By Herb Keinon, JPOST—
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump – who said in February he wanted to be a “neutral guy” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – selected as his running mate a man who told The Jerusalem Post that the US should not be an “honest broker” in the Mideast, but rather let the world know the US is firmly on Israel’s side.
Mike Pence, the Indiana Governor selected by Trump as his running mate over the weekend, expressed unstinting support for Israel during an interview with the Post on December 31, 2014.
“If the world knows nothing else, let it know this: America stands with Israel,” Pence said, after addressing a town hall meeting organized by Republicans Abroad Israel. Pence at the time was one of the leading names being touted as a Republican candidate for the 2016 elections, something he did not deny.
His chances, however, fell apart a few months later – in March 2015 – when he signed into Indiana law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a piece of legislation that the gay community argued legitimized discrimination against gays on religious grounds.
Pence was one of a number of presidential hopefuls who visited Israel in late 2014 and early 2015, including Republicans Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, and Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
During his address, Pence said the US can “deal honestly with people on all sides of the equation” while making clear what “side of the table” it is on.
Trump raised some eyebrows in the pro-Israel community in February when he refused to pick sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, saying in an interview that to be effective in mediating negotiations, he would want to be “sort of a neutral guy. A lot of people say an agreement can’t be made, which is OK, sometimes agreements can’t be made not good. I will give it one hell of a shot. I would say if you can do that deal, you can do any deal.”
Pence, an Evangelical Christian who came to Israel at the end of December for a nine-day visit – partly to spend Christmas in the Holy Land with his family, and partly on official business – told the Post that during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pence told the premier that “Israel is not just our strongest ally in the region, Israel is our most cherished ally in the world. If the world knows nothing else, let it know this: America stands with Israel.”
At a time when many were speaking about an unprecedented crisis in US-Israel ties as a result of tension between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, Pence dismissed the notion that the ties between the two countries were at an all-time low.
“I think relations between the American people and Israel have never been stronger,” he said. “I really believe that after a year where Israel saw 51 days of war , with Iranian nuclear ambitions unimpeded, with the rise of a terrorist army in Syria, now more than ever the American people feel a great bond of support with the people of Israel.”
Pence, who spent 12 years in Congress – a decade of that time on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – won the Indiana gubernatorial election in 2012.
During his visit here, Pence declined an invitation on Christmas Eve to meet in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We were very pleased to have the opportunity to travel to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, and to celebrate a very special holiday in that very holy place,” he told the Post. “We were also very privileged and very grateful to be invited by the local Palestinian leadership to attend a large banquet, and we did so. We did receive an invitation later in the evening for a private meeting , but we went on ahead with our plans to go to the Church of the Nativity and go to services.”
In a 2010 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pence assailed the Obama administration for its attitude toward Israel and Netanyahu.
“I believe the Obama administration is the most anti-Israel administration in the modern history of the state of Israel and our relationship with her,” he said.
Repeatedly calling Israel “our most cherished ally,” Pence said “the American people support Israel’s right to self-defense.
The American people support the Jewish state of Israel, and the American people expect the American president to unambiguously do the same.”