or Israel anywhere.The rumored appointment of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense has displayed all the troubling qualities of our government's relationship with Israel, specifically the Senate and the Executive. Mr. Hagel's modest claim that he represented the United Sates in the U.S. Senate, and not Israel, would be unexceptional on practically any other issue (okay, maybe not Cuba). The storm that has descended on the man (see the ad in today's NYTimes, 12/27), and the opposition to his appointment has, as many journalists, columnists, and opinionators have observed, simply confirmed the reality of the Israeli Lobby and its influence and impact on our policies toward Israel and in the Middle East. Tom Friedman suggests that the policies of Israel's current government are suicidal and that U.S. policies are complicit in that. Are we concerned about that? Or should we continue to avoid and deny?Some other time, I will dilate on the editorial function of gatekeeping.

With respect, denial and avoidance are in the eye of the beholder. There is a whole other side to this conflict that does not receive expression in your posts. To express disappointment in those whose comments point out this other side, and in my case, to delete the comment so that others cannot judge for themselves the merits of the respective positions is not the route to go.

If you want to discuss the appointment (reputed) of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense and the reasons he has been either pilloried or shown to be an unsuitable appointment, please go ahead. If you want to go on about Israel and the Palestinians, Gaza, West Bank, etc. why not wait until that topic comes up?As to the "whole other side," that is the daily fare in the media; it's not as if it doesn't get a hearing.

Jeff, I have been sitting this out, but I did see your initial comment. It had some merit. It certainly represented a legitimate position which must be considered in thinking about what the United States should be doing about Israel, although, as I read it, it was, as usual, more about what Israel thinks it must do about itself.The parenthetical "as usual" is my point. I could have written what you wrote, and if I needed to research any particular point, I could have done so from the past week's papers piled up in the garage for recycling. That Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood and all the historical examples, and all the latest examples, and all the stupid political sayings of the politicians whose publics hate Israel are fully covered, recovered and iterated regularly. Margaret Steinfels is trying to get beyond what we can all repeat in our sleep. Even if most of it is true, there is another perspective that also must be considered when thinking about what the United States should be doing about Israel.

As usual, there are two sides to this brouhaha. I say when in doubt go with free speech. It is often unfair, unwise, irrelevant, boring, repetitive, rude, whatever. But eventually it will show itself to be wrong.

Ann: I don't take Jeff & Company to be necessarily wrong (or right); he (they) seems unwilling to discuss the topic at hand. And my long observation of brouhahas is that there are almost more than two sides and some of them are usually off the cliff.

Margaret: The short quote of Tom Friedman that you posted expressed his opinion, an opinion of which he said Hagel was also convinced, that [Israels] survival didnt mean having America go along with Israels self-destructive drift into settling the West Bank and obviating a two-state solution." The whole point of my comment was to state that Friedman and Hagels analysis was all wrong that Israel is behaving in a rational, not self-destructive, manner and that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who have abandoned the two-state solution. Im sure you disagree with this, but I dont see how you can claim that it is not relevant to what you posted. It is as directly relevant as relevant can be. Seven people (including myself) have expressed their opinion that my comment should have been allowed to stand. By eliminating it, you have turned your post into a debate on the elimination of my comment, rather than your post. Im sure thats not what you wanted. By any measure I know of, you should have let it stand.

Tom, I can recite in my sleep most of the points that Ms. Steinfels makes, including the ones here that Israel is acting in a self destructive manner, that real friends of Israel will oppose these policies and put a stop to them, and so on. I dont agree with all of Israels policies and have said so. But almost all [all?] of Ms. Steinfels posts are ones that blame Israel. In this respect, she isn't moving beyond anything, but is deeply mired in a well-known, oft-repeated analysis that other people disagree with. The wisest course is to permit both sides to be expressed and let people judge for themselves. Although I have often been critical of the substance of posts and comments, I have never advocated that any should be eliminated. Dont you find it strange that you and I and others are discussing a comment that we cant read because it has been erased?

Ms. Steinfels actually blames the United States government (Senate and Executive mostly, but you can throw in parts of the State Department) for its uncritical and unswerving support of Israel, which is, as is often said here, a sovereign nation. If Israel is on a course of self-destruction, we might say that that's its responsibility (maybe some would say that's its right). Why should the United States (also a sovereign nation) cooperate in that policy? Appointing as Secretary of Defense, a man who supports Israel and yet has said the United States ought to maintain its distance from some of those policies (brought to a head under the current government), seems a position we should welcome.

