What did you hear when Pence spoke?


In Monday’s New York Times, columnist Max Fisher treated Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel as just another expression of what he considers the divisive policies of the Trump administration. Even before Pence gave a rousing speech to the Knesset, Fisher wrote that Trump’s approach to the Middle East conveyed what he called “a particularly American notion of being ‘pro-Israel’.”

What critics of Trump and Pence get wrong is not so much their critique of the details policy as it is their resistance to the notion that America’s love for Israel is rooted in its religious heritage as well as its national interests.

How did sentiments such as Pence’s words on Jewish rights or even a recognition of the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital come to be seen as just another front in America’s partisan wars?

Is it really the fault of Republicans or Christian conservatives? Or is rather that some on the left have come to embrace intersectionality — a view of the world in which Israel is falsely accused of being a colonial power oppressing a group that is identified as the moral equivalent of others who are made to suffer because of their race, gender or sexual preference?

But no matter how you feel about Trump, Pence or the views of evangelicals on social issues, what is really troubling is the way some left-wingers are quick to lash out at the administration’s stands in such a way as to demonize normative pro-Israel positions.

Tnere was nothing particularly controversial in either the president’s remarks on Jerusalem last month or Pence’s speech on Monday from the point of view of the pursuit of peace. Neither Trump nor Pence precluded a two-solution or even a re-division of Jerusalem in order to accommodate a Palestinian capital if that was part of a peace plan accepted by both sides.

It was significant that Pence quoted George Washington and John Adams in his Knesset speech. Few American Jews know that the first U.S. president to endorse a Jewish state wasn’t Harry Truman or anyone else in the 20th century — it was Adams, the nation’s first vice president and second president. That demonstrates just how far back into America’s political history backing for Zionism goes. That vast numbers of Americans are inspired by the Bible to support Jewish rights in their ancient homeland isn’t so much a function of the left-right conflict as it is an integral part of the nation’s political culture.

Those turned off by Pence’s rhetoric need to ask what it is about a desire to respect Jewish rights and demand Palestinians give up their century-old war on Zionism that annoys them so much.

Nor is there anything intrinsically right-wing or crazy about Pence’s declaration that the Iran nuclear deal must be renegotiated to end the sunset clauses that will enable Tehran to legally seek a weapon once the accord expires within a decade. President Obama vowed to end Iran’s nuclear program and to never to allow Iran to obtain a bomb, but the only way those promises can be fulfilled are by the measures Trump and Pence advocate.

For those who can’t listen to anything coming out of this administration without re-interpreting it through the lens of the “resistance,” Pence’s moving comments about the ties between America and Israel may seem like a creepy conservative plot against liberal values. But if that’s how you heard it, the problem isn’t in Pence’s rhetoric, but in a rejection of a belief that the overwhelming majority of American still rightly view as a consensus issue.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS