Israel won the military conflict with Hamas, but it and Jews around the world are facing the most hostile environment since World War II. We have noted the surge in anti-Semitism in Europe. Relations with the United States are frayed, and the president’s animus toward our closest Middle East ally is hard to miss.
But in the sea of troubles there is a bright spot, namely the unflagging support for the Jewish state from American evangelicals. This was not a foregone conclusion, although now we have grown accustomed to polls showing that the highest level of support for Israel is among Christian conservatives. Christians United for Israel is by far the largest pro-Israel organization with 1.8 million members. Concerned Women for America recently added support for Israel to its short list of key issues.
Penny Nance, executive director of CWA, told me that in the wake of the Gaza war and with rabid anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East, “We felt we needed to do something.” That something turned out to be a rally in Washington on Oct. 5, co-hosted by former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
“I’ve lost count!” says Huckabee when I asked him during a brief phone interview how many times he has been to Israel. In 2014 alone he has gone 3 times (the most recent departing Saturday night). “I first went 41 years ago. I was 17,” he recalls.
Like many pro-Israel Christians, he sees “an important connection between our countries” as vibrant democracies (“My Lord, their [political] arguments among themselves make us look like pikers!”) where women’s rights are protected, politicians are held accountable (he recalls the prosecution of former prime minister Ehud Olmert) and the press is free from government restraint.
So, he’s no stranger to Israel policy. However, his participation in the October rally comes at a time he is plainly troubled by current events and concerned about international criticism of Israel. “A lot of people are very naïve about the Middle East,” he observes. “Whether it is ISIS or Egypt or Iran all are tied together by one key fact. [The Islamists’ objectives] are not about territory. It’s about the annihilation of anyone who doesn’t agree with their ideology.”
Huckabee contends that the media, and many in the GOP, don’t understand how critical foreign policy is to evangelicals. “It is one of my frustrations, especially with the donor class. Obviously they never spent more than three minutes with us,” he says. “We are not tribal; we’re global.” He contends that the media and GOP candidates are kidding themselves if they think simply being in agreement on marriage and the life issue will be enough to win over evangelicals.
In holding the rally, Huckabee and CWA aim to impress upon voters and politicians alike the importance of support for Israel and the threat of spreading Islamic radicalism, which both Israel and the United States face. Without naming names, he voices his exasperation about the lack of seriousness and failure to appreciate the interconnectedness of the Islamist threat. “A lot of Americans don’t get it,” he says bluntly.
As for a potential presidential run, Huckabee sits atop many polls but somehow evades the chattering class’s radar. He seems in no rush to make up his mind. He says, “It’s certainly important to wait until after the 2014 midterms. For me, I’ll decide at the end of the first quarter of 2015, definitely by the end of the second quarter.” He has virtually 100 percent name recognition and a platform with Fox News so it makes sense for him to see how things play out. But the rally and Huckabee’s participation in it are timely reminders that the evangelical community is going to grill candidates on Israel and foreign policy just as stringently as they will on social issues. You get the sense that fair weather friends of Israel need not apply.