The reason I usually comment on these posts is not that I have new exciting information to share, but that they are always about Israel (no other countries receive such scrutiny) and always negative (which makes me want to give a minority opinion).

Jeff wrote, "Seven people (including myself) have expressed their opinion that my comment should have been allowed to stand."What happened to Commonweal's vaunted defense of "Sensus Fidelium?"

Margaret: You have just proved my point. You say that the United States and its Secretary of Defense should not cooperate in Israel's bad policies. If you are wrong about those policies, you are also wrong about what course the United States and its Secretary of Defense should pursue. My comment, the one you won't let anyone read, asserted that you were wrong in important, material respects.And isn't it your position that the U.S. should not merely refuse to cooperate in certain policies, but should actively oppose them by bringing pressure to bear on Israel, by eliminating or reducing aid to Israel and so on?

"The whole point of my comment was to state that Friedman and Hagels analysis was all wrong that Israel is behaving in a rational, not self-destructive, manner and . . . "Jeff --This is a clear example of what Ms. S. is objecting to -- your "whole point" is about Israel, not about Hagel. You do finally get down to talking about him in your next post. That's an improvement. But if you just use him an excuse to talk about the whole history of Israel again and agin and again, people are not going to pay attention to you, already knowing what you think.

Actually, Jeff, your deleted comment and the post are not contradictory: she claims that "drifting into settling the West Bank and obviating a two-state solution" is self-destructive, you claim that ending the occupation in the West Bank would be suicidal. It could be that you're both right, and that Israel is doomed either way.That's the implicit message that some of my Israeli friends are communicating to me: they don't see any hope for the future of their country any more, so they have finally stopped arguing about it. Instead, like the musicians on the Titanic, they merely try to enjoy the good life in Tel-Aviv while it lasts. The beach is lovely, the restaurants are excellent, the night clubs are lively, and the musical and artistic shows are outstanding.

Gen. George C. Marshall was a great American who organized a constabulary to fight a global war, then as Secretary of State organized a battered Europe so it could get back on its feet. He did a lot of other things, including making FDR call him "General" when the world-class charmer tried to get on a "George" basis with him. Republicans threw a ton of tar at him, and none stuck. He certainly had more gravitas than anyone we have running around in Washington these days.Long C.V. short, the guy was something special. But he opposed giving recognition to Israel in 1948. He said if we did, there would be a war in the Mideast. (He was right about that.) Truman, correctly (in the view of most historians), overruled him. I suppose Marshall would be unacceptable today to the lesser wits that shriek policy recommendations in the nation's capital.

I used to be deleted fairly often. Now I try to trim some of my comments so that they just skirt the boundaries of what's acceptable at dotcom without stepping over that boundary. I've learned that what can be said in defense of Israel is pretty narrowly circumscribed by the Grand Deletor.

MOS: it is in the Irish. You know, the Laird takes away what the Laird gives. (I couldn't find a translation in Scots).Unfortunately, what is so-often "acceptable" @ dotcom would have gotten my butt paddled more than once it I tried it with my mother. And, yes, I'm as guilty as some of the rest of us.

Ann, With respect to your point that I talk about the same things all the time, in my defense I would say that anyone who comments about Israel a lot, as I do, is going to be repetitious. Suppose that someone took the position that all this talk about settlements and occupation has gone on too long. That Ms. Steinfels and others want to talk about them again, and again and again. And that all this talk about them has become tiresome and boring because we already know what these people think about them so why keep repeating it. That what we should be talking about are more interesting topics concerning Israel like how much Israelis have made out of themselves and their country during the last 65 years and how theyve done this in the face of terrible obstacles like the historical and current rejection by Palestinians of the right of Israel to exist, or the wars waged by the Palestinians and/or surrounding Arab countries to destroy Israel, or the terror campaigns waged against Israel or the like. Would you go along with that excluding all this boring, repetitious talk about settlements and occupation so we could focus on what some of the rest of us find interesting? I doubt it. And I wouldnt advocate it. But it works the other way around, too. All these views deserve to be aired and none should be excluded. Otherwise, all you have is an echo chamber.

Ann, You criticize my comment because it was all about Israel and not about Hagel. But the initial post was all about Hagels view of Israel. If it was about Hagels view of Bolivia and I posted a comment about Israel, I would understand your criticism. But when a post asserts that Hagel would be a good Secretary of Defense because he wouldnt go along with Israels self-destructive conduct and Israels obviating the two state solution, is one forbidden from pointing out that Israel is engaging in rational, not self-destructive, conduct, and that it is not Israel that is obviating the two-state solution, its the Palestinians? You point out that my comment did not mention Hagel. Since my comment focused on the point about Israels alleged self-destructive conduct and its allegedly obviating the two-state solution, I thought the connection with the initial post was clear enough. But allow me to take your advice and modify my comment to make the connection with the initial post clearer. I will post it in a separate comment.

