Those who know the vice president and those who have followed his career say that Israel has no better friend than Mike Pence. Palestinian and Israeli Arab leaders will boycott his visit to protest Trump’s Jerusalem announcement.
By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News
People who have known US Vice President Mike Pence since the beginning of his political career say that Israel has no better friend in Washington.
A man who has been close to Pence for many years is Indianapolis pro-Israel activist Hart Hasten. Hasten told World Israel News (WIN) there is no one in US politics who is more pro-Israel than Pence. Hasten has known Pence since he was a young congressman and then as governor of Indiana. “Pence is an Evangelical Christian who studies the bible every day. He strongly believes that Israel is the Holy Land. He uses the biblical term Judea and Samaria and never utters the words ‘West Bank.'”
Hasten escorted Pence on several of his previous visits to Israel. Hasten recalls, “When we went to visit then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mike expressed strong support for the Zionist vision and love and admiration for the people and the land of Israel.” In Hasten’s opinion, “it was Pence and US Ambassador David Friedman who had the most influence on Trump’s decision to make the December announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Pence arrives in Israel on Sunday night and he will be received in a manner that reflects the high regard in which Israeli leaders hold him.
The two-day visit is the makeup visit for Pence’s planned trip in December that had to be cancelled in case his vote would be needed to break a tie in the US Senate in a close vote on tax reform. The current US government shutdown crisis did not prevent the vice president’s trip, which has already taken him to Jordan and Egypt.
Heavily anticipated Knesset speech
During his stay in Israel, Pence will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and have dinner with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the Prime Minister’s Residence. Pence will also meet President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence, deliver a speech to the Knesset, and visit the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
US-Palestinian relations have become even more strained since President Trump’s December announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The Palestinians are boycotting the Trump administration, so there will be no meetings for Pence in Ramallah. Arab-Israeli Knesset members have announced they will boycott Pence’s speech in the Knesset. Their statement explained that the move was designed, “in order to send a clear message to the US administration and the world that there are citizens here that vehemently oppose Trump’s announcement” on Jerusalem.
“He is a dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region. He comes here as the emissary of a man who is even more dangerous,” the Arab Joint List chairman, Ayman Odeh, tweeted in reference to Trump, whom he called a “a political pyromaniac, a racist misogynist who cannot be allowed to lead the way in our region.”
Western Wall visit
It is expected that Pence’s visit to the Western Wall, like Trump’s, will be without top Israeli officials. Marc Zell, the head of Republicans in Israel, told WIN, “I expect that some lower-ranking Israeli officials will escort Pence on his visit to the Western Wall, and hope that State Department officials will refrain from excess drama over the visit like they did with Trump.”
When Trump was in Israel in May, the visit to the Western Wall was a political hot potato. Trump did become the first US president to visit the site while in office, but het declined to be escorted by Prime Minister Netanyahu or any other top Israeli officials, because to do so would be perceived as agreeing to Israel’s claim that Judaism’s holiest site is an official part of Israel – even though it was captured from Jordan during the war in 1967.
Referring to Pence’s expected message, Zell told WIN, “He will reiterate his commitment to the peace process while not backing off from the Jerusalem declaration. I expect the highlight of the visit will be an inspirational and emotional address in the Knesset.”
An unnamed White House official reiterated that Trump’s Jerusalem declaration does not change the US view that the final borders of the city must be determined through negotiations. David Weinberg, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, told WIN, “This will be a celebratory visit and Pence’s message will stick closely to Trump’s message of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while keeping the door open to a diplomatic settlement down the road.”
Fifth visit to Israel
This will be Pence’s fifth visit to Israel, but by his own account he has visited the country “a million times” in his heart. An evangelical Christian with strong ties to the Holy Land, Pence has long championed two major causes that have now become US policy: Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and curtailing aid for Palestinians. Since his days in Congress, Pence has played a role in pushing both for the shift in US policy related to Jerusalem and for placing limits on Palestinian funding due to its incitement against Israel.
Pence has been a longtime stalwart supporter of Israel who has questioned the notion of the US serving as an “honest broker” in the stalled peace process. In 2010 Pence told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “The United States certainly wants to be honest but we don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides. A broker negotiates between parties of equals.”
Pence has long aligned himself with Israel. In Congress, during the presidency of George W. Bush, he pushed for limiting US aid to the Palestinian Authority, warning the funding could be redirected to groups like the terrorist Hamas movement, which controls Gaza.
He was a vocal advocate for Israel’s security fence and co-sponsored the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act in 2011 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. When he served as Governor of Indiana, Pence signed a bill requiring the state to divest from any business that engaged in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.
Pence says that his love of Israel stems from his evangelical Christian beliefs as well as his genuine love for the modern-day country and the Jewish people. Pence told Indiana’s Jewish Post & Opinion after his 2004 trip that he was often asked if he had been to Israel before, “and my response was, ‘Only in my dreams.’ I was raised an evangelical Christian and tried to read the Bible every day, so in my mind and in my heart I have been there a million times.”