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Top House Democrat: Hagel has an ‘endemic hostility towards Israel’

The new ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has big problems with the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary and believes Hagel has an "endemic hostility towards Israel." Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) is only the latest lawmaker to expressed deep concerns about the prospect of Hagel joining President ...

The new ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has big problems with the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary and believes Hagel has an "endemic hostility towards Israel."

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) is only the latest lawmaker to expressed deep concerns about the prospect of Hagel joining President Barack Obama’s second term cabinet. And as a member of the House, he won’t get to vote, should Hagel be nominated.

But as the new leader of the House Democrats on foreign policy, his comments represent a strong rebuke to the president’s reported consideration of Hagel to take over at the Pentagon.

In an interview Friday taped for C-SPAN’s Newsmakers, conducted jointly by The Cable and Politico, Engel said that Hagel’s record on Israel and Iran make him a poor choice to lead the military. In particular, Engel said he was irked by Hagel’s reference to the "Jewish lobby" in an interview with former official Aaron David Miller. (Miller supports Hagel’s nomination.)

"I think that remark is troublesome, it’s problematic. It shows at the very best a lack of sensitivity, at the very worst perhaps a prejudice. And I’m concerned about it, I’m concerned about the nomination," Engel said. "If I were doing the appointing, I would not appoint Chuck Hagel."

Engel, who represents the Bronx, Rockland, and Westchester, said he has been hearing a lot of opposition to the potential Hagel nomination from his constituents. He also said that Hagel’s activities related to Israel, including his statements on Hamas and Israel’s influence in Washington, show a pattern of "hostility."

"It seems there is some kind of an endemic hostility towards Israel and that’s troublesome to me and troublesome to a lot of people," Engel said. "In the sensitive post of secretary of defense, those are warning bells. Those are red lights."

Obama should have the privilege of picking his own team, Engel said, but he predicted that Obama will pass over Hagel to avoid the controversy.

"I think [the president] knows that the Hagel nomination potentially is a problem," he said.

Engel said that former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy would be a good potential secretary of defense. He also praised the president’s Friday nomination of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to be the next secretary of state.

"I think the world of John Kerry," he said. "He is knowledgeable. Foreign policy has been his forte, he knows all the issues, understands the politics … I think it’s an excellent choice and I think he’ll be a very, very good secretary of state."

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The new ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has big problems with the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary and believes Hagel has an "endemic hostility towards Israel."

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) is only the latest lawmaker to expressed deep concerns about the prospect of Hagel joining President Barack Obama’s second term cabinet. And as a member of the House, he won’t get to vote, should Hagel be nominated.

But as the new leader of the House Democrats on foreign policy, his comments represent a strong rebuke to the president’s reported consideration of Hagel to take over at the Pentagon.

In an interview Friday taped for C-SPAN’s Newsmakers, conducted jointly by The Cable and Politico, Engel said that Hagel’s record on Israel and Iran make him a poor choice to lead the military. In particular, Engel said he was irked by Hagel’s reference to the "Jewish lobby" in an interview with former official Aaron David Miller. (Miller supports Hagel’s nomination.)

"I think that remark is troublesome, it’s problematic. It shows at the very best a lack of sensitivity, at the very worst perhaps a prejudice. And I’m concerned about it, I’m concerned about the nomination," Engel said. "If I were doing the appointing, I would not appoint Chuck Hagel."

Engel, who represents the Bronx, Rockland, and Westchester, said he has been hearing a lot of opposition to the potential Hagel nomination from his constituents. He also said that Hagel’s activities related to Israel, including his statements on Hamas and Israel’s influence in Washington, show a pattern of "hostility."

"It seems there is some kind of an endemic hostility towards Israel and that’s troublesome to me and troublesome to a lot of people," Engel said. "In the sensitive post of secretary of defense, those are warning bells. Those are red lights."

Obama should have the privilege of picking his own team, Engel said, but he predicted that Obama will pass over Hagel to avoid the controversy.

"I think [the president] knows that the Hagel nomination potentially is a problem," he said.

Engel said that former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy would be a good potential secretary of defense. He also praised the president’s Friday nomination of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to be the next secretary of state.

"I think the world of John Kerry," he said. "He is knowledgeable. Foreign policy has been his forte, he knows all the issues, understands the politics … I think it’s an excellent choice and I think he’ll be a very, very good secretary of state."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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