This is a modified version of my comment, the one that has been deleted. Although I thought the connection between my comment and the post that quotes Tom Friedman was clear, Ive made it even clearer here. Lets see if this passes muster. Tom Friedman says that we need a Secretary of Defense like Hagel who would not go along with Israels self-destructive conduct because it is obviating the two-state solution. But Israel is not engaging in self-destructive conduct, it is acting rationally, and Israel is not the party that is obviating the two-state solution. The Palestinians are. Insofar as the United States relationship with Israel is concerned, we need a Secretary of Defense who recognizes this. After all, Friedman himself says that Israel is surrounded by more implacable enemies than ever and needs and deserves Americas backing, and that Hamas is dedicated to Israels destruction and has been a disaster for the Palestinians. The reason that hardliners are now governing Israel is because the Israeli public is electing them. This is not because Israelis have collectively gone mad or are a self-destructive people. It is because Israelis, as opinion polls have all shown, have ceased to believe the Palestinians have any intention of making peace with them. And why have Israelis come to believe this? Its because at Camp David in 2000 Arafat showed he had no interest in peace. And because of the follow-on bombing campaign against Israeli civilian buses, restaurants, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Over 1,000 Israelis have been killed since 2000, including approximately 150 children.And because, just as the hardliners predicted, ending occupation and settlements in Gaza did not result in a more peaceful neighbor to its west, but in a bitter enemy determined to use Gaza as a more effective staging ground for attacking Israel proper, whose destruction is its official policy. And because, just as the hardliners predicted, the withdrawal from southern Lebanon did not result in a more peaceful neighbor to its north, but to an Iranian cats paw Hezbollah -- bristling with advanced rocketry aimed at Israel and also sworn to its destruction. And because of Iran itself, calling for Israel to be wiped from the face of the globe, hell bent for nuclear weapons.The portion of the West Bank still occupied by Israel is permitted by, and governed by, the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel cannot afford another Gaza in the West Bank. It will not end this occupation except as part of a comprehensive negotiated peace with the Palestinians. This is not madness or self-destructive behavior. It is common sense. Insofar as the United States relationship with Israel is concerned, we need a Secretary of Defense who recognizes this and acts on it.

Jeff, thank you for persisting.

But I do think the question for Americans is not whether our Defense Secretary is good for Israel, but whether he is good for America. Whatever Israel's reasons for putting hardliners in power, we still need to ask ourselves whether it is in our interest to back or to oppose that kind of regime. I, for one, am somewhat comforted that the ultraright in America are going after the nominee; I would be more distressed if they enthusiastically supported him. Unfortunately, Obama doesn't seem very good at backing up his own people, though, so these kind of attacks on cabinet nominees have more traction than they would under a stronger leader.

It is fine, acceptable and necessary to conduct a debate on past and present positions and policy preferences of a candidate to be Secretary of Defense. It is, however, quite another thing to tag, brand, defame and distort his record. It is even worse to do what some, hiding behind the anonymity of 'Concerned Jewish Leaders' or 'The Pro-Israel Community,' have done: labeling Hagel as Anti-Israeli, and then stepping it up, almost casually, as an Anti-Semite. Chuck Hagel is neither: He is not anti-Israeli and he is not an anti-Semite. In fact, if I were him I would lodge a complaint with the Anti-Defamation League, asking their assistance and support for being unfairly called an anti-semite,- Alon Pinkas, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Then, of course, there is this little matter:'d like him to explain what being "aggressively gay" means. I suspect that he thinks that anyone who is out is "aggressively gay."That's it ... I'm outta here for 2 weeks. Fight the good fights. Spare the rod; spoil the children.

JM: Off to the West Bank? Keep us posted.... Off topic: imo, would you agree that as impolitic as Hagel's words now seem about Hormel (of the Chicago meat-packing family???) isn't it exactly what the other 99 Senators thought? 100 years ago, Hillary Clinton would never have been appointed S of S, you know how unreliable and prone to fainting women are!!! Wouldn't want one of them for the ambassador to Luxembourg!

