Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel said Israel is on its way to becoming an apartheid state during an April 9, 2010, appearance at Rutgers University, according to a contemporaneous account by an attendee.
Hagel also accused Israel of violating U.N. resolutions, called for U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas to be included in any peace negotiations, and described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “radical,” according to the source.
Kenneth Wagner, who attended the 2010 speech while a Rutgers University law student, provided the Washington Free Beacon with an email he sent during the event to a contact at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The email is time-stamped April 9, 2010, at 11:37 AM.
“I am sitting in a lecture by Chuck Hagel at Rutgers,” Wagner wrote in the email. “He basically said that Israel has violated every UN resolution since 1967, that Israel has violated its agreements with the quartet, that it was risking becoming an apartheid state if it didn’t allow the Palestinians to form a state. He said that the settlements were getting close to the point where a contiguous Palestinian state would be impossible.”
“He said that he [thought] that Netanyahu was a radical and that even [former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi] Livni, who was hard nosed thought he was too radical and so wouldn’t join in a coalition [government] with him… He said that Hamas has to be brought in to any peace negotiation,” Wagner wrote.
AIPAC had no comment.
Wagner said the remarks were made during the Q&A session. The speech took place at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark.
Wagner, a pro-Israel activist, reiterated the account in an interview with the Free Beacon and called Hagel’s comments “pretty shocking.”
“I was very surprised at his attitude because I had been listening to politicians speak about the situation in the Middle East and the U.S. Israel relationship for about two decades,” Wagner told the Free Beacon. “And it was probably the most negative thing I’d ever heard anybody in elected office say.”
The news of the comments given during the 2010 speech comes at a time when the embattled secretary of defense nominee has been forced to respond to a report that he called the State Department an adjunct of the Israeli foreign ministry during the Q&A portion of a 2007 speech at Rutgers.
The Free Beacon reported Thursday on a contemporaneous account of another speech then-Senator Hagel gave at Rutgers in 2007. The report, written by Hagel supporter and political consultant George Ajjan, claimed Hagel had described the U.S. Department of State as an extension of the Israeli government.
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte on Friday sent a letter to Hagel requesting an explanation of the alleged comments. The Anti-Defamation League also called on Hagel to explain, and the American Jewish Committee said, “Further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”
Hagel has disavowed the remarks and says he does not recall making them.
“I do not recall making any such statement, or ever making any similar statement,” he wrote in a reply letter to Graham and Ayotte on February 16. “I completely disavow the content of the alleged statement attributed to me.”
According to one of the 2007 event’s organizers, Hooshang Amirahmadi, who is currently running for president of Iran, Ajjan’s account of the 2007 speech is “complete nonsense.”
Amirahmadi told the Free Beacon that some of his “very good Jewish colleagues who are very pro-Israel” did not appear offended at any point during the speech.
The Daily Caller reported on Monday that Amirahmadi accepted funding grants from the Alavi Foundation, which federal law enforcement officials have called a front group for the Iranian regime.
Amirahmadi is also the head of the American Iranian Council, which awarded Hagel an expensive clock in 2002.
Another attendee at the 2007 speech, Rutgers Professor Charles Häberl said he is “certain” Hagel did not say the State Department was an adjunct of the Israeli government, BuzzFeed reported today.
When the Free Beacon contacted Häberl about the 2007 speech last Thursday, he said he was not the best person to talk to about the event.
“Have you been in touch with Hooshang Amirahmadi?” Häberl wrote in an email. “He’s the one who organized the event, and he would be the best situated to talk about it. At the time, I was just a lecturer.”
Meanwhile, Ajjan stood by his account and said he is the only person who has provided a written report from the time.
“If somebody comes out with a transcript and those words aren’t uttered, I’d be the first one to say, ‘My apologies. I wrote something down that was wrong – I misheard it, or I misreported it,’ if that’s the case,” Ajjan told the Washington Free Beacon.
“I’m a conscientious person,” Ajjan said. “When I was blogging at that time, I did my best to record things accurately… there’s no way that I would pick a phrase like ‘adjunct of the Israeli foreign ministry.’ That’s a pretty odd combination of words to use. I wouldn’t have just pulled those out of thin air.”
When asked about Häberl disputing his account, Ajjan said he wants to make it clear he is not trying to undermine Hagel’s confirmation or the Rutgers event. He said he is still a supporter of Hagel.
“I suppose [Häberl] thinks that I’m somehow trying to disparage Chuck Hagel or cast a dark shadow over his confirmation hearings. That’s not the case at all. And I certainly don’t wish to besmirch the people who organized the event,” said Ajjan. “I very much enjoyed the event, I appreciate the people who organized it.”
The Free Beacon is working to obtain transcript and video of Hagel’s comments during the question and answer sessions at Rutgers in both 2007 and 2010, and is continuing to speak to others who attended both events.
A representative for Hagel did not respond to a request for comment by press time.