If settler leader Dani Dayan could vote in the 2012 United States presidential elections, he would throw his support behind possible Republican contender Mike Huckabee.
“Our prayer is to see you [Huckabee] in the Oval Office,” said Dayan, who heads the council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
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He spoke Tuesday after accompanying the former Arkansas governor on a rainy afternoon tour of the West Bank.
It included stops in the Ariel settlement, the Barkan Industrial Park, a religious pre-military academy in the Eli settlement and the Psagot winery – the latter two in the Binyamin region.
At the winery, Huckabee met up with a group of Christian tourists who were traveling with him. The whole group was then entertained by country music played by the Waller brothers from Tennessee. At one point, Huckabee picked up a guitar and joined them. Someone stuck a cowboy hat on his head as he played.
“I have never met as great a friend and supporter as [former] governor Mike Huckabee,” said Dayan, who gave a heartfelt speech to the crowd after the musical performance was over.
“I want to tell you, you have our deepest gratitude,” Dayan said to Huckabee.
“Since I am not your spokesperson, I am free to talk. I know that you have not decided [whether to run], and if you have decided, you have not declared,” continued Dayan, whose words drew laughter and applause from the crowd.
Huckabee smiled as he listened, but did not affirm or deny Dayan’s statements.
Dayan said he represented a diverse community that was best described by the old joke that if there were two Jews, there were three opinions.
“But I am completely sure that there is one issue in which I represent 150 percent of the population, and this is our admiration for you, our love for you and our gratitude to you,” said Dayan.
Huckabee’s warm support for the settlements has been markedly different from the attitude of the Obama administration, which has spoken of settlement activity as illegitimate and supported the Palestinian contention that they are a stumbling block to peace.
“I respect the rights of the Jewish people to live anywhere they wish in their homeland,” said Huckabee, who added that this included the West Bank settlements.
“I understand that to some people who have never been here, they might just accept the idea that this is disputed territory,” Huckabee told The Jerusalem Post. But he said he did not believe that there was any dispute about the indigenous rights of the Jewish people, who had lived on the land as far back as 3,500 years ago and at that time had already spoken Hebrew and celebrated their faith.
On the bus, Huckabee speculated that were he to become president, he would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Speaking to religous seminary students in Eli earlier in the day, Huckabee said he had first fallen in love with Israel when he visited it at age 18, in 1973, just a few months before the Yom Kippur War.
“It left an indelible impression upon me that remains until this day. The reason I have come back again and again is because I have seen in the Israeli spirit an extraordinary sense of commitment to a nation where people yearn to be free and yearn to have security and yearn to leave for their children something that is better than they received,” said Huckabee.
He said he was mindful that both in Israel and in the United States, freedom came at a high price, since people were willing to give their lives in defense of their countries.
“I have always felt that the US and Israel have a unique organic relationship, in that both nations come from people who yearn to have religious freedom and security, to be able to have peace,” stated Huckabee.
“I am grateful to Israel. It is a friend to America, the only real friend we have in this part of the world. I hope my country won’t forget our relationship and will be strong and vigilant in it,” he said, adding, “I also recognized that no nation on earth has been so relentlessly challenged as has Israel.”
To the students, he said he was aware that they were about to enter the army, during which time they would serve both their nation and God.
He recalled how during a visit two years ago, someone had given him a Tshirt that said, “Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you.”
As he walked out, he stopped to shake hands with many of the students and ask them a few questions.
One student said to him, “I hope you will be president.”