Many people in Texas were surprised this summer when Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection. However, recent interviews suggest that Perry may have his eye on the U.S. presidency.
An upcoming trip to Israel in October is a “move [that] signals that he is seriously considering making another presidential run in 2016,” reported the Washington Times in July.
During his nearly 13 years as governor, Perry weathered a number of controversies and was repeatedly a target of national criticism.
Perry’s laundry list of wrongdoings include his issue of an executive mandate requiring Texas girls to receive HPV vaccinations. It eventually came to light that Perry had accepted $5,000 from Merck, the vaccination’s manufacturer, and an additional $28,500 from Merck PAC, the company’s political action committee.
In October 2011, Perry’s family hunting grounds made national headlines when it was reported that the land was named “Niggerhead” — a name that had not been changed several years after Perry inherited the land.
While running for Republican presidential candidate in 2012, Perry released a campaign ad openly attacking the gay community. “You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can openly serve in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school,” he said.
Given that these instances are only a sample of the governor’s many moral infractions, it comes as no surprise that Perry has a history of support for Israel’s ongoing occupation and dispossession of Palestinians.
Unsurprisingly, Perry shows his lack of knowledge of the issue of Israel and Palestine. Nonetheless, he is a member of a crowded club of Republicans who have accused President Barack Obama of “betraying Israel” — even as the Obama administration has cozied up to the Jewish state and committed to giving 30 billion dollars in aid to Israel throughout the next decade.
In a September 2011, ahead of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) statehood bid in the United Nations, Perry said in a Time Magazine interview:
“I certainly have some concerns. The first step in any peaceful negotiation for a two-state solution for the Palestinians is to recognize the right of Israel’s existence. They have to denounce terrorism in both word and deed. And they have to sit down and negotiate with Israel directly. Anything short of that is a non-starter in my opinion.”
Perry ostensibly was unaware that two decades ago, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized “the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security” in an exchange of letters between the late leaders Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Today these letters are available on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
Neither was Perry aware, as noted in the Washington Post, that “in 1996, by a vote of 504 to 54, the Palestinian National Council removed the sections in the Palestinian charter that had denied Israel’s right to exist.”
Again in September 2011, while attempting to discredit the Obama administration, Perry said:
“The Obama policy of moral equivalence, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and the Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult. There is no middle ground between our allies and those who seek their destruction.”
Yet few serious observers can describe the Obama administration as giving “equal standing” to Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, former Defense Department official Dennis Ross later told Haaretz that “what [President Obama] has done for Israel in the area of security is without precedent.”
In any case, Perry’s statements cited above seem to indicate that he knows little about Israel’s systematic violations of the basic human rights of millions of Palestinians living under occupation or in enforced exile.
A 2011 Jerusalem Post op-ed penned by Perry argued that the U.S. should cut its financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. “The historic friendship between the United States and Israel stretches from the founding of the Jewish state in 1948 to the present day,” he wrote.
Perry continued: “Historian T.R. Fehrenbach once observed that my home state of Texas and Israel share the experience of ‘civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies.’”
After appearing side-by-side with the notorious Israeli diplomat Danny Ayalon in New York City in September 2011, Perry told a group of reporters that “as a Christian, [I] have a clear directive to support Israel, so from my perspective it’s pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.”
That same month, a Salon article observed that Perry’s comments were an attempt “to prove that he embraces Israel’s role in what Christian Zionists believe is prophesized in the Bible: that the establishment of the state of Israel is one step in the chain of events that will lead to a bloody showdown at Armageddon and culminate in the Second Coming of Christ.”
Perry’s apocalyptic design for Israel and Palestine is further clarified by his August 2011 prayer rally, which included San Antonio televangelist John Hagee as a speaker.
Hagee is the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUI) as well as an advocate of the expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and a unilateral Israeli military strike against Iran.
Investigative reporter Max Blumenthal documented in a 2007 video that many of CUI’s followers believe Israel’s continued expansion will hasten the rapture. “That’s the battle of Armageddon,” one interviewee told him. “It’s the believers versus the non-believers. It’s the Christians versus the anti-Christians.”
In several passages of Hagee’s book “Jerusalem Countdown,” Blumenthal notes in the video that “he seem[s] to blame Jews for their own persecution.”
Perry’s August 2011 prayer rally also hosted C. Peter Wagner, a leading figure in the international “apostolic-prophetic” Christian movement. Wagner’s movement “seeks to take dominion over politics, business and culture in preparation for the end times and Jesus’ return is becoming more of a presence in American politics,” as noted in a 2011 NPR interview.
Wagner, who claims to be a God-appointed apostle and prophet, spoke to NPR about his movement:
“We take literally what the Bible says. … We know that … there’s not really good religious freedom in Israel. We’re very sorry about that. But the Bible says that someday — and don’t ask me how this is going to happen because it seems impossible — that all of Israel will be saved. That they’ll all believe in Jesus.”
Wagner is also a regular attendee of the Glory of Zion church in Denton, Texas, whose delegates regularly visit illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
With associates like this, the reasons behind Gov. Perry’s staunch support for Israel seem less the product of a “historic friendship” and more a matter of apocalyptic theology.
“Bringing together Arabs and Christians”
Aside from the standard courting of Israel by potential U.S. presidential candidates, what is the expressed purpose of Perry’s upcoming visit to Israel in October?
The visit will help foster peace and understanding, he told the Washington Post, saying, “We will be going to Israel to bring together Arabs, Christians and Jews in an educational forum.”
Tim Murphy, a reporter at Mother Jones, wrote in response that “most Christians living in the Middle East are Arabs. The people Perry should be inviting are called Muslims. Then again, counting to three has never really been his forte.”
Running an educational forum thousands of miles from Texas also raises another important concern regarding his attitude towards education in general — in his homestate, Perry’s policies have starved the public education system.
As of July 2013, Texas ranked 49th for spending on public education–only Arizona and Nevada spend less on their students. As a result, 72 percent of fourth graders are below the minimal standard of literacy, 60 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math, and 21 percent of high schoolers do not graduate on time.
Given Gov. Perry’s general contempt for education, his repeated factual errors regarding Israel and Palestine and his inability to distinguish between ethnicity and religion, it’s unclear what he can possibly offer at an educational forum in the Middle East.
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