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‘Better For Israel To Be Respected Than Loved’: An Exclusive Interview with Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, completed a three-day tour of some of Israel’s holiest and most contentious sites last week with leaders of Ateret Cohanim.

During his eleventh visit to Israel since 1973, Huckabee toured Jewish neighborhoods within East Jerusalem and Samaria and consistently affirmed his support for Jews living in any and all parts of the Jewish homeland.

Many consider the former governor-turned FOX News talk show host a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Huckabee’s statement that the “United States government shouldn’t tell Israel where Jewish people can live” was a direct rebuke of the Obama administration’s pressure on Israel for a settlement freeze. And his dismissal of the notion of “two people owning the same piece of real estate” was aimed at advocates of a divided Jerusalem.

Huckabee’s trip included a visit to the Shepherd Hotel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the site of a planned housing project for Jewish families. The Obama administration has demanded the project be halted, claiming it sabotages negotiations with the Palestinians. Huckabee faulted the Obama administration for being “more concerned about twenty families moving into the Shepherd Hotel than about Ahmadenijad building nuclear weapons.”

Huckabee was his typical courteous but blunt self during an interview with The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: How does seeing the facts on the ground in Israel change your perspective regarding Jerusalem and the settlements?

Huckabee: I don’t know that my views have changed any. I believe Jewish people have the right to live where they want to.

All over Israeli territory, Arabs come and go freely. I thought it was very interesting and sort of telling that I went into neighborhoods where Jews were told they can’t go because Arabs live there, but at the same time Arabs are not told they can’t go into neighborhoods because Jews live there.

You were in Israel last year and said it would be “suicidal” for Israel to cede any more land to the Arabs, which is the basis for the two-state solution. Can you explain your position vis-a-vis Netanyahu’s recent endorsement of the two state solution?

One of the things I would be very careful is not to take issue with Israeli policy because that’s an issue the Israelis have to deal with.

I can speak to my own personal views as to American policy. Americans have pushed for a two-state solution. Now if a two-state solution means there will be a settlement in Gaza for the Palestinians, and the Israelis decide that’s what they want, that’s different than splitting Jerusalem down the middle – or worse, giving Jerusalem completely over to the Palestinians.

I don’t think there is any realistic way Jerusalem can be governed effectively if it’s divided. I cannot imagine how it would work.

How do you explain Obama’s position toward Israel, specifically regarding the settlement freeze and his opposition to building in Jerusalem?

His position is inexplicable to me. It violates what he said during his campaign. It violates what he promised when he went before AIPAC and gave them assurances that he would not make any major changes to policies that would threaten Israel’s security. He spoke glowingly of the need for security. I have no explanation other than to note that he also hasn’t kept his word about transparency in government. He hasn’t kept his word about no bills being signed until they’ve been on the Internet five days and about not raising the debt and deficits and not raising taxes on the middle class.

I guess we should just come to believe that everything he said in the campaign no longer can be held to him because he’s not been very faithful so far in keeping his promises.

How have your beliefs as a Baptist minister influenced your views regarding Israel and Zionism?

Some reporters certainly want to make it, “Oh well, the reason you have this view of Israel is because of your theology and you’re basically being driven by it.”

What I say to them is that my views to me are consistent with my theology, but I’m not trying to impose a theology on the government.

It’s not like I’m saying, “Oh, this is what I have to believe because of my religion.” It is what I believe. It’s consistent with my faith, and frankly, I can’t imagine having a faith inconsistent with my politics or my politics being inconsistent with my faith. That would express that neither mean very much to me; that I have chosen to make both of them utilities as opposed to points of conviction and faith.

The recent Fatah conference in Bethlehem dispelled any notion of the Palestinians ending incitement against Israel. Why then this continued pursuit of a two-state solution nonetheless?

One of the reasons for my reservations concerning the whole idea of the two-state solution and dividing Jerusalem and ceding land is because as I look at that policy over the past thirty years and it simply hasn’t worked. Every time Israel gives away land for peace, they get neither land nor peace. They give up land, but they don’t get peace.

The ultimate insult to what I think was really good-faith efforts was that when the Palestinians had the chance to conduct elections, whom did they put into power? Hamas! My own government calls them a terrorist group.

That to me is making it even more difficult to explain the Obama administration on “let’s concede more.” Why concede more to a terrorist group that doesn’t believe Israel should even exist? I am totally bewildered by that point of view.

Despite Israeli concessions, anti-Zionism seems to have morphed into anti-Semitism, as illustrated during the recent Gaza War. In light of this, should Israel just ignore world opinion in its pursuit of secure borders?

It’s better to be respected and feared than it is to be loved. If you’re seeking to be loved you may not be respected, but if you are respected you may end up being loved. It just may take a while. But if love means you’re being taken advantage of, that’s not love at all.

I’ve always felt Israel was at its best when it took a very clear stand, for example against negotiating with terrorists, and when it said, “If you strike us we will strike you back.” I know that most Americans have an appreciation and respect for that.

I stood in Sderot last summer and saw hundreds upon hundreds of the eight thousand Kassam rockets that had been fired into schools and homes indiscriminately, with no military targets.

Where was the international press demanding that something be done? Where were those same reporters who went over there [Gaza] weeping? How many Kassams were enough before they finally had to take action? How many thousands of those missiles had to be fired into people’s lawns, their schools and their kids’ nursery before at one point they said “that’s it”?

How many would it have taken the United States to say that’s enough? One. We would have gotten there 7,999 missiles sooner. And for Americans to act like the Israelis were wrong to have defended themselves against that is beyond any explanation that I can give.

Had you secured the GOP presidential nomination last year and gone on to win the presidency, what policies would you have implemented relating to Israel?

I believe Jerusalem should be the site of the U.S. embassy. It’s the capital of Israel. It’s not our place as an American government to determine what the capital of another country is. We don’t do that with anyone else on earth.

And it’s incredible to me that we would say we’re not recognizing the very capital that is the seat of Israel’s government, where the prime minister governs and resides and where the parliament meets. It makes no sense.

I would also never try to dictate to Israel where the people of its country should live. And I would be very supportive of building even stronger alliances, because I think the very unique bond between the countries – based on mutual commitment to individual liberty and freedom – is incredible.

About the Author: Sara Lehmann, a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, was formerly an editor at a major New York publishing house.


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