Remember When Chuck Hagel Voted for AIPAC-Supported John Bolton?

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hagel twn clemons dc.jpgChuck Hagel voted in favor of John Bolton's nomination before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This is important history as many attempting to sabotage Hagel's potential nomination as secretary of defense are hyping his reticence about unilateral sanctions against rogue nations and his refusal to jump on a couple of hug-Israel resolutions. 

The Bolton nomination was important because it was a high priority "get" by the hawkish wing of the hug-Israel-tightly lobby. I worked hard then, in 2005, against Bolton's nomination by President George W. Bush because I saw Bolton as the vanguard of an emergent class of Jesse Helms-inspired pugnacious nationalists who had deep disdain for and resentment against international institutions and treaties. Their paranoia about the UN has led to moments like the recent Senate rejection of the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities.

Those who see being pro-Israel as giving in to an emotionalism that draws no lines at disruptive and reckless Israeli behavior wanted John Bolton badly, and I did my best to sway Chuck Hagel on his vote. I failed. Hagel voted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in favor of Bolton -- while Ohio Republican George Voinovich refused to endorse.

In later stages of the John Bolton battle, Senator Chuck Schumer made the statement in a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting that "a vote against Bolton was a vote against Israel." Schumer, who strongly supported Bolton, was wrong on that front. Every U.S. ambassador to the UN has been a friend to Israel and has been supportive of Israel's security interests. Every U.S. president has been supportive of Israel's core security interests -- but there are legitimate differences on what pro-Israel means. 

Avigdor Lieberman, until this week Israel's foreign minister, has a history of making disgusting, bigoted comments about Palestinians and Arabs. He is a disgrace to Israel -- and I find it objectionable that he sat in the Israeli cabinet at the right hand of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. My stating that I find one, or even a few, of the leaders of Israel to be short-sighted, wrong-headed, and ultimately reckless about the security and interests of their own nation does not make me or anyone an anti-Semite or anti-Israel. I had respect for Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni -- and have grown to respect a number of the positions of Ariel Sharon. 

But Chuck Hagel voted for John Bolton, who just before his appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that there is no moral equivalence between innocents killed in Lebanon during Israel's strike there and those Israelis who may have been killed by Hezbollah incursions into Israel. Again, I'm disgusted by what were Bolton's public remarks -- which the State Department had the good sense to excise from his testimony moments before he gave it (issuing one set of remarks with the statements and then another without).

But Chuck Hagel voted for the guy Chuck Schumer wanted. And that AIPAC wanted. And that Israel itself no doubt wanted.

Bolton got a recess appointment -- but he never got his confirmation vote. And who was the block on this great friend of Israel and anti-United Nations crusader? 

Not Chuck Hagel. Try Senator Joseph Lieberman, who refused to vote in favor of cloture because the executive branch would not share vital but classified information with Congress -- either in the base-relocation debate or in the Bolton case. Then-Senator Lincoln Chafee gave another assist at the final stage of the battle -- but the three senators who got in the way of the AIPAC-desired John Bolton were George Voinovich, Joseph Lieberman, and Lincoln Chafee.

Not Chuck Hagel. 

Hagel's instabake critics need to read up on some history and some facts about the man. It's irresponsible of the Wall Street Journal and other publications to cast around the slanderous accusation of anti-Semitism, which is akin to bigotry and racism, when there are legitimate policy differences about Israel policy involved. 

Hagel has been a steadfast supporter of Israel and its interests -- and has been the kind of friend to step back and not support Israel's U.S. congressional machinery when it is hyperventilating in ways that hurt it. 

Hagel is a genuine friend of Israel's long-term interests and believes that the status quo in Israel today is undermining Israel's status as a democratic and Jewish state. Controversial statement? Just about every responsible Israeli political official has said exactly the same.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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