At his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Sen. Graham asked Hagel, “Let’s talk a little bit about statements you’ve made. You’ve explained this a bit, you said the ‘Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. … I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator. … This pressure makes us do dumb things at times.’ You said the Jewish lobby should not have been—that term should not have been used, it should have been some other term.”
Graham continued, “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the United States Senate?”
“Well, first -- ” Hagel said.
“Name one,” Graham said.
“I don’t know,” Hagel said.
“Well, why would you say it?” Graham asked.
“I didn’t have in mind a specific person,” Hagel said.
“Do you agree it’s a provocative statement?” said Graham. “That I can’t think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said.“
“Name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby?” said Graham.
Hagel replied, “I have already stated that I regret the terminology—”
“But you said back then it makes us do dumb things,” Graham said. “You can’t name one senator intimidated. Now give me one example of the dumb things that we’re pressured to do up here.”
“We were talking in that interview about the Middle East, about positions, about Israel,” Hagel said.
“Well, I can’t give you an example,” Hagel said.
“Thank you,” Graham said. “Do you agree with me you shouldn’t have said something like that?”
“Yes, I do,” Hagel said. “I’ve already said that.”
The statement in question came from a 2006 interview between Hagel and Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller. As reported in the Washington Post, Hagel’s remarks were as follows:
“The political reality is that you intimidate, not you — that the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. Again, I have always argued against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel
“Now, everyone has a right to lobby; that’s as it should be. Come see your senator, your congressman, and if you can get the guy to sign your letter, great, wonderful.
“But as I reminded somebody not too long ago, in fact it was a group I was speaking to in New York, and we got into kind of an interesting give and take on Iran. A couple of these guys said we should just attack Iran. And I said, ‘Well, that’s an interesting thought; we’re doing so well in Iraq.’ And I said it would really help Israel.
“And this guy kept pushing and pushing. And he alluded to the fact that maybe I wasn’t supporting Israel enough or something. And I just said let me clear something up here, in case there is any doubt.
“I said, ‘I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.’ I support Israel, but my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States — not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.’ Now I know most senators don’t talk like I do.”