Drawing on American values of freedom and self-determination, Mike Huckabee, a likely Republican presidential contender, defended the right of Jews to live anywhere in Israel on Monday during the cornerstone- laying ceremony for a new Jewish neighborhood on east Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.

Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi), MK Danny Danon (Likud), Jerusalem municipal officials, a movie star, rabbis and dozens of students from the adjacent Beit Orot yeshiva assembled for the ceremony in a makeshift tent just above the new construction site.

As the wind occasionally shook the tent’s walls, Huckabee opened his remarks by alluding to the muddy ground and noting that the revenues of a shoe-shine stand at the site could provide sufficient funding for continued construction.

He then moved on to the more symbolic elements of the stormy weather.

“In many ways, it’s probably appropriate that the weather was acting against us because there is no doubt but that many forces acted against the Jewish people in returning to their homeland, being able to live in the place that God gave them,” he said. “It is inconceivable in many ways that we would have to even argue and debate whether or not Israelis could live in Israel, not just in parts of Israel but anywhere in Israel they wished to live.”

He continued by saying “I cannot imagine as an American being told that I could not live in certain places in America because I was Christian, or because I was white, or because I spoke English. I would be outraged if someone told me that in my country, I would be prohibited and forbidden to live in a part of that country, for any reason.”

Huckabee added that the “essence of freedom, the very heart of it,” is self-determination and self-direction.

“And so today,” he said, “we dedicate this place not only as a place for people to live, but for people to live free. Many people across the world live, but the real inner quest in every heart is to live free. I join you today in celebrating this place as a place for people who will not merely live, but live free, as a testament to their commitment of making Israel a place where there is always a home for the Jewish people.”

Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight, who accompanied Huckabee to Israel, said he was “very proud to be here with all of you who stood for justice and for the legacy of the Jewish people.

And when I see you I think of all the great ones, for so many centuries, who had a dream to pass on the legacy to the next generation, and labored hard and suffered and sacrificed.”

Voight concluded his remarks to loud applause by saying, “And now you are here, this is your time, and you are doing what you should be doing, which is to prepare the next generations and to be the hope of the world that you are. I love you all.”

Construction on the new residential neighborhood commenced some three weeks ago, after the Jerusalem municipal planning board granted a permit for 18 apartments in three buildings, primarily for married students at Beit Orot. The entire complex will be named the Irving Moskowitz Yeshiva and Campus– Yeshivat Beit Orot, after the primary benefactor, an American bingo parlor mogul.

Hershkowitz stressed in his address that, contrary to what some say, Jewish construction is not making an agreement with the Palestinians harder to reach.

“Building in all parts of Israel and particularly Jerusalem does not hinder peace – building in Jerusalem only increases peace,” Hershkowitz said.

“Since we want a lot of peace, we hope that the Beit Orot neighborhood will be a model to the construction momentum in Jerusalem and all of Israel.”

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