An Israeli-born rabbi who claims to know Chuck Hagel well said in an interview aired Saturday that he has never heard any anti-Israeli sentiment from the nominee for US defence secretary, despite accusations to the contrary.
"I have not heard the slightest anti-Israel hint or, as has been said in the American media, anti-Semitism," Arieh Azriel, who leads a congregation in Omaha, Nebraska, Hagel's home state, told Israeli television.
Pro-Israel lawmakers have denounced Hagel, with some commentators accusing him of anti-Semitism for his past comments that "the Jewish lobby" intimidated members of Congress and that he is "not an Israeli senator".
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"At all the private meetings I had (with him), and also at events where he addressed my congregation, there was never any sign or hint of the possibility that this man is anti-Semitic," said Azriel, who said that he had known the former Republican senator since he first ran for the Senate in 1996.
"He has Israeli chutzpa, he says what he thinks," Azriel, who spoke in Hebrew, said of the famously blunt Hagel.
Facing a bruising Senate confirmation, Hagel has pledged "total support" for Israel.
"There is "not one shred of evidence that I'm anti-Israeli, not one vote (of mine) that matters that hurt Israel," he told Nebraska's Lincoln Journal Star newspaper on January 7.