Likely Trump VP ‘cherishes Israel,’ met Netanyahu, passed anti-boycott laws
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Likely Trump VP ‘cherishes Israel,’ met Netanyahu, passed anti-boycott laws

Indiana Governor Mike Pence was among the first to sign legislation against BDS; led a trade delegation to the Jewish state and hosted one

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Indiana Governor Michael Pence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Indiana Governor Michael Pence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

WASHINGTON — For presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, picking a running mate may be the closest this campaign gets to echoing his famed reality show “The Apprentice.” While politics-watchers waited with bated breath for the businessman’s anticipated Friday announcement, rumors circulated Thursday that Trump’s selection would be Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a seasoned politician with strong conservative credentials.

Trump was scheduled to make his big reveal on Friday in New York and rumors began to swirl when Pence was spotted late Thursday morning boarding a plane bound for Trump’s hometown.

Pence has strong credentials for his support for Israel, a topic that seems to offer the possibility of unanimity in a party fractured by discord. During this week’s meeting of the party’s platform committee, an unusually strongly worded plank in support of Israel was adopted without any dissenting votes. Both the platform and the VP announcement come ahead of the Republican nominating convention, which will take place next week in Cleveland, Ohio.

While Trump has run afoul of some Jewish Republicans for his failure to disavow anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric from his supporters, Pence is well-known among Republican lawmakers as a longstanding supporter of Israel.

And while former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was the vice presidential hopeful with the closest ties to the largest pro-Israel Republican donor, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Pence himself has direct ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pence also has a warm relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). During a 2009 appearance at the lobby’s annual policy conference, the then-congressman described what he called his “love for Israel.”

“Though I know of no synagogues in my district, let me say emphatically, like the overwhelming majority of my constituents, my Christian faith compels me to cherish the state of Israel,” he told attendees. “In the year 2000 when I was first selected to Congress, Israel was already a priority to me. I really looked forward to being in a position where I knew I could help fulfill what I believed was not only right for America but the right thing to do.”

Presumptive US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and Indiana Governor Mike Pence (L) take the stage during a campaign rally at Grant Park Event Center in Westfield, Indiana, on July 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Tasos KATOPODIS)
Presumptive US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and Indiana Governor Mike Pence (L) take the stage during a campaign rally at Grant Park Event Center in Westfield, Indiana, on July 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Tasos KATOPODIS)

Pence brought those ties with him to the governor’s mansion in Indianapolis when he was elected to his current position in 2012.

In 2014, he led an Israel-Indiana trade delegation, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. He also met IDF soldiers during the trip, which sought to increase economic ties between Israel and the Hoosier State.

“I support Israel and like millions of people in Indiana and the overwhelming majority of people in our country, I strongly support the relationship between our country and the state of Israel,” Pence told the now-defunct Voice of Israel radio station during that December 2014 visit.

“Despite the pronouncements from individuals in any particular administration, I truly do believe that in these challenging times for the State of Israel that support among the American people for the State of Israel has never been stronger,” he added. “When it comes to the United States of America, if the world knows nothing else, let it know this: America stands with the Israel and I believe we always will.”

Only a few weeks ago, Pence hosted a similar trade delegation from Israel, holding a conference focusing on strengthening global cybersecurity as well as economic cooperation between Indianapolis and Jerusalem.

“Israel and Indiana share many common bonds that Hoosiers cherish,” the Indiana governor, who is currently in a tight battle for re-election, told the group. “As our nation’s strongest and most important ally in the Middle East, Israel is also a key partner in our state’s continued economic growth, which is why were proud to welcome Israeli business leaders to Indiana. Hoosiers and Israelis are linked by our self-reliance, determination and entrepreneurial spirit, aiding us all in collaboration to grow our economies and create more great-paying jobs.”

Earlier this year, Pence signed into law legislation making Indiana one of the first US states to divest public funds from any business that joins the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Illustrative photo of signs calling for the boycott of Israel at an anti-Israel protest in San Francisco, April 2011 (CC BY-dignidadrebelde, Flickr)
Illustrative photo of signs calling for the boycott of Israel at an anti-Israel protest in San Francisco, April 2011 (CC BY-dignidadrebelde, Flickr)

“I have long believed Israel is our most cherished ally,” said Governor Pence when he signed the bill into law in March. “Israel’s enemies are more emboldened than ever before and with the overwhelming bipartisan passage of this legislation, Indiana made clear that we will not do business with those who seek to inflict financial damage on the people of Israel.” The bill went into effect this month.

The Republican platform which was approved this week states its fervent opposition to the BDS movement, and stresses the utility of such legislation in combatting the phenomenon.

Pence, a Tea Party leader who won a Values Voters straw poll of socially conservative voters in 2010, will likely bolster Trump’s support in a demographic that has frequently offered grudging support for the Republican candidate. Many evangelical Christians and other conservative voters have expressed alarm at what they see as the candidate’s earlier positions on abortion and gay rights –- as well as his own weak links to religion.

Pence, in comparison, has achieved success with the same demographic, and frequently refers to his Christianity in explaining his conservative positions.

Pence made national headlines when he signed a 2015 law that LGBT activists complained permitted discrimination against individuals on the basis of their gender or sexual identity. Pence defended the law, denying that it legalized discrimination, but later signed a revision of the law that seemed to offer a more explicit defense against such discrimination.

Earlier this year, he echoed Trump’s rhetoric against Syrian refugees and attempted to prevent the resettlement of any Syrian refugees in his Midwestern state.

But despite this apparent overlap, Trump and Pence may have other issues to reconcile. Pence advocated for the adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, writing in 2014 that “trade means jobs, but trade also means security. The time has come for all of us to urge the swift adoption of the Trans Pacific Partnership.”

Trump has railed against the same agreement, saying that it “would be the death blow for American manufacturing” and that “not only will the TPP undermine our economy, but it will undermine our independence.”

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