It seems natural for me to wade into the swamp of accusations about Chuck Hagel’s feelings toward “the Jews,” given that I write a fair amount about anti-Semitism and because I’m a Jew living in Nebraska.
Still, I hesitated.
In no small part, my hesitation was due to a desire not to offend friends and also because I’m quite sure there’s a great deal about Hagel that I — as someone who only moved to Nebraska in August 2007 — simply don’t know.
Still, I have to say something because it’s been weighing on me. So here’s the thing that I’ll say:
All of the allegations against Hagel that I have seen have to do with his position on America’s relationship with Israel and there is a general mistake that people — including Jews — are prone to make, namely that one’s position on Israel equates with one’s position on Jews.
That this is a mistake should be clear and obvious: There are plenty of Christians who insist on American support for Israel not because they like or support Jews but because they understand the existence of Israel to have some important role to play in the end of the world. And there are plenty of people around the world who don’t particularly like the direction in which the government of Israel has been moving (with regard to the peace process, to immigrants, to the role of religion in the public sphere, and so on) who nonetheles very much like and support Jews.
But we will continue to make this mistake as long as it’s considered inappropriate to ask questions about the bellicosity of Israel’s current government, about the seeming lack of interest in peace with the Palestinians, or about the way in which the United States traditionally supports Israeli policies virtually without question.
That Chuck Hagel doesn’t see eye-to-eye with some Jews in Nebraska and with the GOP more broadly on the question of America’s blank check relationship with Israel does not make him an anti-Semite.
There might be other reasons to believe that he is, but I have not seen them. Since I have many friends and colleagues here in Nebraska who read this blog — including many Jews from Lincoln and Omaha — I’m very hopeful to start a conversation on this topic, to hear from you some of your experiences with Hagel over the years, and to learn whether or not my diagnosis of this issue — controversial though it might be — is accurate.