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Feting Mike Pence’s Love for Israel

About 100 people were at Mike's Bistro to hear Pence talk about his love for Israel

Photo: Flash90

Mike’s Bistro was Mike Pence territory for the evening last Wednesday.  The former vice president was on hand to sign his newly published autobiography, So Help Me G-d, at an event sponsored by the Israel Heritage Foundation.  About 100 people were at the upscale Midtown diner, some eager for a moment with Pence, some content to hear the Republican introduced as the “greatest vice president in the history of this country” talk about his love for Israel. Others just enjoyed the ribeye steaks while animatedly engaging in the “will he or won’t he” parlor game of Pence’s 2024 presidential ambitions.

The Israel Heritage Foundation, the event’s organizer, aims to be nonpartisan — “We invited some Democrats to come, and it’s still in the pipeline,” executive director Rabbi Duvid Katz told me.

1. Do nice guys finish last?

In his 13-minute speech, Pence barely mentioned Donald Trump’s name. There was a smattering of “Donalds,” a recollection of “standing beside the president,” a call “from that familiar voice,” speaking on a “call that I got every day” and ten “he saids.”

With Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis sucking all the air out of the race, Pence’s 4 percent support reflects the Republican base’s demand for a pitbull candidate.

2.The phone call that changed his life

Trump, Pence revealed, never formally asked him to join his team.

“The phone rang and I picked it up and I heard that very familiar voice,” he said. “And he said, ‘Mike, it’s going to be great.’ He started talking... for like five to seven minutes, without taking a breath. And then when he did, I finally said ... ‘Well, Donald, if there’s a question in there, the answer is yes.’ ”

He omitted one detail, revealed in his book: When he refused Trump’s demand to not certify the 2020 election, Trump retorted, “If you do that, I made a big mistake five years ago.”

3. Pence is loved by pro-Israel community

Pence’s pro-Israel record, stretching back decades, was on full display.

“Somebody said they should clone him,” Dr. Joseph Frager, the foundation’s executive vice president, told me. “If we had a million people like him, that would do great — no problems in the world.”

This may make Pence a first choice among evangelicals, though Nikki Haley’s star performance as UN ambassador in 2017 and 2018 may give her an edge.

4. Dirshu founder selected to introduce Pence

Dirshu founder Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter, who introduced Pence, several years ago launched a “Torah values caucus” in Congress. He told me Pence suggested he open a similar caucus to give religion a greater say.

“He was happy when I told him that I had already done so,” he said.

In his public remarks, Rabbi Hofstedter focused on anti-Semitism, for which he had a novel solution. “I just had the privilege of speaking to the vice president about personal civility,” he said. “It’s not about what we can do but what we can be.”

5. What does Pence’s future hold?

Engaging as it may be, Pence’s book is hardly what drew such a crowd on a workday evening. Guests tried to decipher his words as to whether he will seek the highest office, and he ignored a reporter who shouted the question.

“Maybe it’s time for a new lodestar,” Dan Hardt, Nassau County’s commissioner of bridges and a rising Republican star, wondered out loud in his speech. “Maybe it’s time for that lodestar to rise.” Pence leaned forward in his seat and politely applauded.

Hard Truths from Haley

Nikki Haley, whose foray into the 2024 arena was already seen as courageous, is taking on her party. At a donor retreat in Florida, she blamed Donald Trump and lawmakers on both sides for what she termed “trillion-dollar pandemic blowouts” and accused Republicans of abandoning their conservative market principles.

“Don’t let the media tell you Republicans and Democrats can’t work together,” she said. “They always seem to work just fine when they’re spending your money.”

She promised to “every single one of ’em” as president” and “stop the trillion-dollar spending sprees and halt our sprint toward socialism.”

Haley’s candor has cost her committee assignments in the past, but the same frankness helped her win the governorship of South Carolina. She’s betting her outspokenness will set her apart from what is sure to be a crowded 2024 field.

A word of advice from across the Atlantic, though — Rishi Sunak tried taking on his party, and lost. Party members have a history of shooting messengers bearing hard truths.

A Hand from Hungary

The news that Hungary will move its embassy to Jerusalem next month, the first European country to do so, is a boost with a sting in its tail. Viktor Orban, the populist Hungarian premier, has been a Bibi ally since he took office in 2010, blocking efforts to issue anti-Israel statements in the EU, and this gesture is the latest on his pro-Netanyahu record.

But Orban’s efforts to curb Hungarian judiciary and media independence have been controversial. Bibi will not welcome the parallels being drawn between Orban’s anti-judiciary moves and his own government’s attempts to cut the Israeli courts down to size. Amidst his domestic worries, however, the embassy move is a reminder that for all his faults, Bibi remains Israel’s foremost statesman.

The Lockdown Files

Some 100,000 leaked WhatsApp messages from the heart of pandemic-era British government reopened the juicy and exceedingly ugly can of worms labeled “The handling of COVID-19.” They exposed truths hitherto suspected, now proven.

Boris Johnson, whose former chief aide compared him to a careening shopping trolley for his indecision, prevaricated on restrictions based on the last person he’d spoken to.

Chief civil servant Simon Case, far from being an impartial implementor of policy, gleefully anticipated seeing those affected by travel restrictions “disembarking from first class and being herded into Premier Inns.” Then-health secretary Matt Hancock ignored medical advice on care home testing and later manipulated statistics to claim he’d reached a landmark testing target.

Most alarming was how anyone — including Cabinet ministers — who questioned the efficacy of restrictions, or weighed them up against economic or educational tradeoffs, was branded a reckless libertarian. Three years on, it remains a cautionary tale of unchecked groupthink.

—Y. Davis


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 952)

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