Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman were awarded honorary doctorates at Ariel University on Wednesday evening.
In his address to the several hundred guests in attendance at the event, Pence said, “It’s great to be here in Ariel. I’m told that some people say that you shouldn’t go to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. I obviously have a different opinion.”
The remark appeared to be a reference to U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, who recently said that he would be willing to meet with “settlers” if they came to him, but wouldn’t visit any Jewish “settlements” as not to cause friction.
Turning to the war in Ukraine, Pence said that “it’s inarguable as we gather here tonight, the world is a more dangerous place for America, Israel and all the freedom-loving nations around the world.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he continued, was “just the latest tragic reminder of an undeniable truth of history: that weakness arouses evil, but peace comes through strength.”
Pence placed the blame for the “evil” situation unfolding in Ukraine squarely on the shoulders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and called on the world to support the Ukrainian military with equipment while cutting off oil exports from Russia.
“Putin must stop, or Putin must pay,” he said.
Pence praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement earlier in the day that the United States was banning the import of Russian oil, saying the next step was to “unleash American energy and put our nation on a path of energy independence.”
However, he criticized the U.S.-led negotiations currently underway in Vienna surrounding a possible return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which he said were leading to “a new and even worse” agreement. He scorned Russia’s role as a mediator in the talks and said that if another bad deal was signed, the next U.S. president, who he believes will be a Republican, would “rip up any new nuclear deal on day one.”
While he no longer spoke on behalf of the U.S. government, he said, “I speak with authority when I say: now and always, America stands with Israel.”
Pence arrived in Ariel after touring Hebron earlier in the day, which he referred to as “the oldest Jewish community in the world.” His visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, he said, “was one of the greatest honors of my life.”
Pence praised Friedman for his “tenacious leadership” in carrying out Trump’s Israel mandate.
Upon receiving his award, Friedman began his remarks by recognizing the many dignitaries in the room, singling out Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Friedman recalled that when he had attended a conference alongside Sa’ar last October, “I was so upset that the government of the United States was talking about opening a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem that I asked Sa’ar at the time to promise me that it wouldn’t happen.”
Sa’ar had made that promise, he said, and thanked Sa’ar for keeping his word and preventing the consulate from becoming a reality.
Friedman said Ariel University was “the only world-class institution of higher learning in Judea and Samaria.”
“We spend far too much time talking about the intractable conflicts in this part of the world, and far too little time acknowledging and advancing the solutions. … Ariel University is a solution to ignorance, intolerance and prejudice. At Ariel University Jews, Muslims and Christians study together, prosper together and build bridges together,” he said.
The university was central to the goal of peaceful coexistence, he said, adding that he has urged members of Congress to consider funding it “for people-to-people engagement in the region.”
After receiving his award, Friedman told JNS he was “deeply honored” to have received an honorary doctorate from the university, “and to share this award with my friend, and a great friend of Israel, Mike Pence.”
“Ariel University is leading the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,” he said.
The university, for its part, released a statement praising Pence and Friedman for leading “the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel, the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, the recognition by the United States of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and the United States recognition of the legal and historic rights of the Jewish People in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights.”
Adrian Treger, director of donor relations for the university, told JNS that Pence and Friedman “were courageous in the action they took to stabilize our region and give a new vision for the world, thus changing it for the good.”
Ariel University also used the gathering as an opportunity to dedicate its brand-new campus library in memory of philanthropist Dr. Reuben Hecht, an Israel Prize laureate and member of the pre-state paramilitary Irgun organization.