With Vice President Mike Pence completing his three-day visit to Israel on Tuesday, those carefully listening to his words came away with the feeling that he is a unique and authentic friend of Israel, whose expressions came from deep in the soul of a man guided by his Evangelical Christian beliefs and a worldview that sees the United States and the Jewish State as centerpieces in a divine plan.
Pence, a long-time backer of the Jewish state, arrived in Israel for his fourth trip on Sunday, which was originally scheduled for mid-December.
Dan Diker from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs described Pence’s Knesset appearance on Monday as “one of the greatest speeches ever given in the Knesset. His words reflected what Americans feel about Israel.” According to Diker, Pence views the US and Israel as two peoples sharing an interest in liberty, independence and justice, representing the best of Judaeo-Christian tradition.”
Prof. Yoel Cohen from the School of Communications at Ariel University noted that despite his Evangelical Christian values, “Pence reaffirmed the US commitment to the status quo at the holy sites that does not directly take into account the Jewish people’s connection to the Temple Mount and their right to pray there. There was certainly no support expressed for the rebuilding of the Third Temple.”
Diker explained Pence’s comments on the holy places as “a pragmatic need to give an assurance to Jordan that despite President Trump’s declaration that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, there is no change in the status quo.”
Vice President Mike Pence said Monday at his historic address at the Knesset that, “We stand with Israel because that’s what Americans have always done, and so has it been since my country’s earliest days.
During his historic visit to Jerusalem, President Trump declared that the bond between us, in his words, is “woven together in the hearts of our people,” and the people of the United States have always held a special affection and admiration for the people of the Book.
In the story of the Jews, we’ve always seen the story of America. It is the story of an exodus, a journey from persecution to freedom, a story that shows the power of faith and the promise of hope.
My country’s very first settlers also saw themselves as pilgrims, sent by Providence, to build a new Promised Land. The songs and stories of the people of Israel were their anthems, and they faithfully taught them to their children, and do to this day. And our founders, as others have said, turned to the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible for direction, guidance, and inspiration.”
Pence also said that the United States would no longer certify the Iran nuclear deal, and said that President Trump has instructed the State Department to begin preparations for moving the American embassy in Israel, and said the embassy would open before the end of 2019.
Pence’s address to the Israeli Knesset made him the first senior official in a decade to speak before the Israeli parliament. The last US leader to address the Knesset was President George W. Bush, who spoke at the Knesset in 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel’s establishment.
In a speech peppered with Biblical references, Holocaust imagery, fallen Israeli soldiers including Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and a traditional Jewish blessing for thanksgiving uttered in halting Hebrew, Pence delivered a message of religious faith and the confluence of American and Israeli values as a foundation for the US – Israel relationship “as allies and cherished friends.”
“All who cherish freedom and seek a brighter future should cast their eyes here to this place and marvel what they behold,” Pence said.
As expected, the beginning of Pence’s speech was interrupted by members of the Joint List party, who were escorted from the Knesset plenum after brandishing signs criticizing Trump’s policy vis-à-vis Jerusalem. But the protest did little to derail an address that outlined a US policy that closely aligns with Israel’s security and international interests. He praised Israeli leaders for their willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians, and called on the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiating table.
At the same time, however, Pence took a veiled dig at former President Obama, referring to “radical Islamic terrorism” (a phrase that Obama administration officials strenuously avoided) before describing the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, as “ill conceived” and a “disaster” that President Trump would no longer certify.
“The United States will never compromise the safety or security of the State of Israel… The Iran nuclear deal merely delays the day (that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons). and added that any peace deal with third parties would ensure Israel’s ability “to defend itself, by itself.
“I make a solemn promise to the people of Israel and the Middle East: The United States will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Pence said.
During his address, Pence vowed that the US would “never allow” the Tehran regime to possess nuclear weapons – a message meant not only to reassure Israeli leaders, but also Sunni Arab states across the Middle East concerned by President Barack Obama’s efforts to reach out to Iran.
In October, President Trump announced that he would not recertify Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, setting in motion a process requiring Congress to either reinstate sanctions on Tehran, or alter the sanctions regime.
“Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed President Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately,” Pence said
During his speech, the Vice President also touched on the planned relocation of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the capital city of Jerusalem. While he gave no firm date or location for the new embassy, he stated that the move would be completed before the end of 2019.
“In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem – and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year,” said Pence.
Col. Miri Eisin, a former communications director in the Prime Minister’s Office, told World Israel News (WIN), “Pence had a message that’s very consistent with his Evangelical Christian world view. Many in Israel are happy to hear it and appreciate the very strong Zionist support from Christian Evangelicals.”
Lenny Ben-David, the former Director of AIPAC-Israel told WIN, “Pence demonstrated an intense passion for Israel and the Jewish people. But at the same time, he delivered important messages on the peace process that went beyond his natural constituency of Evangelicals and the right wing.
“He said that ‘the two state solution is a possibility if both sides want it,’ and he called on the Palestinians to come forward and to negotiate. He also included Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt as regional partners which are different than previous administrations.”
On Iran, Pence was steadfast on the need for a new nuclear deal and strong sanctions, while declaring that the US will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Ben-David told WIN, “It was a beautiful moment when Pence directly spoke to the Iranian people during his Knesset address, giving encouragement to the brave Iranian protesters opposing their tyrannical government.”
According to Diker, “Pence’s comments on Iran are an affirmation of the Israeli view that Iran is a terrorist state. He raised issues usually championed by Prime Minister Netanyahu that were never addressed by the previous administration. The US and Israel are now completely on same page on the Iran nuclear issue.”
How will the Pence visit be remembered? According to Ben-David, “Pence has demonstrated that he is a very good friend of Israel, not just a political friend. This is a deep in the soul friendship that comes from religious belief and identification with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”
Also on their final day in Jerusalem, President Reuven and First Lady Nechama Rivlin of Israel welcomed to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen.
Rivlin began the meeting with praise for Pence’s Monday address at the Knesset and his role in pushing for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Welcome Mr. Vice President, you are a dear, dear friend to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel. We are very proud, and I would like to thank you for your speech yesterday about the strong, the warm and the very special words that you used yesterday in our shrine of democracy, in our parliament, in our Knesset, in Jerusalem the capital of the State of Israel.”
Capping off his first state visit to Israel, Vice President Pence and his wife Karen also visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon.
Donning a yarmulke for the visit, Pence was escorted to the Western Wall by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich (Rabinowitz), Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall and Director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation Mordechai ‘Soli’ Eliav.
“Here, right above us, on the Temple Mount, King Solomon built the Temple,” Rabbi Rabinovich said as he escorted the Vice President.
“We draw our strength from our deep connection to the land of the Bible and our commitment to [fulfill] the words of the Prophets.” The Vice President placed a note in the Western Wall, then said a brief prayer. Karen Pence prayed separately at the women’s section of the Wall.
At the end of his visit, Pence signed the Western Wall guest book.
“It is my great honor to pray here at this sacred place,” the Vice President wrote. “God bless the Jewish people and God bless the state of Israel always.”
Responding to questions by reporters, the Vice President said the visit to the holy site was “very inspiring”.
By: Steve Leibowitz
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