IT was like a carnival in Knesset. Many foreign leaders have addressed Israel’s parliament, but few have been greeted with so much excitement as America’s Vice-President.
Legislators were up and down like yo-yos, giving brief standing ovations as Mike Pence spoke on Monday – and then a seemingly never-ending applause at the end.
It was almost as if Israeli public opinion experts had crafted the speech, to say all the things that Israelis like to hear.
He recited the shehecheyanu blessing in Hebrew, said over new beginnings, in honour of Israel’s upcoming 70th birthday, and said the state has thrived in a way that is “confounding and against the odds”.
“How unlikely was Israel’s birth? How more unlikely has been her survival … You have turned the desert into a garden, scarcity into plenty, sickness into health, and you turned hope into a future.”
The US stands “with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight”.
Of course, Pence lauded his administration’s new recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying that his boss Donald Trump has “chosen fact over fiction”. And this will translate into action, he claimed. “In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, and the United States Embassy will open before the end of next year.”
Pence didn’t talk about Jerusalem as a place of conflict, or condemn Israeli building there as so many other political leaders do, but presented it as a hub of coexistence, where Muslims, Christians and Jews live and observe their faiths together.
He conjured this scene. “At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we see a Christian child receiving the gift of grace, in baptism. At the Western Wall, we see a young Jewish boy being bar-mitzvahed. And at the Haram al-Sharif, we see young Muslims, heads bowed in prayer.” It was like the script of an advert by Jerusalem’s tourism authority.
The Vice-President believes Israel wants peace and suggested that it is the Palestinians who are holding things up. “The United States appreciates your government’s declared willingness to resume direct peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. And today, we strongly urge the Palestinian leadership to return to the table. Peace can only come through dialogue.”
Pence echoed the common Israeli view that the terror that targets them is just like terror harming people in cities around the world – even though many voices internationally say otherwise. He said that “radical Islamic terrorism knows no borders”.
The West’s nuclear deal with Iran is a “disaster”, he declared, and America will pull out “unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed”. America “will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon”. It will also stop tolerating Iran’s support of terrorism.
Pence echoed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that Iranians should know that “we are your friends, and the day is coming when you will be free from the evil regime that suffocates your dreams and buries your hopes”.
The speech was as notable for what it omitted as what it included. Not a word about settlements, not a word about Israel needing to show restraint towards the Palestinians, not a word about blame for stagnation in the peace process being shared by two sides. Pence didn’t just lack criticism for Israel, he gave Israelis a compliment that touches many deeply: he told them that their state represents God’s will.
“Israel is like a tree that has grown deep roots in the soil of your forefathers, yet as it grows, it reaches ever closer to the heavens,” declared Pence. “And today and every day, the Jewish State of Israel, and all the Jewish people, bear witness to God’s faithfulness, as well as your own.”