Gov. Mike Pence’s unswerving allegiance to the Israeli government, a hallmark of his tenure in Congress, may be many things. But it is not pro-Jewish.
As the sponsorship of his upcoming visit by a group called Christians United for Israel indicates, Pence speaks to a constituency of religious conservatives in the United States who hold one or both of two beliefs about Israel: that it is the biblically ordained place where Jews must return to be converted to Christianity for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (a Jew who never mentioned this), and that Israel’s interests supersede any claims infidels might have to the Holy Land they’ve occupied for millennia. The latter affront is no more Judaic than the former.
What Pence himself believes, I have no way of knowing. But the pursuit of his presidential ambitions, which he has couched in his usual if-God-chooses-me terms, depends on the support of the potent religious right as well as the taxophobic Tea Party and its billionaire string-pullers – each of which has its own reasons for favoring a dominant rather than neighborly posture by Israel toward the Arabs who share its location.
By all accounts, Pence and his party are eager to meet with the reactionary Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli business sector; but have no plans to reach out to Palestinian leadership, certainly not the militant but nevertheless democratically elected Hamas. The conveniently simplistic view of Israel as a tiny gallant outpost of democracy in a savage land will not be disturbed on this sanctimonious pilgrimage.
To most voters in Republican presidential primaries, any acknowledgement of the equality of Palestinians before God, or criticism of the current Israeli government, would amount to blasphemous anti-Semitism. This might perplex the many Israeli Jews who’ve denounced the militaristic stance their government has taken toward residents of Gaza and the defiantly inflammatory settlement expansion in Palestinian territory. But it hardly separates Pence from the American presidential pack.
Israel is the third rail. Witness the unanimous vote last summer in the Senate supporting the assault on Gaza, which killed more than 1,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians. While condemnation of terror attacks on Israel are certainly in order, the failure even of ultraliberals in this country to find empathy for people caught on the weak side of all-out war is a truly stunning example of blind realpolitick that’s isolated us from the world. Even Barack Obama has long since forgotten that Cairo speech.
A true visionary, a true Christian, which is to say a true heir of the Jews, would be preaching reconciliation and the self-criticism of power in the Middle East. Hustling business and playing into the faux fellowship of Revelations literalists back home is more to be expected from a politician who’s hoping for God’s directions to Iowa.
Again, it’s unlikely to do Pence a lot of good in the prevailing foreign policy climate. But greater good could result if it sparks examination of rightwing religious solicitude toward Israel, and other dishonest uses of that country, by U.S. opinion drivers.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the saying goes in the Middle East. But do you want anyone’s enemy as your friend? And is there any worse enemy than a contingent friend?
Dan Carpenter is a freelance journalist, a contributor to The Indianapolis Business Journal and Sky Blue Window, and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”