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“I think he has a chance at his confirmation hearing to show that he is not what he appears to be, which is frankly an anti-Semite,” Abrams said in the interview. When pressed by the interviewer, Melissa Block, on his claim that Hagel is anti-Semitic, Abrams replied: “I think if you look at the statements by Hagel, and then you look at the statements by the Nebraska Jewish community, about his unresponsiveness to them, his dismissal of them, his hostility to them, I don’t understand really how you can reach any other conclusion that he seems to have some kind of problem with Jews.”
Hagel also has many supporters within the Omaha Jewish community. A leading voice among them is Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, of the Reform synagogue Temple Israel. Azriel, who was born and raised in Israel, draws quite a different picture of Hagel.
The former Senator met with him for hours at the synagogue, discussing all issues relating to Israel, the Middle East and his own views, and called on Azriel before every trip he made to the region.
“He was interested in hearing my Israel narrative. He spoke about the Middle East, war and peace, about the military,” Azriel recounted. The claim of Hagel holding anti-Jewish prejudice is viewed by Rabbi Azriel in biblical terms. He sees the former Senator as a “sacrificial lamb.”
Official leaders of the Omaha Jewish community shut themselves out of the discussion over Hagel relationship to Nebraska’s Jews. Mike Silverman, the head of Omaha’s Jewish federation, forcefully refused to answer questions on Hagel. The local representative of the Anti-Defamation League would not return calls and emails.