Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hagel nomination

As I write this the expectation is for President Obama to announce his nomination of Senator Charles Hagel for the position of Secretary of Defense of the United States. The battle is shaping up in Congress along party lines. Again.

The controversy this time is over comments by the senator regarding the "jewish lobby" and their influence over the United States support of and treaty arrangements with Israel. Republican spokesman Lindsey Graham of S. Carolina lambasted the Hagel pick as controversial and added that the Hagel pick is an "in your face nomination" to all who are supportive of Israel. Other republican critisism revolved around President Obama's pressure on Israel to negotiate with Hamas, the ruling party in Palestine and terrorist organization. But the crux of the latest republican obstructionism seems to be an attempt to paint Senator Hagel as an anti-semite. Senator Graham went on to say that there is no "jewish lobby" there is an "Israel lobby". I was relieved to hear that religion was not involved in our relations with Israel!

But I was left with other questions. If it is not on religious grounds that we support Israel, then why do we support Israel? They are a tiny country on the easternmost shore of the Mediterranean. They are surrounded by much larger countries and have been in various states of war with most of those countries over much of their 64 year history.

Israel was formed out of territory seized by the British after World War I. The Balfour Delaration in 1917 was a statement by Britain favoring the establishment of a jewish homeland in Palestine. The declaration also stated that the religous or civil rights of non-jewish citizens must not be harmed. The League of Nations gave Britain a mandate to oversee Palestine in 1923. Massive jewish immigration in the following years led to growing tensions between Arabs and Jews. After WWII jews were in open armed revolt against the British in Palestine. Their guerrilla tactics would have earned them the label of terrorists today. The United Nations recommended a plan of partition and in 1948 the state of Israel was formed. Almost immediately war began with the surrounding Arab states.

If history is any indicator one must believe that religion has a lot to do with the state of Israel. And I am quite certain that much of the support for Israel from the United States stems from our shared tradition of Judaism and Christianity. The fact is that Israel is a jewish country. The jews were persecuted on the basis of religion and their country was established on the basis of religion.

So how does this U.S. government that "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion", as the First Amendment to our Constitution states, resolve questions of our support for Israel? If our interest in the well-being of Israel is not based on religion, what is it based on? How does it benefit the United States to support Israel? And can we ask them to modify their behavior in exchange for our support?

It would be conducive to peace in the middle east to have a Secretary of Defence who held our allies accountable when we are the guarantor of survival. I do not think it is too much to ask for Israel to maintain a dialogue with their enemies. The only way to have peaceful relations is to talk to each other. The only other final solution is all out war and destruction. And that must remain the LAST option. And this latest tactic by the republicans is yet another cynical attempt to divide the American people along religious lines.

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