In his historic speech to the Knesset in Jerusalem, Vice-President Mike Pence reaffirmed American recognition that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, described the Jewish people’s 3,000-year-old unbreakable bond with Jerusalem, stated that the US will transfer the US Embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, thereby having chosen “fact over fiction,” called upon Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA) to return to the negotiating table, reaffirmed that the US will no longer certify the “ill-conceived” “disaster” of the Iran nuclear deal, and that the U.S. will immediately withdraw from the deal unless it is fixed.
Pence also solemnly promised that the US will ensure that the brutal, radical Shia Iranian regime will not obtain nuclear weapons and that the US will no longer tolerate its involvement in international Islamic terrorism.
In describing the Jewish connection with the biblical homeland, Pence referred to biblical milestones — the binding of Isaac, the consecration of Jerusalem by King David as his capital — in outlining this millennial connection.
On Israeli/Palestinian Arab negotiations, Pence affirmed that President Trump strongly urged the Palestinian leadership to return to the table. “Peace can only come through dialogue … any peace agreement must guarantee Israel’s ability to defend itself by itself,” he said
Pence spoke of the necessity of fixing or jettisoning the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (a “disaster”) that has greatly enriched and emboldened Iran in the region, freeing tens of billions of frozen Iranian funds and assets, while also enabling Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons breakout capacity in perhaps as few as ten years.
Pence affirmed that the U.S. would “no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement” and clarified that President Trump’s decision to extend a sanctions waiver was done solely to avail the US Congress and the European countries sufficient time to toughen penalties for Iranian violations.
He said that “unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed, President Trump, the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately… Beyond the nuclear deal, we will also no longer tolerate its support of terrorism [and oppression of its people]. We are your friends and the day is coming when you will be free from the evil regime that suffocates your dreams and buries your hopes.”
Strangely, it is the affirmation of the bonds between the US and Israel — rather than disagreement on specific Trump Administration policies relating to Israel, the PA and Iran — that has led some critics on the left to inveigh against Pence’s speech. Yet, on the subject of the U.S. and Israel, what did Pence actually say?
He said that “America stands with Israel … because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight. We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny… . 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 … as the State of Israel celebrates the 70th anniversary of its [re]birth.”
In short, Pence avowed the commonality of values and moral outlook — that of free peoples and their struggles to realize their highest aspirations. How exactly this reflects, according to Forward writers, a “fictional Israel” (Jay Michaelson), or is negated by the existence, in the past and present, of anti-Semitism in America (Jane Eisner) is not explained.
Both liberal and conservative supporters of Israel over the decades have been emphatic about the great commonalities of values, outlook and liberty that are reflected in the US-Israel relationship.
Here, instead, the critics are not content to give Pence his due and prefer to digress on Pence’s Christian beliefs and to mock his concern for Middle Eastern Christians, which was the original reason for his visit to the region when originally scheduled last December.
Yes, concern for Christians — endangered as far afield as North Africa and the Persian Gulf, not only Palestinian Arabs — motivated Pence, but I don’t recall it ever being stated by anyone that this means that all Middle Eastern Christians necessarily agree with him on all issues. To the contrary, many are as tainted by anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic passions as many Muslims. In any case, Christians who refused to meet with Pence or to invite him into their sanctuaries, either because of support for Israel and Jews or out of genuine fear of PA Arab/Muslim reprisals, merely underscore the abiding problem of the Arab/Islamic war on Israel — the refusal to peacefully accept the legitimacy and permanence of the Jewish State of Israel.
The critics’ biggest problem with Pence’s speech appears to be that they don’t share his politics and religion, but that is no good reason not to applaud a speech characterized by moral and strategic clarity, both of which will be necessary for both countries to face the enormous challenges that lie ahead.
In any event, we have reached a bizarre point when one of the most pro-Israel speeches ever delivered by a high US official is greeted by a segment of Jews with suspicion and misgivings bolstered by red herrings. Every Israel loving, peace loving, terrorism hating person should be thrilled by this extraordinary, clear thinking speech.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Israel group in the U.S., founded in 1897.