Fox host Pete Hegseth and National Council of Young Israel Vice President Joe Frager in the settlement of Beit El.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF NYCI)
When Pete Hegseth goes on air, he knows there’s a good chance the president of the United States might be watching. And Hegseth, a weekend anchor on President Donald Trump’s favorite TV show, Fox & Friends, is happy to hear it.
“We’re conscious of it and we’re proud of it,” Hegseth said in an interview at The Jerusalem Post’s offices on Monday, during his third trip to Israel. “We’d rather have him watching us than CNN.”
He added: “Obviously you’re conscious of the fact that the man sitting in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue might be watching, but you don’t do the show just in case he’s watching. It does add another level of responsibility to make sure you’re at your best.”
Hegseth is halfway through a four-day tour of Israel sponsored by the National Council of Young Israel and its vice president, Joe Frager. The US Army veteran and Fox News commentator and anchor has long felt an affinity for Israel and a desire to see more of the country.
“Every trip reveals more layers but also deepens my connection to the people and the country of Israel,” he said. “As a person of faith myself, as a Christian, who believes that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel... the better grasp I can have of all the aspects of what goes on in Jerusalem and in Israel, the better I can bring a true and clearer picture which is often very muddied in the American media.”
And there’s no doubt that Hegseth’s trips to the region have exposed him to more of Israel than the average American. But there is also no doubt that he is seeing a very specific view of the country. In addition to visiting the Western Wall, Hegseth visited Jewish families living in the Muslim Quarter in the capital’s Old City, made a trip to the Orthodox West Bank settlement Beit El and visited the Achva halva factory in Ariel. He also took part in a conference in Jerusalem sponsored by right-wing news outlet Arutz Sheva, where the keynote speakers were Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, all from Bayit Yehudi.
Frager helped to organize a similar trip last year for Anthony Scaramucci, the colorful Trump surrogate who served for a record-short 10 days as White House communications director.
Partway through his trip, Hegseth sees things the American people can learn from Israel – to a point.
“Seeing the Golan Heights, seeing the Gaza Strip, being in Judea and Samaria – is an understanding that walls can work, walls can matter,” he said. “Geography really does matter, strategic positions really do matter.”
One of Trump’s most famous campaign promises was to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Gaza and the Golan have largely fence-based border barriers while portions of the West Bank security barrier are walls.
“The debate that we have is what is a wall, what is a fence, what is a barrier,” Hegseth said. “You can’t stop everything every time, but a physical barrier with overwatch... you have the ability to dramatically change outcomes.”
But as the conversation in the US swirls around gun control in the wake of another deadly mass shooting last week, Hegseth doesn’t want to point to Israel – which has strong restrictions in place – as a model.
“I take the perspective very strongly that, thank God, we have a Constitution and amendments that guarantee every citizen the right to bear arms and defend themselves and their family and their homes as they see fit,” he said.
“The best solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and I think the conversation needs to be focused there.”
Hegseth also drew comparisons between the police recommendation last week to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the investigations of the Trump campaign for alleged collusion with Russia.
“Most people don’t understand the underlying political dynamics and motivations” surrounding Netanyahu, he said. “In covering our own process we can see..., were there political motivations, were there not political motivations, was there Russian collusion? It’s very hard to cipher out what is good and right and true.”
But one thing Hegseth is certain about is that Trump is the best president Israel could hope for.
“I think he has a clearer picture than any other modern president that I’m aware of, because he understands who our friends are and why.”