Mike Pence and the (alarming) company he keeps

Mike Pence and the (alarming) company he keeps

Mike Pence visits with far-right Israeli legislator Itimar Ben-Gvir in Hebron on March 9, 2022

Former VP Mike Pence recently visited Israel, where he spent time with Israeli extremists associated with a banned terrorist movement and meeting with mega-donor and Israel hawk Miriam Adelson, who is willing to pay big bucks for policymakers’ loyalty.

by Kathryn Shihadah

Former Vice President Mike Pence is an outspoken evangelical Christian, unafraid of voicing opinions that make progressives uncomfortable. But lately, he has entered territory that would make a lesser man blush: spending time with people scorned by even Israel’s most uncritical supporters.

As an evangelical and Christian Zionist, Pence has pledged to support Israel as the modern embodiment of the ancient biblical kingdom. His conviction – that Jews have a divine right to the land currently under Israeli control, including the occupied Palestinian territories – gives him common ground with Israel’s right wing. Perhaps he’s unaware that many Christians, including many evangelicals and top theologians, don’t share his interpretation of scripture.

Does Mike Pence know Israel's policies toward Palestinians in Israel? (Pictured: Israeli troops in Hebron detain a Palestinian 5-year old child, blindfold his father, after the child allegedly threw a stone that according to the IDF, hit the tire of a car belonging to a settler, July 11, 2013.)
Does Pence know Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in Israel? (Pictured: Israeli troops in Hebron detain a Palestinian 5-year old child, blindfold his father, after the child allegedly threw a stone that according to the IDF, hit the tire of a car belonging to a settler, July 11, 2013.) (ISM)

Hebron’s Jewish tyranny

In his visit to Israel last week, Mike Pence stopped off in the flashpoint city of Hebron (called Khalil by Palestinians), located in the occupied West Bank. Hebron the traditional birthplace of Abraham and the site of several shrines revered by Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Pence took a consciously Israel-centric view of Hebron, visiting with Israeli Jewish leaders, touring Jewish areas of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and commenting on the Jewish connection to the city – although Hebron is a Palestinian city in occupied Palestine. 

Extremist Jewish settlers dominate the city, although they are a small minority of the population (800-1,000 extremist Jews – supported by thousands of Israeli soldiers – vs. more than 200,000 Palestinians). Jewish dominance has forced Palestinians to live as virtual prisoners in their homes.

In violation of international law, Israel has facilitated the Jewish takeover of a large portion of the Ibrahimi Mosque, and at times banning Muslim worship. The site, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, is revered by Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

As Pence and his wife toured Hebron, two far-right Israelis joined them: legislator Itamar Ben-Gvir and activist Baruch Marzel.

Ben-Gvir and Marzel are disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose politics were so openly racist and violent that his political party, Kach, was deemed by both the US and Israel a terrorist organization and banned from Israeli politics. Kahane pushed for a Jewish theocracy in which non-Jews would be “obliged to assume duties, taxes, and slavery [or] be forcibly deported.”

After Kahane was assassinated by a Jewish extremist, Ben-Gvir and Marzel continued to lead his party, often employing anti-Palestinian violence. In Hebron, they have focused for years on cleansing portions of the city of Palestinians.

Does Mike Pence know this story? Israeli soldiers the body of a Palestinian man who had stabbed a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 24, 2016. The man was incapacitated and posed no threat when a soldier walked up and shot him in the head at point blank range. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, praised the act. The soldier served a nine-month sentence for killing the Palestinian.
Israeli soldiers removing the body of a Palestinian man who had stabbed a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 24, 2016. The man was incapacitated and posed no threat when a soldier walked up and shot him in the head at point blank range. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, praised the act. The soldier served a nine-month sentence for killing the Palestinian. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

They’re Jewish supremacists

These two men are considered toxic even by the standards of the pro-Israel right. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, called Ben-Gvir’s political party, Otzma Yehudit – of which Marzel is a member – “racist and reprehensible”; the Anti Defamation League (ADL) said “No American public figure should be associated with these types of extremists.”

For years, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s radical politics made him a political outcast in Israel. As Israeli tastes have grown more and more conservative, though, his popularity has increased. Last November he spoke to an enthusiastic group of 2,000, where he was introduced as “the man and the legend, fighting for democracy.”

Israeli journalist Meron Rapaport described the event:

What happened at the 2 November event in that plaza seems almost like the political crystallization of a “Jewish supremacy” movement. It is about preserving the exclusivity of having Jewish ethnic identity at the helm of government, with Jewish privilege portrayed as the supreme goal, the common denominator for the entire rightist camp.

