Former senator Chuck Hagel will face tough questions on Israel and its enemies if nominated for defense secretary, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the House Armed Services Committee on Sunday.
“He is an antagonistic figure toward the State of Israel,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union.
Citing some of Hagel’s expressed opinions on Israel, Iran and Afghanistan, Graham declined to say whether he would be willing to join a fillibuster to block the expected nomination.
“The hearings will matter,” said Graham. “He can set some of this straight. Maybe some of his statements were taken out of context. But when you put them together he is antagonistic toward the State of Israel and the issues we jointly face.
“There is no Jewish lobby, there is a pro-Israel lobby.”
Graham said Hagel was soft on terrorist groups faced by Israel and the United States. “To ask Israel to meet with Hamas, which is trying to kill Israeli children? Not to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization? And to be so wrong on Afghanistan? This is probably going to be a bridge too far for me and other people.”
Multiple sources in the national security and foreign policy communities, including two close to Hagel, confirmed reports Friday by NBC, Foreign Policy and Newsweek that Obama was posed to name Hagel to the post as early as next week.
White House officials have told media that it would be premature to confirm such a decision.
Hagel’s front-runner status as replacement for Leon Panetta has stirred controversy in recent weeks.
The Republican, who served in the Senate from 1997-2008, has described the pro-Israel lobby as intimidating and has said he resisted its overtures because he was a senator for the United States and not for Israel.
He also has expressed reservations about a military strike on Iran and has called for some level of engagement with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
That has sparked concern among some centrist and right wing pro-Israel groups.
JTA has confirmed that American Jewish Committee chapters are writing to U.S. senators urging them to press Obama to name someone else to the post, noting particularly Hagel’s postures on Iran and terrorist groups but also his resistance to joining in letters and non-binding resolutions favored by Jewish and pro-Israel groups.
Hagel has called such non-binding initiatives “stupid.”
“Based on Hagel’s record, we have been expressing concerns about the possibility of his nomination and questions that should be explored by the Senate if he is, indeed, to be nominated,” Ken Bandler, AJC’s spokesman, told JTA in an email.
A number of senators in both parties have expressed reservations about confirming Hagel.
Other Jewish groups have defended Hagel, noting his consistent record in voting for assistance to Israel and his defense of the security relationship with Israel.
These groups also note that despite his reservations, Hagel voted to sanction Iran and to isolate terrorist groups.
J Street, one of these groups, has distributed to congressional offices a “myths and facts” sheet on Hagel noting his support for a number of Israel and Jewish-friendly bills and initiatives