WASHINGTON — Self-described “staunch Israel supporter” Ben Carson thrust himself into the increasingly crowded field of Republican contenders for the presidency Monday, adding another pro-Israel candidate to the spectrum – but one who is trying to carve out his own creative perspective on decades-old puzzles.
Carson, 63, is scheduled to make his formal announcement Monday in a speech from his native Detroit shortly after having breakfast at a local museum of African-American history, but he got ahead of himself on Sunday, confirming his plans to run in an interview that aired on an Ohio television station.
“I’m willing to be part of the equation and therefore, I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States of America,” he told WKRC-TV in Cincinnati.
Former technology executive Carly Fiorina also announced she’s running for president, but both candidates will begin the race as underdogs in a campaign expected to feature several seasoned politicians, among them former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, all of whom have already professed their undying support for Israel.
Carson, who has occasionally been criticized as a foreign policy lightweight, has worked intensively in the past year to emphasize his pro-Israel credentials. There is already little daylight between most Republican contenders on Israel, and Carson’s enthusiastic support for Israel will not add much additional dimension to a pro-Israel field.
The retired neurosurgeon leaped to national prominence – at least among conservatives – during the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, where he attacked the Affordable Care Act and pushed for a flat tax system standing mere feet away from US President Barack Obama.
Since then, he has worked to beef up his foreign policy credentials.
In December, he made his first visit to Israel, expressing views that are common among Israel’s nationalistic right wing. He showed sympathy for Israel’s much-maligned settlement movement and questioned the desire among Palestinians for peace. He even suggested that instead of Israel relinquishing captured land to make way for a Palestinian state, neighboring countries such as Egypt should provide the space for a future Palestine.
He also attacked Obama’s stewardship of Washington’s relationship with Israel.
“I do not believe that Obama has been one to cultivate the relationship,” he told AP from Jerusalem. “I would make it very clear that Israel and the United States have a long, cordial relationship, and I don’t think we should ever leave the Israelis in a position of wondering whether we support them, and that certainly is a question now.”
In March, Carson acknowledged in an interview with Bloomberg Politics that he is “still in the stage of rapidly learning about the political dynamics of global politics.”
In the same interview, Carson expounded upon his ideas on how to solve the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that “we need to look at fresh ideas.”
“I don’t have any problem with the Palestinians having a state, but does it need to be within the confines of Israeli territory? Is that necessary, or can you sort of slip that area down into Egypt? Right below Israel, they have some amount of territory, and it can be adjacent,” the former neurosurgeon suggested. “They can benefit from the many agricultural advances that were made by Israel, because if you fly over that area, you can easily see the demarcation between Egypt and Israel, in terms of one being desert and one being verdant. Technology could transform that area. So why does it need to be in an area where there’s going to be temptation for Hamas to continue firing missiles at relatively close range to Israel?”
Speaking in February at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference – seen as an early proving ground for potential Republican candidates, Carson told the audience, “Let’s not turn our back on Israel. Let’s listen to Netanyahu and what he has to say.”
Speaking in the midst of the Washington toss-up over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before both houses of Congress, Carson’s comments were less strident in their criticism of the Obama administration than his 2013 critique of the Affordable Care Act which launched his political career.
During the same talk, Carson warned that “we need to recognize that the Shia in Iran are every bit as dangerous, perhaps more dangerous,” than the Sunni al-Qaeda.
Carson, who will likely be the only black candidate for the presidency running for either ticket, paid his first visit to Israel in December 2014.
During the interview with AP in Jerusalem, Carson described Netanyahu as ”a great leader in a difficult time” and said that it “makes perfectly good sense” for Israel to maintain its control in the West Bank “until such time as their neighbors are no longer desirous of their elimination,”
“I would make sure that Israel knew that we had their back,” he said. “Because if their neighbors know that we’re backing them up, they’re not going to be anywhere near as aggressive.”
Carson was joined Monday in the race by Fiorina, the only woman vying for the Republican nomination thus far. Fiorina has a longer political background than Carson, having launched an unsuccessful bid to represent Florida in the US Senate in 2010.
Also criticized for her lack of foreign policy background, Fiorina says that she has already “sat across the table” with world leaders, including Netanyahu.
Like other Republican contenders, Fiorina is a strident critic of the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.
In an April radio interview, Fiorina also criticized Obama for “engaging in moral equivalence” by comparing “what Hamas does to what the Israeli state is doing to protect its citizens.”
“The one thing we could and should be doing in all of those circumstances is supporting our allies as they have asked us to,” Fiorina added. “So we would support Israel by stopping talking to Iran now. You know, it’s amazing to me, President Obama laid out a very clear set of goals for this deal when this process first started. Not a single one of those goals has been achieved.”
Fiorina said that she would “absolutely” repudiate any deal made with Iran on her first day in office.
Tensions with Israel, she said, are “in no small measure due to President Obama.”
“It’s a series of things,” she explained. “It’s a series of criticisms of Israel in the middle of negotiations. It’s threatening to go to the U.N. and side with the Palestinians in their quest at the U.N. it’s a refusal to meet with Bibi Netanyahu when he comes to this country. I remember sitting in Bibi Netanyahu’s office five years ago, a private meeting, just myself and my husband, Frank. No press, no elections, and Bibi was talking then about the grave danger that Iran represents. He came here not to poke a stuck in Obama’s eye. He came here because he needed us to hear. And when a president in a fit of pique refuses to meet with a prime minister at a critical moment in both of our nations’ history while this deal making is going on in Geneva, of course, people in Israel take that personally. I would, too.”