Former US vice president Mike Pence toured Hebron on Wednesday, meeting with leaders of the Jewish settler community in the flashpoint West Bank city, and visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
“Great honor for Karen Pence and I to travel to Hebron today to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs at the Cave of Machpelah that Abraham bought to bury Sarah nearly 4,000 years ago,” Pence tweeted.
Yishai Fleisher, spokesperson for the Hebron Jewish community, said in a statement that the community “expressed their appreciation for Mr. Pence’s clear support for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel and especially for his stance regarding the UNESCO declaration declaring Hebron to be an exclusively Palestinian heritage site.”
The site of the tomb, considered one of the holiest in Judaism, is believed to have been used as a burial plot by the biblical patriarch Abraham. The Abraham connection makes it also holy to Muslims.
In July 2017 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization passed a resolution to have the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank, designated as a Palestinian world heritage site in danger.
The following October, the Trump administration, in which Pence was serving as vice president, announced it was pulling out of UNESCO citing financial considerations, the need for reform and the organization’s “continuing anti-Israel bias.”
During his tour of Hebron, Pence was greeted at their initiative by far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir and Baruch Marzel, who was barred from running in Knesset elections for incitement to violence. Marzel served as chief of staff to the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.
MK Mossi Raz, of the coalition’s left-wing Meretz party, tore into Pence for meeting with Marzel and Ben-Gvir.
“Today Mike Pence met with Baruch Marzel & Itamar Ben-Gvir who have worked for years to cleanse the old center of Hebron of its Palestinian population,” Raz tweeted.
“This alliance of hate demands that we strengthen the progressive alliance for justice and freedom on both sides of the Atlantic,” he added.
Great honor for @KarenPence and I to travel to Hebron today to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs at the Cave of Machpelah that Abraham bought to bury Sarah nearly 4,000 years ago. pic.twitter.com/3Krdda3SUl
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) March 9, 2022
Ben-Gvir leads the Otzmah Yehudit faction of the opposition Religious Zionism party. Known for his anti-Arab rhetoric, Ben Gvir has had a number of run-ins with the law and with Arabs, including fellow lawmakers. Prior to entering the Knesset, the ultra-nationalist worked as a lawyer representing Jewish terror suspects.
Marzel led Kahane’s Kach party after its founder’s 1990 murder, and has long been identified with the faction’s goal of forcibly expelling Israel’s Arabs. He continued to be among its top supporters until it disbanded in 1994 after the Israeli government declared it a terror group.
Pence, who served under former US president Donald Trump in 2017-2021, landed in Israel Monday to receive an honorary doctorate from Ariel University in the West Bank later in the week.
The Trump administration was accused on numerous occasions of turning a blind eye to, and even tacitly encouraging, right-wing extremism in the United States.
The Anti Defamation League tweeted, “It is unacceptable for a former [vice president] to engage with Jewish extremists, including a Knesset member who has repeatedly expressed racist, anti-Arab views. No American public figure should be associated with these types of extremists.”
On Tuesday, Pence met in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog.
Pence and Bennett “discussed the nuclear agreement and its implications, as well as the situation in Ukraine,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office. Pence tweeted that he spoke with Bennett about both Ukraine “and the disastrous Iran Nuclear Deal and the implications it would have on Israel.”
He told the Israel Hayom daily in an interview that a Republican-led America would once again pull out of any future Iran nuclear deal
Hebron, in the southern West Bank, is the largest city in the West Bank and home to about 1,000 settlers, who live under heavy military protection, among more than 200,000 Palestinians.
The city is mostly controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but the area of the tomb and adjacent areas are controlled by Israel.
** This article was updated after The Times of Israel was told Thursday that Pence did not tour with Ben Gvir and Marzel, but rather that they greeted him at their initiative during his visit.