Look at the charts below, prepared by TIME Magazine for Brandon Friedman's article, "Just Who Do They Represent: At Hagel Hearing, Concern for Israel Tops U.S. Troops in Combat."
They visually represent the number of times Israel and Afghanistan were mentioned during Chuck Hagel's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday:
Quite honestly, these charts can stand alone as reason enough why progressives – and all Americans, for that matter – need to start talking openly and honestly about Israel and the role it should play in U.S. foreign policy debates.
For what we just witnessed is our top representatives in the Senate, charged with questioning Hagel for the Secretary of Defense position, expressing infinitely more concern for Israel than for our own troops.
Here's Friedman's blow-by-blow of an egregious, but not isolated, example from Hagel's hearing:
When Senator Mike Lee took his turn to cross-examine defense-secretary nominee Chuck Hagel during last Thursday’s confirmation hearing, he expressed considerable concern for Israel’s security.
“Let’s say those Palestinians who have engaged in acts of terrorism, perhaps in retaliation against Israel for Israel defending itself,” the Republican from Utah asked, ”do they have a legitimate gripe?”
Hagel responded that “terrorism can never be justified under any circumstances.”
Lee continued, bringing up the possibility that Israel might withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. “Do you view that as a tenable solution?” he asked Hagel. “Do you believe such borders are militarily defensible?”
This went on and on. In fact, Lee—by himself—made reference to Israel and its security a total of 16 times.
Why is this important? It’s important because Lee never mentioned Afghanistan and the 66,000 U.S. troops at war there.
And Lee was not alone.
The reason for this disproportionate, obsessive focus on Israel with no regard for U.S. troops in Afghanistan? Simple: AIPAC and the "pro-Israel" lobby's ill-founded concern about the Hagel nomination coupled by the lobby's disproportionate influence on our representatives to echo that concern.
An echo that reverberated loud and clear.
Now, as a Jew and proponent of the (quickly fading) two-state solution, I agree Israel's security is both important and a legitimate U.S. foreign policy issue. The country is, without doubt, one of our most important allies – despite the sometimes asymmetrical benefits of said alliance. (After all, the U.S. gives Israel approximately $3 billion in foreign aid yearly despite Israel's continued occupation of the Palestinians and refusal to abide by U.S. requests for it to cease its illegal settlement expansions.)
But when the hawkish, "pro-Israel" lobby in America can influence our representatives to sound as if they – well – are representing Israel's citizens more than our own?
We have a problem. A problem that must be discussed openly and honestly.