Carly Fiorina promises to make Israel her first phone call as president. Mike Huckabee is “just nuts” about Israel. Jeb Bush calls settlements “apartments.” Ben Carson wants to transfer the Palestinians to Egypt. Marco Rubio has taken to dining with top-donor Sheldon Adelson. Ted Cruz is making the rounds with Fire Island’s pro-Israel community. And, Lindsey Graham who has not announced his bid, said if he is president he will have the first “all-Jewish” cabinet.
As it shapes up, the Republican field is looking to be one of the most fiercely pro-Israel in memory. Yet some of the runners have little to no foreign policy experience. Many say their views are underpinned by their Christian faith, and have not offered any proposal for U.S. engagement in the Middle East—other than affection for Israel.
Candidates who have confirmed they are running thus far are: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Carson, Fiorina and Huckabee all made their announcements this week, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are expected to join the race soon.
Tuesday morning former Arkansas Governor and Fox News personality Mike Huckabee became the latest to threw his hat in the race. Active on Israel since the 1970s, Huckabee exhibits a zeal for Israel well above of all of the candidates. By his own admission he has visited Israel on countless occasions. He travels to the holy land up to three times a year. Annually he hosts “The Israel Experience with Governor Mike Huckabee,” a bible tour for conservative Christians laced with politics. During last spring’s trip, the Washington Post’s William Booth reported 253 people joined him on the ten-day tour, with a $5,250 price tag. Booth wrote, “The man is just nuts about Israel.”
The tour kicked off with a Sushi and wine welcome bash held in his honor, hosted at a vineyard over the Green Line, in the Ramallah area settlement of Psagot. Huckabee and his faithful made stops at historic religious sites, but also met with hardliners, including Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Both Klein and Huckabee have concurred in the past that the Palestinians are an invented people.
Moreover on his campaign website, Israel is prominently displayed as one of Huckabee’s key issues, positioned next to “healthcare” and “national security.”
“In a world of uncertainty, evil, and moral insanity, Israel is a shining light of moral clarity. The enemies of Israel are the enemies of America,” his newly minted campaign website said. Huckabee also mentioned Israel on numerous occasions on his superPAC website, and personal Facebook page.
Last year Huckabee founded a 501-c4, American Takes Action Inc. that so far has held only one major event, a “Stand with Israel Rally” last October in Washington DC. There, Huckabee explained his political passion for Israel is imbued by his religious beliefs. “It’s impossible to be a Christian and not be totally connected to the Jews,” Huckabee told supporters. “There is no Jewish state without a Christian faith, there is no Christian faith without a Jewish state,” he said. The event was announced while Huckabee was touring Area E1, a land corridor in the West Bank where Israel wants to build settlements, although President Obama has said construction is a red line as it would compromise territorial continuity for a future Palestinian state.
Although an ardent supporter of Israel and its settler movement, Huckabee has yet to articulate a focused platform on Israel beyond stating he supports a “unified Jerusalem”.
Presidential candidate and neurosurgeon famous for separating conjoined twins in 1987, Ben Carson shares Huckabee’s religious concerns for Israel. Carson too is a devout Christian. Like Huckabee, he traveled to Israel in the months leading up to announcing his candidacy. The excursion was organized by the “Face of Israel,” a group with a mission to “promote Israel internationally amongst influential decision-makers and opinion leaders.” While billed as apolitical, according to Carson’s trip organizers’ website the “primary goals” of the tailor-made tours include strengthening “the global pro-Israel voice,” “creating a public task force to promote Israel online,” and “training […] about Israel and Israel advocacy.”
Speaking to the Associated Press while on his trip, Carson lauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, yet his political naiveté on foreign affairs was a preeminent take away from the interview. AP noted his lack of savvy. Carson said of Netanyahu, “I think he’s a great leader in a difficult time.” He then went on to endorse an outlandish end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Carson advocated what is known as the “Egyptian solution,” where Israel would transfer Palestinians to the Sinai desert in Egypt, and then annex the occupied Palestinian territory.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz has also renewed his interest in Israel since coming forward with his presidential bid in March. Within 24-hours of announcing his candidacy Cruz said, “Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.” For this remark, Cruz received a 30-second ovation from the Liberty University audience in Virgina, the largest Christian institution of higher learning in the country.
The next month in April, reports circulated that Cruz actively courted the Jewish ultra-orthodox vote, a Republican sector of an otherwise staunchly Democrat voting bloc. Cruz described himself as having as “passionate dedication to strengthening our friendship and alliance with the nation of Israel.” He also attended Shabbat dinners, a ZOA dinner with Morton Klein, a fundraiser hosted by a pro-Israel gay Jewish couple, and shared a stage with Elie Wiesel. Cruz’s strategy seems to have worked. After only one month of campaigning, Politico reported Cruz had already hit his $1 million fundraising goal.
“The Jewish community has always played an important role in the political process, both as swing voters in a number of swing states, and also as key donors and financial supporters,” he told Politico in April.
Republican senator from Florida Marco Rubio who appeals to the fiscal conservative branch of the GOP has also made Israel a central issue in his campaign. In March, Rubio gave a 15-minute speech to Congress after Israeli elections closed. “Democracy, free enterprise and a strong American alley, don’t we wish the entire middle east looked that way,” he said, adding, “how much better would the middle east be if more countries looked like Israel and less like Iraq and Syria.”