Irene Baldwin has put the matter succinctly: "But I do think the question for Americans is not whether our Defense Secretary is good for Israel, but whether he is good for America. Whatever Israels reasons for putting hardliners in power, we still need to ask ourselves whether it is in our interest to back or to oppose that kind of regime."

I finally read some of the articles mentioned and now have a question. Why are liberals supporting a republican candidate for the secretary of defense? Doesn't it matter that he voted against the repeal of don't ask don't tell yet will be expected as defense secretary to oversee the repeal's implementation? As a republican, I can only imagine he may have other views incompatible with a democratic agenda. Is his stance on Israel/Iran really enough reason to support him?

Crystal --In times past it wasn't unusual for an administration to include people of the other party if it was thought they were qualified. It was called "bipartisanship".

I know bipartisanship is important, especially when you need both parties to confirm an appointment. But isn't the reason many liberals like Hagel not bipartisanship but that his views on Israel/Iran are theirs as well?

"I finally read some of the articles mentioned and now have a question. Why are liberals supporting a republican candidate for the secretary of defense? "What Hagel has to appeal to liberals is that, a veteran himself, he urged restraint with Iran, when others were eager to demonize it, and he was also a critic of the Iraq war when hardly anybody else in Congress was. That is what appeals to (at least some) liberals. I'm a liberal, and I want us out of these wars we started. I would like a Defense Secretary that will help us accomplish that and help us not start any new ones. I would prefer a Democrat, but this President is a conservative himself who makes conservative appointments; this is what we got when the American people elected Obama.

How liberal is President Obama? Irene Baldwin sees him as a conservative, and relative to Clinton, Carter, and Johnson, she's right. Relative to today's political landscape, he's probably the best liberals could do in electing a president. Perhaps more than many of his predecessors, he seems to want cabinet members who know the territory and know how to run huge federal departments. His Transportation Secretary, Roy LaHood is a Republican. In other words, he may not be wedded to strictly party appointments.In 2008, he kept Republican Robert Gates, Republican and Bush appointee, on as Secretary of Defense. His current plan naming Kerry to State and reportedly Hagel to Defense would have seemed a way to finesse the "advise and consent" power of the Senate. The Club would have been unlikely to vote against its own. Hagel served on several foreign relation sub-committees when in the Senate, he served in Vietnam, and he seems to have a great interest in military and foreign affairs (perhaps more so than the current Secretary, Leon Panetta, when he took the job).Given the nation's war weariness and economic fragility, Hagel would seem to be a moderate capable of running the Defense Department at a time of budget cuts. His credentials as a war hero would seem to have protected him from Republican attacks that he was soft on defense. His reputed appointment seemed to make sense given the extreme muddle of our current politics. The attacks on his modest demurs from policy toward Iraq, Israel, and Iran probably came as a surprise to the president who after all opposed the war in Iraq, is resisting war with Iran, and seems to have thrown his hands up over Israel (despite approving generous economic and military benefits).If Obama caves on this, I think he will have undermined his credibility and authority across the political spectrum.

Obama's lean towards the right really shouldn't surprise us too much. Most black Americans come from Southern backgrounds, i.e., conservative, mainly Southern Baptist ones except in the matter of integration. Granted, African-Americans now are dispersed across the whole country, but background has a way of persisting across generations. Obama's background is extremely complex. He was not raised in an African-American home, but from adolescence on he seems to have identified with that culture.

President Obama's steps away from war should not be minimized. He's gotten us out of Iraq, as promised, notwithstanding criticism. He's set a deadline for exiting Afghanistan despite criticism. He kept our role in Libya to a minimum despite criticism. He's refused so far to get us actively involved in Syria despite criticism.And he's united most of the world in economic sanctions against Iran to try to convince it to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but he's also kept the military option on the table in the event the sanctions don't work. He is perhaps surprised to be accused of being too warlike because of this strategy. As for Israel, I don't know whether he's thrown up his hands or not, but if he has it may be just as much because of the Palestinians' refusal to enter into settlement negotiations as for anything Israel has done.

Thanks everyone for the answers to my question.

Jeff ==I agree that Obama's handling of foreign affairs has been particularly good, and in particularly difficult circumstances. I think Hillary also should be complimented for her low-key but effective performance as Secretary of State.

FYI: Not just liberals, whoever they may be: Patrick Buchanan supports Hagel's appointment:"If Obama does not want that war, he is going to have to defeat the war party. Throwing an old warrior like Chuck Hagel over the side to appease these wolves is not the way to begin this fight.Nominate him, Mr. President. Lets get it on."

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment