By Shalom Goldman, Duke University
At the confirmation hearings for Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Department of Defense, the former senator from Nebraska has been pilloried by some of his former Republican colleagues, most forcefully by current Nebraska Senator Jim Inhofe. At Thursday’s hearings, Inhofe said that on security issues, “Hagel’s record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream.”
In a Washington Post op-ed piece published a week before the Hagel hearings commenced, Inhofe implied that Hagel is not supportive of Israel, a claim Inhofe bases on the fact that “In 2000, when nearly every senator joined a letter to President Bill Clinton affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel in the face of Palestinian aggression, Hagel was one of just four who refused to sign.”
In attacking Hagel’s Israel-related credentials, Inhofe has joined a steady stream of conservatives and currently-out-of power neoconservatives who have portrayed Hagel as anti-Israeli and/or anti-Semitic. Over the past few months Hagel’s most strident critics in these Right Wing circles have included Elliot Abrams and the late New York mayor Ed Koch.
But Inhofe’s attacks on his former Nebraska colleague draw on sources older and more powerful than the political critiques offered by his Republican Senate colleagues. For Inhofe is a committed Christian Zionist whose foreign policy pronouncements over the past decade and more draw on the words of an authority much higher than that of mere elected mortals.
In March 2002, five months after the 9/11 attacks, Senator Inhofe delivered a long speech on the Senate floor about Israel and American foreign policy. It has been recorded for posterity on the Inhofe.senate.gov website. In that speech he gave his “seven reasons why Israel is entitled to the land they have and that it should not be a part of the peace process.” The first six reasons are arguments based on interpretations of ancient and modern history, all of which could be debated or refuted. But the seventh and final reason is, in Senator Inhofe’s mind, irrefutable:
No. 7, I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel; that it has a right to the land. This is the most important reason: Because God said so. As I said a minute ago, look it up in the book of Genesis. It is right up there on the desk.
The Lord said to Abram, “Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward and westward: for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever. . . . Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to thee.”
That is God talking.
The Bible says that Abram removed his tent and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar before the Lord. Hebron is in the West Bank. It is at this place where God appeared to Abram and said, “I am giving you this land,”—the West Bank.
This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true. The seven reasons, I am convinced, clearly establish that Israel has a right to the land.
In that same speech Inhofe seemed to place the blame for the 9/11 attacks on a ‘weak’ U.S. support of Israel.
One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America is that the policy of our Government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them.
That “God said so,” and that He has punished the United States for not taking Genesis seriously, makes sense to Senator Inhofe, though perhaps some of his fellow legislators would have the courage to disagree. Few legislators spoke up against Inhofe’s comments a decade ago, and fewer still seem willing today to challenge the Senator’s “biblical” view of how the U.S. government, and especially the Department of Defense , should evaluate foreign policy appointments and decisions.
Shalom Goldman, Religion Department, Duke University