In the realm of US-Israeli relations, where comforting platitudes are a dime a dozen, rare is the leader who will go beyond mere lip service and actually act on his convictions. Mike Huckabee, it seems, is one such leader.
The former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate is also a lifelong friend of the Jewish state, having visited dozens of times over the last four decades. Guided by his faith (Huckabee is an ordained Southern Baptist minister), the governor has been unwavering in his support of the Jewish claim to the entire Land of Israel, despite the ever-shifting winds of popular opinion.
This week's visit to Israel came with a particular sense of urgency, with his first stop being the home of Israeli-American teenage abductee Naftali Frenkel, where Gov. Huckabee offered words of hope and encouragement to the boy's beleaguered family.
The rest of Huckabee's fact-finding tour, under the aegis of Ateret Cohanim (an organization dedicated to the redemption, by Jews, of Arab-owned real estate in Jerusalem and other Jewish holy sites), is being focused on the challenges facing Jews in East Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, as well as the threat of anti-Israel delegitimization efforts such as the BDS movement.
On Monday morning (June 26), Huckabee and his delegation—assembled largely through the efforts of American activists Dr. Joseph Frager, Dr. Paul Brody, and Mrs. Odelya Jacobs—toured the Old Jewish Quarter (better known as the Muslim Quarter) of Jerusalem's Old City. While there, the delegation stopped at two recent Ateret Cohanim acquisitions: Beit Zion (a mechina, or preparatory academy for Religious Zionist high school grads prior to their army service), and Beit Wittenberg, an apartment once owned by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as an assertion of the right of Jews to settle anywhere in Israel's capital.
The Wittenberg House, it has recently been discovered, is also the site of the 19th century Mediterranean Hotel, where Mark Twain stayed on his famed sojourn to the Holy Land.
Briefing Mike Huckabee and his colleagues of eastern Jerusalem's extensive Jewish history, Ateret Cohanim's Daniel Luria pointed out that 5,000 of the "Muslim Quarter"'s 35,000 residents are Jewish. Moreover: “One doesn't have to be a genius to recognize that there is no such concept of Arab East Jerusalem anymore. There are 250,000 Jews living in what the world says is 'East Jerusalem.'
“The world is treading water when it says we're going to divide Jerusalem,” he added.
Following their whirlwind tour of the Muslim Quarter, the Huckabee delegation had private audiences with Israel's Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef.
Looking quite at home in a yarmulke decked out with Israeli and American flags, Gov. Huckabee discussed the recent abductions with Chief Rabbi Lau, and the lack of a response from the American public: “I think it's very tragic that there hasn't been more attention, but as people do [learn] about it, it's touching a nerve.
“It's one thing,” said Huckabee, “if people hear that three Israeli soldiers have been kidnapped or captured. That gets our attention, but this hits our hearts very differently. When a person who is American hears this story, they don't react as an American, they don't react as a Zionist. I'm both, [but] I react as a father.”
Both chief rabbis gave Huckabee their blessings for his efforts at bringing knowledge of the present crisis to the American public.
The meeting with Israel's top rabbis was brief, and followed immediately by a special caucus in the country's parliament on the topic of combating the delegitimization of the Jewish state. The dignitaries in attendance included Knesset Members such as Rabbi Nissim Ze'ev of Shas (who arranged the assembly and was also present for the audience with the chief rabbis), Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), Moshe Feiglin (Likud), Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), and Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, as well as numerous cabinet members such as Minister of Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon.
Also present was Yonah Lloyd, president of SodaStream, whose company was thrust into the BDS limelight when celebrity Scarlett Johansson refused to be intimidated by anti-Israel activists into dropping a spokesmanship deal with the company, even leaving her position as global ambassador for Oxfam over the matter. Other speakers at the event included ZOA President Mort Klein, Lawrence NY Mayor (and RZA Chairman) Martin Oliner, and Ken Abramowitz of NGN Capital and Chairman of American Friends of Likud.
Representing the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, Dr. Joseph Frager lauded Mike Huckabee as Israel's “best friend in America.” He went on to describe America's non-Jewish friends of Israel as an important source of chizuk (moral support).
