UPDATED: (Jerusalem, Israel) — On Monday, I was humbled to be invited to watch Vice President Mike Pence’s historic address to the Knesset from inside the chamber.
It was the first time an American Vice President had ever addressed Israel’s 120-seat parliament, and Mr. Pence certainly covered a lot of ground and stirred an enormous amount of controversy. Among his key points, the V.P.:
- Spoke of his personal affection for Israel and the Jewish people and cited or alluded to more Scripture than probably any foreign leader who has spoken there.
- Called on the Palestinian leadership to “return to the table” and agree to direct peace talks with Israel (they have refused such talks since 2014).
- Praised Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders for making peace treaties in the past with American help.
- Underscored the nuances of President Trump’s December announcement on Jerusalem and discussed the U.S. embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
- Spoke of the near eradication of ISIS’s caliphate by a U.S.-Arab-Kurdish alliance.
- And warned that the “apocalyptic” leaders of Iran would never be allowed to acquire nuclear warheads.
- [Read the official White House speech transcript here. Watch the video of the full Special Session of Knesset — including speeches by PM Netanyahu and Israel’s opposition leader Herzog — here. The VP’s remarks begin at the 24:33 minute mark.]
A reporter for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz asked me how American Evangelical Christians would respond to the speech. Here are excerpts from his story….
- “Joel Rosenberg, an Evangelical author and activist who lives in Jerusalem, told Haaretz that ‘most American evangelicals will be very happy with this speech. He expressed very strong support for Israel.’ Rosenberg, who attended Pence’s speech in the Knesset, added that ‘the vice president used more scripture and allusions to the bible than any speech by a foreign leader that I can recall. He did it in a very respectful way.’
- ‘Rosenberg cautioned, however, that not all evangelicals in the United States and around the world share the same views regarding the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East peace process. ‘Some Evangelicals ask how the timing of the Jerusalem decision served the purpose of reaching a peace deal,’ he said. ‘Did the vice president’s speech make things easier today for the leaders of Jordan and Egypt, who both told him about some hardships caused by the Jerusalem decision? Probably not.'”….
Here’s a link to the interview I did with CBN News (runs about 30 minutes).
Here, too, is both the video and transcript of the interview I did with Shannon Bream, anchor of Fox News @ Night (the video runs about 4:45 minutes). I did the interview in my capacity as one of the founding members of the new organization, Alliance For the Peace of Jerusalem.
I must say I was particularly struck with a soundbite Shannon played from an interview with Hanan Ashrawi, a noted Palestinian legislator, advisor and spokeswoman. As you’ll see in the transcript below, she excoriated Vice President Pence’s Evangelical Christian faith, saying he “brought to bear his ideological, fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of the Bible in order to punish the Palestinians and reward the aggressors, the Israeli occupiers.”
Later in the interview, Shannon quoted Palestinian official Saeb Erekat attacking Mr. Pence’s “messianic discourse” as a “gift to the extremists.”
The comments caught me off guard — I wasn’t anticipating this line of criticisms in this particular interview — and I wish I’d responded to them more directly. The topic deserves a more detailed response. But for now, let me just say respectfully to Mrs. Ashrawi and Mr. Erekat that being a faithful follower of Jesus and having a literal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures — both Old Testament and New — does not make one anti-Palestinian. As a Jewish son born in Bethlehem, Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, and that most certainly includes the Palestinians.
Hundreds of millions of Evangelicals around the world love Jesus, the most famous Israeli in human history; we love the Bible and love seeing the Biblical prophecies of the rebirth of Israel coming to pass. At the same time, precisely because of our faith and our love for the Bible, we also love peace. We pray faithfully for the peace of Jerusalem as commanded by the Psalmist. We also deeply long to see Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinian Arabs all living side-by-side in peace in the Holy Land.
The big question is this: In this life — before the Messiah comes to reign from Jerusalem and establish true justice and peace on the earth — how do we all as humble, flawed people live together in honor and respect, in dignity and in quiet? For Evangelicals, this begins with following the teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and all the Hebrew prophets — learning to love people with an unconditional, sacrificial love, trusting the Lord to give us the strength and grace to do so when that’s hard.
It also means both honoring and learning from the remarkable legacy of modern peace-makers like Anwar el-Sadat, Menachem Begin, King Hussein, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and the like — complicated but courageous men who sat down together face to face to make the hard choices necessary to bring peace and hope and a brighter future to their people. May their tribe increase.