Shortly after Rubio announced his candidacy in April, journalist Gregg Carlstrom noted on Twitter the senator grabbed the cover page of Israel’s daily Yisrael Hayom, three days in a row. “He seems to be winning the Adelson primary.” Casino mogul and pro-Israel donor Sheldon Adelson owns the publication.
Over the past few months Politico also reported Rubio and Adelson have biweekly phone calls. And in March, the pair sat down for a steakhouse dinner in Washington DC. Face time with Adelson is a game changer in presidential elections as he tried to play the role of a kingmaker in the 2012 race. He donated $150 million in the that election. Although this time around, Adelson has yet to formally endorse any of the GOP runners.
In the meantime, Rubio is rubbing elbows with his long-time pal, billionaire and pro-Israel GOP donor Norman Braman. The two traveled to Israel together in 2010. The next year Braman explained his interest in Israel is tied to his perception that the Jewish state has been central to Jewish success in the U.S.:
I remember all the fields in the United States that were closed to Jews… that there were a limited number of major Jewish law firms… There were very few Jews in banking, very few Jews in investment banking other than Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and a few others… and the general lack of respect that existed for Jews… Jews in general always being thought– ‘Well Jews are smart, but they don’t fight back.’.. Israel changed all that. I’m convinced Israel changed all that. All the advantages that Jews have today, that generations have since the establishment of Israel has been augmented by Israel…
Former Hewitt-Packard executive Carly Fiorina announced her bid on Good Morning America Monday. The tech executive has never held office. “I understand bureaucracy, and that is what our government has become a giant bloated, corrupt bureaucracy,” she said when asked about her lack of experience in public service.
After debuting her candidacy on a press call, Fiorina said her first move as president would be to phone Israel. “How we treat our friends is reassuring to our other friends,” she told Breitbart, “This administration has made the world a more dangerous place by the way they have treated Israel,” she said. Fiorina added her next call would be to Iran. “We are going to impose sanctions, specifically making it very difficult for them to move money throughout the global financial system,” she said in reference to an Iran sanctions bill that Congress is expected to vote on this week.
As with her fellow candidates Fiorina too has traveled to Israel, during her 2010 attempt to unseat senate Democrat Barbara Boxer (CA). “This was a personal trip for Carly, so it had nothing to do with the campaign,” a Fiorina spokesperson told the Daily Beast. Even so, the Republican Jewish Coalition funded the trip.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul entered the race in early April. He is a self-proclaimed strong ally of Israel, despite his libertarian ethos of limited government spending, which includes U.S. support to Israel. In 2013 he visited the holy land on a trip bankrolled by GOP funder and pharma-executive Rich Roberts. In January that year, Paul told Breitbart “I think [what] we should do is announce to the world, and I think it is well-known, that any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States.” Paul’s remarks were regarded as a change of stripes on Israel that has continued to date. However, Paul has not successfully won over mainstream GOP pro-Israel supporters.
The following year Paul sponsored the “Stand with Israel Act of 2014,” legislation that sought to limit U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority. The bill was opposed by leading Israel advocates. Even AIPAC came out against it.
More recently, Paul lost his most well known pro-Israel donor, Roberts, to Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker. “I like Rand Paul a lot, our relationship goes back now about three or four years. I like him as a person, I think he’s very well-intended,” Roberts told the Washington Free Beacon. “But I think that Scott Walker is [a greater] likelihood of being the next president. I think Scott Walker is also a tremendous individual.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has not entered the race. However, the Washington Post reported in January that he established a fundraising group, Our American Revival, as a pre-election measure. Aside from poaching Paul’s biggest pro-Israel donor into his camp, Walker has busied himself with campaign-like speaking events across America over the past few weeks, adding to rumors of his potential candidacy.
On Sunday Walker will travel to Israel on a tour funded by his group, Our American Revival. He intends to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Walker has limited foreign policy experience and this will be first visit abroad since 2013.
This week he also started an online #StandWithIsrael petition where his supporters can sign their names in agreement with: “It is important that we stand with our friends who stand against our enemies.”
Another presumed presidential candidate is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. In March Bush got into hot water with pro-Israel-Republican circles. His foreign policy adviser James Baker (who was Secretary of State under his father George H.W. Bush) gave a keynote address this year at the annual J Street policy conference where he blamed Netanyahu, in part, for stalled peace talks.
Days after Baker’s talk, Bush came out strongly in support of Israel—and its settlement project in the occupied Palestinian territory, which stands in contrast to J Street’s stated goal of ending the Israeli occupation. In an op-ed for the National Review, Bush referred to the construction with the benign label of “new apartment buildings,” and railed against Obama’s handling of Iran.
However, Baker’s appearance had already soured Bush’s relationship with Sheldon Adelson, who only one year before hosted Bush at a Las Vegas fundraiser with the Republican Jewish Coalition. The New York Times reported that Adelson was “incensed” and Klein from the ZOA told the Times, “A few months ago, people I speak to thought Jeb Bush was the guy. That’s changed.”
After the debacle Bush did not attend this year’s Republican Jewish Coalition event in April. Although his staff went. They gave out buttons with “Jeb” written in Hebrew script.