In the friendliest speech ever made by a foreign dignitary at the Knesset, Vice President Mike Pence on Monday reiterated for anyone who may have forgotten that Israel is right when it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians, Iran and the world. And perhaps most importantly, that Israel is on the right side of history. It’s no wonder that Israel’s elected officials (with the exception of those from the Joint Arab List party) continued to applaud him for several minutes. It seemed like no Israeli MK could have written a better speech.
I sat in the Knesset on Monday and saw a modest American vice president who had a clear message for the Middle East: The rules have changed. Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the U.S. operates based on the values it shares with Israel and does not grant veto power to destabilizing players that issue threats—not on matters of peace and not on matters of war.
Pence’s simple, courageous words came as no surprise to me. I met the vice president before he was sworn in. Unlike others, who wanted to serve as Trump’s second-in-command to improve their own status, Pence truly believed that he and the president complemented one another. The result was evident in the administration’s early months.
Pence is a vice president who understands that the superpower he represents is always wise enough to stand on the right side of history, just like Israel. Pence’s speech was not evangelistic or messianic. It was a speech given by a vice president who sees America’s religious and historical objectives as an integral part of the administration’s policies.
If there was anyone in the Knesset plenum who understands America better than the rest, it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his own speech, Netanyahu addressed Pence directly and told him that the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be remembered by Israelis as a watershed moment in their history.
“Jerusalem, Utah; Jerusalem, Vermont; Jerusalem, Michigan”—Netanyahu named three of the 11 American towns named after our capital to illustrate how Israelis and Americans alike draw strength from the “shining city upon a hill”—a term borrowed from the New Testament that former President Ronald Reagan turned into a symbol of America’s positive influence as a source of inspiration and optimism.
Reagan, who after eight years in office managed to move the country past President Jimmy Carter’s depressing term and put the U.S. on track for victory against the crumbling Soviet Union, turned the idea of the “shining city upon a hill” into a clarion call directed at the world’s nations.
In retrospect, everyone who fell over laughing when a second-rate former actor like Reagan decided to vie for the presidency, realizes now that it was thanks to him that the U.S. won the Cold War. Today, the people who laughed when Trump, then a real estate mogul and entertainer, declared that he knew how to broker the “ultimate deal,” realize that he may have actually identified what his predecessors failed to see: that in the Middle East, authenticity carries more weight than anything else.
When Netanyahu talked about a “shared past, a shared future and a shared fate,” he touched on the exact sensitive spot that Israelis and Americans have in common—the religious and cultural base, and the fate that Israel and the U.S. share, which leads to common values. That’s how it was in the past, and that’s how it is today.
Therefore, when the U.S. vice president mentioned the “shining city upon a hill,” we were reminded of Reagan’s farewell speech in 1989. Reagan wanted to declare his “dream of making America into a shining city upon a hill.” Not evangelism, not messianism—this is just called “Americana,” and that is what Pence bought to Israel. That is what Trump brought to the White House, and that, incidentally, is what former President Barack Obama forgot about. Do you remember the people who for eight years pointed a threatening finger at us and how we supposedly “lost” America?
“The shining city upon a hill” once again stole the show, and rightfully so. Pence came here laden with the historic declaration that the American embassy would open in Jerusalem before the end of 2019. Do you remember everyone who doubted the Trump administration’s intention of keeping its word? Do you remember the people who were holding a stopwatch? What will they do now—complain that he still hasn’t implemented a two-state solution?
Blessing when they came to curse
It’s not up to Trump anymore, or Israelis. It all depends on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who, after a speech in which he cursed Trump’s policies, traveled to Europe to meet with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and ask that the European bloc recognize “Palestine.” Let’s say Europe does recognize “Palestine”—is that really a step that will lead to a Palestinian state? Europe is in retreat and America is making a comeback. The Palestinians are yet again missing an opportunity. It’s too bad that the 2018 Winter Olympics won’t include a “missed opportunities” event; the Palestinians would take the gold.
During the 2016 presidential election, the Trump-Pence duo talked about Israel—not only recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, but also about the Iran nuclear deal. In the Knesset on Monday, Pence again called the Iran deal a “disaster” and said that unless its flaws are corrected, America will pull out of it. After that, does anyone still doubt that the Americans are serious?
Pence’s remarks may very well be the first campaign promise of the 2020 election, or perhaps of the 2024 election, when Pence likely hopes to run for the presidency himself.
Some people tried to stir a tempest in a teapot over the Joint Arab List MKs’ protest at the Knesset. Their well-orchestrated performance lasted only a few seconds, and the vice president brushed it off with a small smile and a refusal to respond. Instead, he talked about the “vibrant Israeli democracy,” saying, “They came to curse their enemies but instead blessed them” (Numbers 23:11).
On Monday in the Knesset, I saw a vice president with strong beliefs. Pence is a man of faith. He believes in the Jews’ return to Zion. His speech may not have ushered in the Messiah, but we witnessed something that we have been dreaming of for 70 years, and some would say for 2,000 years. “Shehecheyanu vekiyimanu vehigianu lazman hazeh,” Pence said in his speech, taking the blessing out of our mouths.
Boaz Bismuth is editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom, where this column was originally published. JNS has exclusive distribution rights for Israel Hayom’s English-language content.