Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel did not tell the Senate Armed Services Committee the full story about his efforts to shutter a popular USO port in the Israeli city of Haifa.
Hagel attempted to tout his pro-Israel bona fides, which have come under intense scrutiny, by claiming that he single-handedly saved the Haifa USO port from being shut down.
However, those involved in the battle to keep the port open directly refuted this claim. Jewish leaders told the Washington Free Beacon this month that Hagel fought behind the scenes to shutter the port during his tenure as CEO of the World USO from 1987 to 1990.
“I kept the Haifa USO open. We didn’t close it,” Hagel told senators during a contentious confirmation hearing Thursday. “There was a lot of pressure when I took over the World USO to close USO’s around the world and we did. There was a lot of pressure to close the Haifa USO.”
“I’m the one that made the decision not to do that,” Hagel claimed.
While Hagel ultimately did decide to keep the port open, he only did so after Jewish community leaders applied pressure.
Hagel told Jewish leaders during a tense 1989 meeting that he did not want to pay for the Haifa USO and that the “Jews [should] pay for it,” according to those present in the meeting.
“He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it,’” Marsha Halteman, director for military and law enforcement programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), told the Free Beacon.
“He essentially told us that if we wanted to keep the USO [in Haifa] open—and when I say ‘we’, he meant ‘the Jews’—he said the Jews could pay for it,” said Halteman, who recalled being taken aback by the comment.
“I told him at the time that I found his comments to be anti-Semitic,” she said. “He was playing into that dual loyalty thing.”
Other sources involved in the fight to stop Hagel from closing the port corroborated Halteman’s version of events.
Charles Wax, whose father, Morris, helped raise $60,000 to keep the Haifa USO port operational, recalled his father’s ire over the dispute.
“When he heard the Haifa USO was going to be closed, he was very upset,” Wax told the Free Beacon earlier this month. “He used to smoke these foot long cigars and was about ready to eat one whole. He didn’t like what Hagel was doing.”
Hagel additionally maintained in his confirmation hearing that the USO Haifa’s former director, Gila Gerzon, praised his work.
“Now the USO is closed but the current then dirextor of the USO, a lady by the name of Gila Gerzon who lives in Haifa said I was a strong supporter and friend of Israel,” Hagel argued.
Gerzon, however, told the Free Beacon this month that she had no knowledge of Hagel’s efforts to close the port.
“I wasn’t there. I was actually in Israel,” Gerzon said, explaining she did not have any recollection of participating in the D.C. meeting with Hagel.