With US Vice President Mike Pence’s long delayed arrival Sunday evening, the “kishka test” comes to mind.
Remember the kishka test? This was a question Jews and Israelis struggled with for years under former president Barack Obama. Did he really love us, did he get us in his kishkas – his guts? With Pence, quipped former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon – who worked with the vice president in the early 2000’s when Pence was a supportive Republican congressman from Indiana sitting on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – there is no question that he passes the kishka test.
Pence, Ayalon said, “gets us in his kishkas, in his heart, mind and soul.”
In fact, he agreed, there probably has never been as supportive an American politician in such a high level as Pence.
And there have been supportive presidents and vice presidents in the past. Harry Truman for one, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush were among the others.
Cheney, Ayalon said, was also a very supportive and friendly vice president. But there is one big difference: Cheney’s support came from a strategic, military outlook of Israel’s importance to the US. But Pence’s support comes from that place as well as another: a deeply rooted emotional and religious connection. Pence is an Evangelical Christian, and his support for Israel is an outgrowth of that faith and his belief in the Bible.
Deputy Minister Michael Oren (Kulanu), another former ambassador to the US, said that Joe Biden would also put himself on the list of supportive presidents and vice presidents of the past, and say that he loves Israel no less than Pence.
Biden, Oren said, saw himself as very supportive. “It depends how you define supportive. Biden was from the tough love school,” he said. “Biden thought that he loves us and showed his love by being tough with us. Pence loves us, and expresses that by giving the love without the tough.”
Which type of love is better? Oren was asked.
“From my perspective, there is no question that Pence’s is better,” he said.
REFERRING TO the brouhaha during Biden’s first visit as vice president in 2010, when Israel announced plans to build housing units in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, Oren said, “I don’t see where the Ramat Shalom incident advanced the Israel-US relationship, or enhanced Israeli security, or helped the people of Israel.”
What sets Pence apart from the administration that came before, Oren said, is “a deep respect for Israel’s democratically elected leaders, and the reason why the Israeli public elected them.”
Mark Zell, the chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel and someone who knows Pence personally, echoed Oren’s sentiments, and said both Pence and his boss, US President Donald Trump, “recognize and respect the sovereignty of the State of Israel and the right of Israel to make decisions that directly affect its national security, and act in accordance with that.”
And that stands in contrast to Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry who spoke often as if they had a better sense of what was good for Israel than the Israeli government or the Israeli public that elected that government.
“Other presidents, certainly Obama, had no problem approaching Israel as some kind of a client state, treating it as a banana republic in some ways,” Zell said. “But this president respects Israel, and respects the prime minister. And so does the vice president – they have shown this throughout the first year in office, including on issues where the US has been traditionally resistant to Israeli policy, particularly in regards to Judea and Samaria. I respect that, and I think that is a sea change.”
And for Pence this respect for Israel comes from a deep religious source.
Pence was born Catholic, but became an Evangelical Christian, and his faith, said Zell, “is really a guiding principle in his life. If you ever meet him and talk to him, it really comes through in almost everything he says. And also for his wife, Karen.”
It definitely comes out when he speaks of Israel. Consider his words at an event he hosted in the White House last May to mark Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day.
“On this day, the fifth day in the month of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar in 1948, nothing short of a miracle occurred. On that day, in the ancient and eternal homeland of the Jewish people, the State of Israel was reborn,” Pence said.
“ON THAT DAY, the Jewish people’s 2000-year exile, the longest exile of any people anywhere, ended. And on that day, a prophecy literally came to pass. And I believe in my heart that God Himself fulfilled His promise to His people. The Lord God tells us in the Old Book, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter into and ye shall live.’ And Israel lives today.”
Note, this was the vice president of the United State speaking, not Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett.
In November, at an event marking the UN’s passage of the Partition Plan in 1947, Pence said, “While Israel was built by human hands, it’s impossible not to see the hand of heaven leading its people, writing their history in the restoration of this ancient people to their land of their birth.”
Hart Hasten, an Indianapolis businessman whom Pence credits for mentoring him into politics, has known Pence and supported and encouraged him in politics since the vice president’s first unsuccessful run for Congress in the 1980s.
“I know him from way back,” Hasten said. “He loves the Jewish community. Israel is very important to him. He is pro-Israel – really, sincerely and without any equivocation.
“His pro-Israel sympathies come from the Bible. He reads the Bible every day,” Hasten said, and he knows it exceptionally well.
Hasten tells a story of the time Pence was invited to a bar mitzva at an Orthodox synagogue in Indianapolis. The inscription over the ark containing the Torah scrolls was a verse in Hebrew from Exodus 25:8: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
“I said to him to let me translate the verse, and after I said the first word, he finished it himself,” Hasten remembered. “He knows the Bible almost by heart.”
Hasten said there were not a lot of Jewish Republicans in Indianapolis when Pence first ran for Congress, but those who were there, supported him. Every year, Hasten said, Pence would come to his home for a Yom Ha’atzma’ut party.
“He got to know the Jewish community,” he said. “We would have as many as 60 to 70 people at these parties. We invited him to our house [for the Israel Independence Day celebration] and we celebrated it with Israeli food. I always felt in my heart that this man will never let us down.”