This approach has, of course, been there in Zionism and the state of Israel from the outset. Now, however, it has been openly declared and explicitly celebrated, a banner uniting all parts of the right-wing – Likud, ultra-Orthodox, the rightist settler movement.

Until recently, Ben-Gvir was known to display in his home a photo of Israeli mass murderer and fellow Kahanist Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 gunned down 29 Palestinians as they prayed in the Ibrahimi Mosque. Goldstein had moved to Israel from Brooklyn, New York.

Baruch Marzel served as Rabbi Meir Kahane’s chief of staff and as a spokesman for his Kach party. After Kahane’s death, Marzel led the party.

A settler in Hebron, Marzel is known for referring to a 1990s murder of two Palestinians by Israeli settlers as “holy work,” and for throwing parties in remembrance of Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 Muslim Palestinians.

Marzel has a long criminal record that includes attacks on Palestinians and human rights defenders.

Israeli forces attack Palestinians as they participate in a rally marking the 28th anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron, West Bank 25, 2022
Israeli forces attack Palestinians as they participate in a rally marking the 28th anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron, West Bank 25, 2022 (Mamoun Wazwaz / Anadolu Agency)

Ben-Gvir and Marzel are also remembered for participating in a rally protesting a visit from the Pope to Israel. He was to hold mass in the room believed to be the site of Jesus’ Last Supper. The site also holds significance for both Muslims and Jews.

During the rally, the two men were part of a group holding signs calling Christianity “accursed.” One of the group declared that “The Pope needs to come quietly…and see that Christianity has lost in its war against the Jews.”

Far-right activists Itamar Ben-Gvir, left, Baruch Marzel, center, and Michael Ben Ari protesting the visit of Pope Francis, on Thursday, May 22, 2014
Far-right activists Itamar Ben-Gvir, left, Baruch Marzel, center, and Michael Ben Ari protesting the visit of Pope Francis, on Thursday, May 22, 2014 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

In spite of this background, according to Israel National News, Pence said it was a “great honor” to meet Ben-Gvir, and told him, “Stay strong, and we’ll stand with you.” Apparently Pence did not recognize Baruch Marzel.

The group then had a photo op in front of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Former US vice president Mike Pence outside Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs on March 9, 2022. MK Itamar Ben-Gvir is at far right.
Former US vice president Mike Pence outside Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs on March 9, 2022. MK Itamar Ben-Gvir is at far right. (photo source)

Mike Pence joins VIPs in Israel

Although Pence’s time in Hebron was “all about heritage and the Bible and not about politics,” his visit to Israel was primarily political.

Pence also spent time with Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and former PM Benjamin Netanyahu. He visited the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel, where he received an honorary doctorate from Ariel University. 

His itinerary also included a meeting with Miriam Adelson, billionaire widow of Sheldon Adelson, the Republican mega-donor who reportedly donated close to $500 million to the GOP during his lifetime. (Sheldon once said, “I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform. It was an American uniform.”) The meeting led some to speculate that Pence is planning a presidential run in 2024. 

Israel appears to be a mandatory destination for presidential hopefuls. In 2021-2022, Mike Pompeo, Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, and Lindsey Graham have already made the pilgrimage.

Pence reportedly traveled to Israel on Miriam Adelson’s private jet.

Sheldon Adelson's casket lies in repose in the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 14, 2021. He was an American citizen.
Sheldon Adelson’s casket lies in repose in the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 14, 2021. He was an American citizen. (Erez Linn/Israel Hayom)

Money meets politics – and no one seems to notice

Miriam and Sheldon Adelson used their financial clout during the Trump administration to promote a number of high profile US actions in Israel, including the US Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognition of the occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel, and the US departure from the Iran nuclear deal.

Responsible Statecraft noted regarding Pence’s Israel trip that, while it is widely known that he flew on Miriam Adelson’s jet and met with her, and that she is wildly wealthy and willing to invest in political campaigns – there’s an elephant in the room:

If one listens to Miriam Adelson, it’s clear what motivates her outsized political giving: pursuit of a hawkish US foreign policy in lockstep with Israel’s far-right…But news coverage of the Republican Party’s biggest donor is superficial at best, and negligent journalism at worst.

Americans are left to speculate on what both Pence and Adelson want from each other, and what they are willing to offer. 

It’s not hard to guess.


Kathryn Shihadah is an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew. She also blogs at Palestine Home.


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