Israel as a Republican State of Mind

Gershom Gorenberg

And this is now up at The American Prospect:

Mike Huckabee met reporters Wednesday at the Waldorf-Astoria on a campaign stop. This particular Waldorf-Astoria was in downtown West Jerusalem. Huckabee wanted to talk about Iran. The folks with microphones and cameras mostly wanted him to talk about his previous campaign event. That was a fundraiser at the Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank—or as Huckabee insistently called the area, “Judea and Samaria,” which he said was part of Israel.

The journalists’ interrogation grew fiercer, and the ex-governor of Arkansas said time was up. As he made his escape, a foreign correspondent sitting strategically near the door asked: “Do you also think Gaza is part of Israel?” and another said, “Would you be the first president to abandon the two-state solution?”

“I’m not sure,” Huckabee replied to one question or the other. It was the most reality-linked response of a hallucinatory session. He was, in fact, clueless.

Jerusalem and Shilo, let us note, are certainly not part of the United States. But why should that bother a Republican presidential candidate? The GOP and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have, together, steadily blurred the border between Israel and America as separate polities. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March—at once an eve-of-elections campaign rally for him and an assist to the GOP offensive against President Barack Obama—was a symptom, not an exception.

In 2012, Mitt Romney held a fundraiser in Jerusalem. Huckabee just outdid him with Shilo. Netanyahu has been called the Republican senator from Israel. Huckabee, in what has become a Republican campaign tradition, staked out a position that would put him on the far right in Israel—somewhere beyond Danny Danon, the Likud hardliner whom Netanyahu has just appointed as Israel’s representative to the United Nations.

Shilo is also an esoteric choice for fundraising. The Upper East Side or Beverly Hills it is not. Its population is just over 2,000; its middle-class exurban look owes something to government subsidies. Contrary to American stereotypes, most West Bank settlers are not American. Shilo’s attraction, Huckabee explained, is that it was the site of the Tabernacle—the moveable sanctuary that the Bible describes as preceding the Temple in Jerusalem. Asked if he had qualms about campaigning in the occupied West Bank, at a settlement considered illegal under international law, Huckabee rejected the terms illegal, occupied and West Bank. Americans, he said, should “show support for Israelis and their capacity to build neighborhoods in their own country.”

If he regarded the West Bank as part of Israel, he was asked, how did he feel about the fact that the Palestinian population doesn’t have the right to vote in Israeli elections? “That’s a decision for the Israeli government,” he answered. Somehow, it was not a surprise that a Republican candidate in 2015 did not see denial of the right to vote as a violation of the democratic values that he insisted Israel and America share.

Read the rest here.