US President Barack Obama should announce the release of imprisoned Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard during his upcoming visit to Israel as a way to win over the Israeli public, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said Monday.

Huckabee, here leading some 200 Christian evangelicals to Israel, told a press briefing that such a move would be a “cathartic moment in the relationship between Israel and the US,” and signal an “extraordinary sense of goodwill” on the part of the US and the Obama administration.

“I don’t think there is a price to be paid politically for the president in the United States for that, but there would be enormous benefit in terms of relationship with Israelis for him to make that announcement just prior to his coming, or even while he is here,” he said.

Huckabee, who ran an unsuccessful presidential race in 2008 and is now a popular conservative television and radio host, said he hoped the president “reassures the people of Israel that there is absolutely no way that America will stand by and let Iran develop a nuclear weapon. He needs to say that loudly, clearly and without equivocation.”

He said this needed to be an “absolute line in the sand” so there was no ambiguity and no doubt on the part of the Iranian government that there was a line that cannot be crossed.

Huckabee said this would be welcome news not only for Israel, but for most in the Muslim world who, while they might not “celebrate” this, “would be dancing in the halls in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates – everywhere but Syria.”

Turning to the controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, Huckabee said his testimony two weeks ago was “extraordinarily problematic” for many Democratic senators.

Huckabee then asked how Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Carl Levin (D-Michigan), who are both Jewish, could vote for Hagel and ever have credibility again with the Jewish community, “or for that matter with the rest of America.”

He noted that “if it proves true that the rumors that Chuck Hagel received funds from the friends of Hamas, then on its face that would disqualify him.”

Huckabee said Hagel must disclose all “his financial entanglement,” because “that rumor – if not true – has to be dispelled.” If true, he said, “it absolutely disqualifies him for any consideration, even as a gatekeeper at a national park, let alone as defense secretary. “ Huckabee was full of praise for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom he hopes to meet during his week-long visit.

Netanyahu, Huckabee said, is “extraordinarily popular in the United States, I would say he is one of the most popular political figures in the US.”

The former governor said that while there may be tension between Netanyahu and Obama personally, “I don’t think the prime minister has a problem with Americans. He is remarkably well-loved, and I think many people see him as the Churchill of our day, because he has a clarity about the security threats faced not only by Israel, but the rest of the world, and I think he has an uncanny perspective of why all of this matters, and what the background is.”

When Netanyahu speaks, Huckabee said, “Americans listen.”

Huckabee downplayed the importance of settlement construction for most Americans, saying he never hears Americans say that Israel ”is doing something awful by building bedrooms for their families.”

Rather, he said, I think “most Americans are a lot more concerned about Iran building bombs that might blow up those families.”

Calling it “one of the great mysteries of life,” Huckabee said it was inexplicable to him why American Jews supported Obama so much more than Israeli Jews.

“I have often chided some of my Jewish friends in the United States why as an evangelical I am more pro-Israel than they are,” he said. “Sometimes I think it is a matter of people not wanting to show an overfavoritism that they don’t want to explain.”

Huckabee said he felt support for Israel among the American public was growing, and not only in the Orthodox Jewish or evangelical Christian communities.

He attributed this to some extent to disappointment in the Arab Spring, and the realization by many that things in the Arab world are no better – and in some cases worse and more oppressive – than they were two years ago.

He slammed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and “the descendants of apes and pigs” in a video in 2010. Had the roles been reversed, and Netanyahu called the Egyptians blood suckers, than the countries of the world would have isolated Israel and forced Netanyahu out of office, Hucakbee said.

The former governor said that rather than holding Morsi responsible and accountable, “we turn around and write him a check. What kind of accountability is that?”

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