On January 22, Mike Pence became the first U.S. vice president to give a speech in the Israeli Knesset. Pence addressed a Jewish-only audience, after peacefully protesting Palestinian MKs were forcibly removed by security. A Zionist, Christian evangelical, Pence poetically praised Zionism, divided the Middle East into good and evil, and threatened Iran. While the speech received media attention, it did not present anything new, in terms of the U.S. political agenda. Instead, Pence’s statements underscored, in stark terms, the nature of America’s decades-long policy toward Israel and the Middle East.
As Pence expressed in his speech, it was “deeply humbling” for him to “stand before this vibrant democracy.” Over and over again, he repeated the tired refrain that “America stands with Israel,” united in the same cause, values, and fight, while conflating political Zionism with the Jewish religion and people. Pence proudly traced the relationship between the United States and Israel to their shared foundations as settler-colonies of “pilgrims, sent by Providence, to build a new Promised Land,” and, of course, remained silent about both countries’ foundational crimes against their respective indigenous populations.
Pence’s oration was replete with romanticized metaphors and biblical references. “How unlikely was Israel’s birth; how more unlikely has been her survival,” he said. “Every day, the Jewish State of Israel, and all the Jewish people, bear witness to God’s faithfulness,” Pence proclaimed, “[t]he miracle of Israel is an inspiration to the world.”
These hyperbolic declarations of love were presented alongside alleged security threats facing Israel. While celebrating Israel’s allies in Egypt and Jordan as “America’s great friends” as well, Pence openly threatened Israel’s enemies, specifically Iran, calling it “a brutal regime” that “has supported terrorist groups that even now sit on Israel’s doorstep.” Depicting the United States and Israel as simultaneously threatened by “Islamic terrorism,” Pence declared that the two countries would continue “confront[ing] the terrible evil of terrorism.”
Pence’s rhetoric was reminiscent of a speech given by former President Barak Obama, which was given to an Israeli audience in occupied Jerusalem on March 21, 2013. Himself deeply committed to Zionism, Obama used similar, biblical language and called Israel a “vibrant democracy.” Advocating for more militarism, Obama insisted Israel’s existence would be perpetually threatened by its supposed terrorist neighbors. He demonized Iran as “a danger for the entire world” and perversely connected Iran’s alleged threats to the Israeli state with the Holocaust.
Pence’s speech is, as such, only another example of the United States’ tradition of unconditional support for Israel and rhetorical appropriation of historical and geo-political realities in Israel’s favor. While the Trump administration’s aggressive approach toward the Palestinians may be receiving more media attention than those of previous administrations, the United States has long guaranteed the prosperity of the Zionist project at the expense of the Palestinian people.