The man who could soon become America's next vice president gained a new title Monday in Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter, when his host jokingly called him "Huckabee the Maccabee."
Mike Huckabee, who earlier this year lost to John McCain in the race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, earned the title from Mati Dan, founder of the Ateret Cohanim religious seminary, for expressing support for the settlement of Jews in the quarter and for calling a potential division of Jerusalem "unimaginable."
In what can be seen as criticism of U.S. President George W. Bush's efforts to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Huckabee told Haaretz: "It's naive when people think that you're going to have a couple of politicians get together and solve the conflict in the Middle East." He then added: "It's more than naive. There's a level of arrogance there."
The former governor of Arkansas, who is an ordained minister with close ties to prominent Christian evangelists, also talked about his faith's role in shaping his understanding of the Middle East. While visiting Jeremiah's Cave near the Nablus Gate, the rumored vice presidential nominee said: "My belief does not influence my views on foreign policy, but at the same time it has clearly given me perspective on the depth of the history of the Middle East. If you've studied the Bible you certainly understand this conflict didn't start in the 1940s. It started with Isaac and Ishmael."
The two-day visit to Israel - Huckabee's 10th - came at the invitation of the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, a New York foundation working to move Jews into the Muslim Quarter. Dr. Joseph Frager, chairman of the foundation's board, said he thought that Huckabee's statements about Jerusalem and on other issues were very different to statements by other American politicians. "Huckabee is a straight shooter and he speaks with one voice," Frager said.
Commenting on claims by some political analysts that despite his pro-Israel stance the American politician had failed in matching some of his rivals' popularity among Jewish voters, Frager countered that "most Jews vote Democrat anyway," adding: "I don't think you can really determine whether Huckabee had less success with the Jewish vote."
Democrats living in Israel on Thursday criticized New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a party member, for endorsing Republican Mike Huckabee during a visit to Israel this week. One activist said the ties between Huckabee, a potential vice presidential nominee with Hikind, a former follower of Jewish extremist Meir Kahane, puzzled her.
At a Jerusalem press conference on Tuesday, Hikind and Huckabee exchanged praises, with the Democrat jokingly announcing he supported Huckabee for president. Huckabee replied he wished he enjoyed such support from more Republicans.