It’s in that context that Hagel’s 1989 effort to shut it down, and his comments when doing so, become problematic. A meeting with officials of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which sought to keep USO Haifa open, was described by Marsha Halteman of JINSA to the Washington Free Beacon.
“He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it.’ He essentially told us that if we wanted to keep the USO [in Haifa] open—and when I say ‘we,’ he meant ‘the Jews’—he said the Jews could pay for it. I told him at the time that I found his comments to be anti-Semitic.”
That’s precisely what the Senate Armed Services Committee should be wondering, too. They ought to call as witnesses some of the Nebraska Jewish leaders who recall Hagel as a man hostile to their community and ask why they formed that conclusion. They ought to call those who attended the USO meeting where Hagel said, “Let the Jews pay for it,” and ask about his demeanor at that session. That the USO had budget problems is clear, but what other locations did Hagel seek to close? Did he ever suggest that the Japanese or Germans or Emiratis or Italians pay for a USO site? Did he ever suggest that Italian-Americans or Japanese-Americans pay for USO facilities overseas? Did he ever try, in good faith and without bigotry, to work with the American Jewish community and the government of Israel to see if, in fact, additional private support could be found for the immensely popular Haifa site—or did he just say, “Let the Jews pay for it,” with the hostility recalled by Nebraskan Jews?