By Ed Koch
In his December 26 New York Times editorial, Tom Friedman wrote in support of former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel and the possibility that he will be chosen by President Barack Obama as Secretary of Defense. He stated: “So, yes, Hagel is out of the mainstream. That is exactly why his voice would be valuable right now. Obama will still make all the final calls, but let him do so after having heard all the alternatives.” By “mainstream,” Friedman apparently means overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. Hagel’s position is, as Friedman states, “out of the mainstream” with respect to Israel.
Imagine what would happen across our government if President Obama put that course of action into effect.
Friedman is in effect saying to President Obama that he should choose, as an example, a Secretary of the Treasury who believes in cutting expenses in the budget with no increase in taxes for the wealthy, noting that as President he makes the policy and can overrule his appointees; choose a Secretary of the Interior who has the same philosophy as many Alaskans which is to open every square inch of Alaska for oil production. After all, as Friedman says, the President makes the final decision. In the Defense Department, put someone in charge who disagrees with the current stated policy of the President and the Congress toward Israel. We’ve heard the President say, “I’ve got Israel’s back.” Hagel couldn’t care less; he’d rather talk to Hamas. Hagel’s point of view, according to Aaron Miller in his 2008 book, “The Much Too Promised Land,” is clearly hostile to Israel. Miller wrote: “The American Israel Public Affairs Committee comes knocking with a pro-Israel letter, Hagel continued, and ‘then you’ll get eighty or ninety senators on it. I don’t think I’ve ever signed one of the letters’ – because, he added, they were ‘stupid.” Hagel also said, ‘The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,’ but ‘I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.’” For the record, more Christians support Israel in the U.S. than do Jews, who are a much smaller part of the U.S. population.
In addition, in government, you generally rely on the people you select for high office to let them run their departments. You don’t micromanage them, and no top-notch appointee would allow micromanagement by the President.
People give Tom Friedman lots of space and respect when he writes on Israel, undoubtedly assuming that as a Jew, he must be a supporter of Israel. I do not believe that assumption to be correct, because I recall his Times column of April 3 in which he urged the Palestinians to engage in another intifada using rocks to attack Israeli Jews.
When I was in Israel in 1991, I was struck on the head during the then intifada and needed nine stitches to close the wound. I was lucky that the jagged stone struck my head and not my eyes. Otherwise, I might have been blinded.
Chuck Hagel is not an evil man. He simply does not support the position that Israel is our ally, and I believe he would prefer closer relationships with the Muslim states in the region by reducing the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, which is what the Muslim, and certainly the Islamist, states desire. That is his right, but that philosophy should deny him the position of Secretary of Defense. Nor in my opinion does he believe that the Islamist Arab countries are hostile to the U.S. and Western civilization.
The leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, has called for the total destruction of Israel. The Hamas government is responsible for hurling 8,000 rockets into Israel since 2005. Human Rights Watch, normally critical of Israel, this week accused Hamas of war crimes against Israel, because their rockets deliberately targeted Israeli civilians. Does it make any sense for Friedman to suggest that Hagel’s attitude of seeking to engage Hamas “to see if it can be moved from its extremism” might be effective? There were people in the 1930s who suggested the same about Hitler and the Nazis. Hamas is now even stronger than before because its big brother and ally the Muslim Brotherhood governs Egypt and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, one of the Brotherhood’s leaders, has made clear his support of Hamas.
When will we learn that Islamist governments mean what they say when they threaten Israel with extermination and condemn the U.S., Europe and Israel and their Western culture and values?
I also view Tom Friedman’s supportive attitude to the so-called Arab Spring — which has produced Islamist governments toppling authoritarian Arab governments which were at least friendly to the U.S. — as dangerously wrong. Hitler came to power in Germany legally as have many of these Islamist governments. That doesn’t make them our friends nor should the President select a Secretary of Defense who, if confirmed, will be cheered by the enemies of the U.S. and Israel in the Muslim world.
In his December 13 column, Tom Friedman made one of his worst statements, showing his strong bias against Israel: “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile, but because they are confused.”
Friedman has not apologized for these outrageous remarks, stating only that he regretted the words and should have chosen other terms. I suggest that it is Tom Friedman who is confused. I don’t believe even if he did apologize that the apology means anything and, in most cases, such apologies are simply an effort to end the discussion.