Pence and peace

Pence spoke from the heart and “words that come from the heart enter the heart,” to paraphrase a verse from Proverbs.

January 23, 2018 21:53
3 minute read.
US Vice President Mike Pence seen during a visit to the Knesset, Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem

US Vice President Mike Pence seen during a visit to the Knesset, Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS/ARIEL SCHALIT/POOL)

It is difficult to imagine a more pro-Israel speech than the one given by US Vice President Mike Pence. What moved more than a few listeners to tears was Pence’s utter lack of cynicism or desire to find favor in the eyes of Israel’s many detractors. Pence spoke from the heart and “words that come from the heart enter the heart,” to paraphrase a verse from Proverbs.

What magnified the impact of Pence’s speech was the simple fact that everything he said was perfectly true.

Israel’s fight with radical Islamic extremism, whether on the West Bank, in Gaza or on the northern border, truly is, as Pence stated, “a battle between right over wrong, good over evil, and liberty over tyranny.”

The formation of America, which was envisioned as an ideal before it was realized in actuality, is strikingly similar to the Exodus story. Both are narratives of people escaping persecution who enter a promised land, bringing with them high moral aspirations. This perception has deep roots in American history. As Pence noted, John Adams, America’s second president, declared that the Jews “have done more to civilize man than any other nation.”

And both the Exodus and the creation of the United States of America are similar to the story of Israel’s formation, which is about the establishment of a free and democratic nation-state for a downtrodden people who had just endured a Holocaust.

At the very outset of Pence’s speech, Israel’s democracy was on display.

Pence had barely begun speaking when Joint List MKs – all of whom are Arab except Dov Henin – held up signs that said “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” They were immediately ejected by ushers to protect Pence’s right to speak without interruption. But the Joint List MKs made their protest known. The vice president used the opportunity to praise Israel’s “vibrant democracy.”

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh tweeted that he was proud to lead his party in a “strong, legitimate protest, against the Trump-Netanyahu regime’s exaltation of racism and hatred, who speak of peace solely as lip service.”

The same freedom of expression to be found in the Knesset is protected by Israel’s democratic rule elsewhere, particularly at Israel’s many religious sites, which should not be taken for granted in this part of the world.

“At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we see a Christian child receiving the gift of grace, in baptism,” Pence noted. “At the Western Wall, we see a young Jewish boy being bar-mitzvaed and at the Haram al-Sharif, we see young Muslims, heads bowed in prayer.”

The miraculous circumstances of Israel’s rebirth were not missed on Pence. How the Jewish people “just three years after walking beneath the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to resurrect yourselves, to reclaim a Jewish future and to rebuild the Jewish state.”

Nor did he miss the biblical promise that this miracle fulfilled: “Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there He will gather and bring you back to the land which your fathers possessed.”

When Pence reiterated the US’s commitment to Israel’s security with Jerusalem as its capital, his words resonated with sincerity because they came together with deep religious, moral and historical underpinnings of conviction.

Cynics and critics of Israel and of America have already taken Pence to task for his unabashed defense of Israel.

They seem to think that praise for Israel somehow comes at the expense of Arab peoples or of the Palestinians.

It is undoubtedly true that the remarkable ties and similarities between Americans and Israelis do not exist to the same extent between America and the Palestinians, yet Pence made it clear that the US is nevertheless committed to advancing peace for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians.

As Pence noted, “Peace can only come through dialogue.”

He urged the Palestinians who have refused to meet with Pence during his visit to “return to the table.”

History has shown that chances for peace are greatest when America leaders are most willing to recognize the special ties that unite the US and Israel and when there is “no daylight” between the two nations.

We hope Palestinians will see Pence’s pro-Israel speech as a new opportunity – not to abandon the peace process, but to re-engage.

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