Speaking about the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, Frager declared that it would ultimately fall upon Israel to act. Addressing the Israeli delegation, he said “I wish I could say that the president of the United States would be there for you and make it easy. I think he'll come around, but first you've got to jump into the 'Yam Suf,' [Sea of Reeds; a reference to the Exodus -ed.] and then the waters will part.”
MK Feiglin also expressed the notion that the State of Israel must take responsibility for its own well-being, and not rely on the largesse of others. Feiglin spoke of the common ground he shared with Huckabee, stating simply: “I believe in God.” He went on to explain that there is no legitimacy to Israel without God as a key factor.
Taking perhaps the most radical position among his colleagues in one respect, Feiglin called for an end to US aid (military and monetary) to Israel. “We don't need it,” declared Feiglin. Instead, said the Israeli lawmaker, the relationship between Israel and the United States should be based on shared values, e.g. freedom and respect for human rights.
Dovetailing quite naturally with Feiglin's address, Gov. Huckabee explained his principled support for Israel. In his usual down-to-earth style, Huckabee spoke of his experience waiting in line as he passed through Israeli Customs, connecting it to his relationship with Israel in general.
“It is typical,” said Huckabee, “that when I get in a line, I look for the short one, but it always takes longer. When people always ask me 'Why are you so supportive of Israel?' well … it seems like there are always very long lines of people who are ready to condemn Israel, who are ready to criticize Israel, even annihilate Israel. The line to stand with this unique country—whose only explanation for existence in the modern world is God's providence—the line to stand with Israel is a very short one; and since I always like to get in the short line, I don't mind being at the very front of that line.”
The governor regaled the Israeli dignitaries with the story of his visit this year to Auschwitz on Holocaust Remembrance Day, noting “I went there at my own expense because I believed that it was going to be an extraordinary opportunity to show solidarity, as a number of members of the Knesset went to Poland that day, to stand in victory on the very grounds that had been intended for their defeat.
“And I thought of what is said in the Old Testament (sic), that as Joseph said to his brothers 'What you intended for my harm has turned out for good.' And sometimes we forget that even those things which are intended for harm cannot stop God's greater purpose.”
“There are those who wish harm upon Israel,” Huckabee continued, “that's undeniable. There are those who would love for Israel to not exist. And some of the most vicious, some of the most violent acts in human history, have been targeted towards Israel and a nation and the Jewish people as a whole.
“Some of the acts are irrational. How else can one describe the BDS movement, other than that it's irrational? To punish Israel because it is a democracy? Because it does allow women the opportunity to have equal rights? Because it does give equal wages and benefits in companies like SodaStream … and they're actually creating jobs for people, it doesn't matter who they are? If that's something that the world thinks that it needs to divest from, then we have a crazy world. But we do, and we have some very crazy people who are launching these initiatives.”
“It's important that we get the truth,” declared Huckabee. “Truth is the best friend that Israel has.”
The Fox News commentator and potential 2016 presidential candidate went on to lament the abundance of falsehood generated by Israel's enemies in their efforts to take legitimacy away from the Jewish state. He denounced the so-called “Two-State Solution” as unworkable insofar as it assumes that both parties are acting in good faith, when the Palestinian leadership clearly is not.
Huckabee concluded by recounting his time with the Frenkels, expressing admiration for their strength and courage, and reiterating his previous statements that whoever is behind these horrendous acts, if the teens are not returned immediately and unharmed, will “have hell to pay.”
The Knesset caucus was followed by a dinner reception at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, which included many dignitaries from the day's proceedings, as well as Chagai Ben-Artzi (brother-in-law of Prime Minister Netanyahu), noted expert on US-Israeli relations Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, former MK Dr. Aryeh Eldad, Women in Green co-chair Nadia Matar, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, and Ateret Cohanim executive council member Robert Kopell, who introduced Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman MK Ze'ev Elkin.
As of this writing, the Huckabee delegation is scheduled to visit the SodaStream factory in the Judean village of Kfar Adumim, east of Jerusalem, and several other sites of Jewish interest on both sides of the Green Line.