Mideast Paradigm Viewed Through Midwest Lens: A Wake-Up Call From Governor Mike Huckabee
By Jeff Daube
As a veteran pro-Israel advocate on Capitol Hill from 1994 to 2007, and now a denizen of the Knesset in my current role directing the ZOA’s Israel office, I have met many a legislator on both sides of the Atlantic. More than a few could be said to speak and act for the sake of expedience rather than principle. There is also a different sort of leader, and I have encountered several, men and women guided more by big picture concerns and values than self-aggrandizement or political survival.
Recently I was privileged to spend a few very intense days with one such individual, Mike Huckabee, a singular yet unassuming statesman-leader with a courageous worldview. The former Governor of Arkansas and candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination is now host of his own Fox TV and ABC radio shows. It has been suggested he will run for high office again in 2012.
Accompanying Governor Huckabee on a whirlwind trip sponsored by the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, I had an opportunity to observe the man up close and personal. To my delight, I found Huckabee to be someone who does not fit neatly into any of the pigeonholes that pundits like to deploy.
Radiating moral clarity, and referring often to the shared values and organic ties that bind the American and Israeli peoples, he is also far too pragmatic to be confused as a member of the currently discredited albeit misunderstood idealist school. In fact, I would be hard pressed to come up with another American leader who so ably synthesizes patriotism and core principles with a realistic apprehension of foreign policy matters, in this case those concerning Israel’s existential security needs.
Evincing deep understanding of the conditions of the Middle East, Huckabee spoke eloquently and reassuringly about the need to ensure Israel’s long-term viability. If the proposal to create a Palestinian state proved to be inimical to Israel’s security interests and her status as a Jewish and democratic state, then the Governor was prepared to say that alternatives should be explored.
Although Huckabee was emphatic about not looking to cause problems for the US administration, he nonetheless sounded an alarm regarding its flawed policy of ignoring the protracted history of Palestinian antagonism. Myriad examples have been cited, all relevant to this day, over the course of 16 years post-Oslo Accords: the PA’s flouting all of its principal commitments; convening conferences that explicitly justify violence; publishing maps showing a state called Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with Israel obliterated; inciting hatred against Israeli citizens in the official media, mosques, schools and camps; lionizing mass murdering terrorists by naming streets, schools and sporting events after them; and countenancing a revolving door that frees terrorists almost as quickly as they are detained. And these are the “moderate” Palestinians!
As we traversed the communities of eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria whose ethnic cleansing it has been said is necessary for “peace,” Huckabee repeatedly argued that a policy seeking to restrict Jewish habitation anywhere in the world is fundamentally immoral. This policy is all the more so unsupportable, he asserted, in the very place where the Jewish historical experience took root in antiquity, and Jews have had an ongoing presence throughout the millennia.
Huckabee parried reporters’ questions and jibes with the observation that a separation of peoples based on ethnicity or religion would never be tolerated in America. Furthermore, he emphasized, in a region as volatile as the Middle East, why would anyone believe that radical population transfers would contribute to a durable peace?
For me, a dual citizen of Israel and the US, it was refreshing to hear such frank discussion from an American leader about the moral and practical implications of arm-twisting Israel. And not only vis-à-vis the Palestinians but also with regard to Iran, with its perilous nuclear ambitions being used by President Obama as a pawn to exact one-sided concessions from Israel. Only four percent believe he is supportive of Israel and with each new speech, the latest at the Israel-bashing UN of all places, concerns are continually justified. Huckabee, on the other hand, visits Israel frequently —this was his eleventh—and implies with his encouraging words that Israelis need not capitulate to pressure sure to undermine their interests. What a contrast.
Fact is, sympathetic and strong American support is still in abundance among US leadership and populace alike. Indeed it is because of this critical yet understated point that ZOA’s Israel office considers it a priority to plan meetings for US officials with key ministers, Knesset members and community leaders. We took the opportunity to do as much for Governor Huckabee, in this instance with Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), and Members of Knesset, Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), Danny Danon (Likud), David Rotem (Yisrael Beteinu), Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and Michael Ben Ari (National Union), among others.
The tête-à-tête we arranged for Ya’alon and Huckabee in particular may have far-reaching import. These are two leaders who do not shrink from speaking truth to power, and both have much to say during this determinative period about failed policies and realistic alternatives.
The challenge now is to follow the example of the Ya’alons and Huckabees. The times demand adaptive thinking, an honest reassessment of the current paradigm with an eye toward its replacement. And the new paradigm should be based on accurate demographic projections; not the manufactured data of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, with its history of bias, distortion and propaganda.
Moreover, unfettered discussion of all the options necessarily must include the possibility of simply managing the conflict for the foreseeable future. Present realities being what they are, this is at least preferable to plunging recklessly towards the more dangerous scenario on the table.
Promoters of the two-state paradigm would have everyone believe “there is no alternative,” dictating a Faustian binary that is hardly reasonable and presumptive in the extreme: Either establish a Judenrein Palestinian state (no matter that it is bent on Israel’s destruction), or accept that Israel by default will become undemocratic and apartheid-like. We must not allow ourselves to be constrained by voguish, doctrinaire claims meant to reduce the debate to a single trajectory.
President Shimon Peres once said, “When you have two alternatives, the first thing you have to do is to look for the third that you didn’t think about, that doesn’t exist.” Peres’ ill-considered sponsorship of the disastrous Oslo process notwithstanding, he had the right idea. It’s about time we heard about those third way possibilities from more leaders on both sides of the ocean. Thank you, Governor Huckabee, for joining the conversation.
Jeff Daube is Director of the Israel Office of the Zionist Organization of America and looks forward to greeting Governor Huckabee on his Christian mission to Israel in February 2010.