The biblical rapture is actually sounding more and more appealing these days, so maybe we should all be encouraged by reports that Donald Trump may appoint former Arkansas governor and prominent evangelical Zionist Mike Huckabee as ambassador to Israel.
Huckabee certainly knows the country. He’s visited Israel dozens of times, including as leader of the “Israel Experience With Mike Huckabee,” a tour/pilgrimage pitched to American Christians that is primarily focused on visiting biblical sites but has also included meeting with high-ranking Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His views are generally lockstep in line with the Israeli right on issues including settlements (he’s fine with them), negotiations with the Palestinians (they’re a waste of time), and the Iran nuclear deal (it’s an existential threat to Israel).
Huckabee has joked, “I have a lot of Jewish friends, and they’re kind of, like, ‘You evangelicals love Israel more than we do.’” But he also has a habit of saying things that make Jews very uncomfortable.
In July, he faced widespread criticism, including from many Israeli leaders, for saying that Barack Obama’s nuclear deal was marching Israelis “to the door of the oven.” Just this week, he retweeted a fake news story blaming the painting of swastikas on the Northwestern University campus on “liberal, Jewish Northwestern students.” (He later apologized.) While potentially welcome news for Israeli settlement proponents, naming Huckabee would not exactly reassure American Jews concerned about the rise in American anti-Semitism surrounding Trump’s election.
The first test for Trump’s Israel policy is likely to be the question of whether he will follow through on a campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the future capital of an independent state, while Israelis consider the entire city their capital. While the U.S. Congress passed a law in 1995 calling for the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the president can delay the move for six months over national security concerns, something that presidents have done every six months ever since, including George W. Bush, who promised to move the embassy during his campaign. (Mitt Romney pledged to do so also.)
Trump’s been putting out mixed signals on whether he intends to follow through. Trump foreign policy adviser Walid Phares said last week that “[m]any presidents of the United States have committed to do it and he said as well he would but that he would do it in consensus,” indicating that the administration may continue to delay. But appointing a hard-liner like Huckabee would indicate that moving the embassy is much more likely:
Palestinian United Nations envoy Riyad Mansour said this week that if Trump does move the embassy, his government would unleash its “weapons in the U.N.” to “make his life miserable.”