SHANNON BREAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: A Palestinian negotiator is accusing the Vice President of using his religion to set diplomatic policy.
[VIDEO CLIP OF HANAN ASHRAWI, Palestinian legislator]: He brought to bear his ideological, fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of the Bible in order to punish the Palestinians and reward the aggressors, the Israeli occupiers. This is entirely unacceptable. It is not only illegal. It is immoral. It is inhuman.
SHANNON BREAM: Joining me now in Jerusalem is New York Times best-selling author and founding member of the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem, Joel Rosenberg. Great to have you with us today.
JOEL C. ROSENBERG: Great to be with you, Shannon. Welcome to Jerusalem.
BREAM: Thank you very much. It’s such a fascinating, beautiful area. We have really enjoyed our time here, though it’s been quick. It’s not surprising that the Palestinian lawmaker you just heard from didn’t appreciate the Vice President’s use of the Bible. Also hearing from the top Palestinian negotiator [Saeb Erekat] – whom we talked with a couple of days ago in Ramallah – saying this, “The messianic discourse of Pence is a gift to extremists and has proven that the U.S. administration is part of the problem rather than the solution.” Not surprising.
ROSENBERG: Actually, it is surprising. I mean, it’s not surprising that the top Palestinian leadership is so upset. But it is surprising in the sense that Pence concluded his entire speech – I was there – [by saying], “We need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” He called for Palestinians to come back to the table. He’s saying that the boundaries of Jerusalem aren’t even settled – right? He reiterated what President Trump said in his Jerusalem announcement in December.
The point is, this is the moment for the Palestinian leadership, “They’re not negotiated? They’re not final? Great. Let’s have that discussion.” Now, Jerusalem is the toughest issue in this conflict, and it’s a divisive one. But it’s not clear why the Palestinian leadership is saying, “We won’t talk. Forget it. It’s over.” Your interview with Saeb Erekat was illuminating and fascinating.
And Mahmoud Abbas said in a big speech the other day to the Palestinian leadership that, “You may not see me again. This may be my last speech.” We may be heading for a post-Abbas era. It’s not clear where the process goes from there.
BREAM: It’s interesting because with Erekat, I continually pushed the fact that the President did have nuance to what he said, that he wanted this to be about, “We’re not decided the borders, the boundaries. We’re not making any final assessment. We’re the U.S. We’re outside. We’re just saying that we’re recognizing Jerusalem as the capital. You all will work out those details.” But to Erekat, there was no difference. He said, “We heard the headline, and that’s it.”
ROSENBERG: That’s right and I think that’s a challenge. I know that Vice President Pence spoke to President el-Sisi in Egypt, and with King Abdullah in Jordan about this, which is a very sensitive issue. But it is interesting that effectively what the President and Vice President are saying is, “West Jerusalem is a set issue.” And it has been.
The Palestinians aren’t actually asking, really – at least at the leadership level – for West Jerusalem. So the debate is over East Jerusalem, or some neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. So if they [the Palestinians] don’t negotiate, then generations of Palestinian suffering go on, ad infinitum. It’s not clear how this leadership – Abbas and Erekat – what their plan is.
You know, we pray for Saeb Erekat. You were talking to him about his health. He’s just had a lung transplant in the United States. I’m so glad that has gone well. But these men seem tired. Actually, everybody in the region is tired of the fight. But if you won’t sit down and negotiate, it’s not clear how to make the situation better.
BREAM: Right — you don’t have a voice.
ROSENBERG: I thought the Pence speech was excellent in calling for peace, in clarifying the President’s position, but affirming that America is with Israel as an ally — but it’s also with Jordan as an ally, and with Egypt as an ally.
In fact, Pence noted that many people think that peace is not possible. But this is not theoretical. The Vice President was saying, “The United States has helped Egypt make peace with Israel, and Israel make peace with Jordan. Two of the most difficult elements of this conflict have been dealt with, and these treaties have lasted — but those treaties have lasted because men were willing to sit down and make hard choices face to face.
I’m sympathetic to the Palestinians, but I don’t understand how they make their lives better for their people if they won’t sit down.
BREAM: Yeah, and I repeatedly asked Erekat what would get them back to the table. I mean, I’m no peace negotiator. So he’s not going to tell me. But there was just no answer he could give me, short of them [the Trump administration] revoking what they just said about Jerusalem, and we know that’s not going to happen.
Thank you very much for your insights.
ROSENBERG: It’s great to be with you, and these are interesting days and challenging moments.
BREAM: Well, we appreciate your expertise.