The most depressing aspect of Hagel’s nomination is not his severe case of Vietnam Syndrome and not even some of his foreign policy views. It’s been the unremitting and underhanded attack on him, especially the imputation of anti-Semitism. In fact, he could be the necessary corrective to the Netanyahu government’s expectation that anything Israel wants from Washington it’s entitled to get. Nothing Hagel has said about Israel is not said in the Israeli press on a daily basis. Trust me: By the Wall Street Journal’s standards, Israeli media would be deeply anti-Semitic.
I thought the day had long passed when a skeptical attitude toward this or that Israeli policy would trigger charges of anti-Semitism. The accusation is so powerful — so freighted with images of the Holocaust — that it tends to silence all but the bravest or the most foolish. Israeli policy of late has been denounced by some steadfast champions of the Jewish state — the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman or the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier, for example — so being caustically critical is hardly evidence of anti-Semitism. Rather, it can be a sign of good judgment, not to mention a caring regard for the aspirations of Zionism.
The article that implied Hagel was a touch anti-Semitic was headlined “Chuck Hagel’s Jewish Problem” and suggested that Hagel’s statement that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here” in Congress had “the odor” of prejudice. A PC sort of guy might have put things more delicately: If there is an odor here, however, it is not the rancid stench of anti-Semitism but instead of character assassination.