Pence meets far-right Israelis while visiting holy site in West Bank

JERUSALEM (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke with two far-right Israelis with past ties to a banned Jewish terror group during a visit to a hardline settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The visit to Hebron on Wednesday was part of a tour highlighting the Trump administration’s unprecedented support for Israel and its settlements built on occupied land that Palestinians want for a future state. Pence, a popular figure in the evangelical wing of the Republican Party, recently appeared to be laying the groundwork for a possible presidential election in 2024.

He visited the traditional burial place of Abraham, the biblical patriarch revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, at a site known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. It is adjacent to a Jewish settlement in which hundreds of extremist settlers live under military protection in the heart of a city of more than 200,000 Palestinians.

While there, Pence spoke with Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right member of Israel’s parliament, and Baruch Marzel, who was barred from running in the 2019 elections. Both are followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated a violent and anti-Arab ideology. before being assassinated by an Egyptian-American in New York in 1990.

In 1994, Kahane follower Baruch Goldstein opened fire at the Hebron holy site, killing 29 Muslim worshipers and injuring over 100. This led Israel and the United States to label his Kach movement and an offshoot , Kahane Lives, terrorist groups.

Ben Gvir and Marzel have distanced themselves from some of Kahane’s more radical views, but are still widely seen as extremists. Until a few years ago, Ben Gvir hung a portrait of Goldstein in his living room.

They were among several Israelis who welcomed Pence to the holy site, and Israeli media reported that they welcomed him on their own initiative.

Ben Gvir tweeted a photo of himself shaking hands with Pence. “I was happy to meet former Vice President Mike Pence in Hebron, the city of our ancestors. I thanked him for coming to visit us, and for his stance and support alongside Israel.” , he wrote.

Marzel told The Associated Press that he was in Hebron as a resident and as someone working at the holy site. “I don’t think he knows who I am,” he said, adding that he thanked Pence for his support for Israel and wished him well.

Pence then tweeted a photo of himself posing with a group of nine people, including Ben Gvir, outside the holy site. American businessman Simon Falic, a prominent colonial supporter, was also among the group.

Pence has traveled the United States, given political speeches and raised funds for midterm candidates. He also distanced himself from Donald Trump, directly refuting the former president’s false claims about the 2020 election and stating bluntly that Trump was “wrong” to insist that Pence could have unilaterally overturned the results.

This week, Pence met Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and accepted an honorary doctorate from Ariel University, in an Israeli settlement in the heart of the West Bank.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and built some 130 settlements that house nearly 500,000 settlers. The Palestinians want the West Bank to be part of their future state, and most of the international community considers settlements illegal.