Israel has always been close to former presidential contender Mike Huckabee’s heart.
He’s in the country this week – his 14th visit since he first visited in 1973 – with a contingent of about 160 people that includes businessmen, college students, lawyers, widows and even Christian crooner Pat Boone.
Huckabee often leads trips to Israel that focus on Christianity and the Bible.
“I want Americans to understand the Middle East better and I enjoy bringing Christians to see the land of the Bible,” Huckabee said in an e-mail interview. “A trip to Israel makes future reading of the Bible the difference between reading in black and white and in color. “
Huckabee, who returns Monday to the U.S., is also meeting with leaders and political figures in the region to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
He interviewed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is the official Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East on behalf of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia, this week for his Fox television show.
The pair, Huckabee said, “talked about his recent experience at Chilcot Commission; how he handled the pressure of six hours of grueling questions; would he go to Iraq again and why he believed he should have.”
Blair has been under fire in his country about Britain’s entry into the Iraq war.
In the past when Huckabee has visited Israel, controversy has followed. Last August, a hullabaloo erupted when Huckabee visited the Shepherd’s Hotel in Jerusalem – a site of contention between Israel and the Obama administration. The site sits in east Jerusalem.
Some want that to be the future capitol of a Palestinian state, but a Jewish developer bought the land. The Obama administration has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt construction in east Jerusalem.
This time it’s calmer. Maybe it has to do with Pat Boone. After all, it’s not everyday someone gets to travel to Israel with a music legend who has sold more than 45 million albums and is a national hero in Israel. Huckabee and Boone have been friends since 1992 when Huckabee
was running for U.S. Senate.
Boone, who turned his sights to gospel music in the 1960s, is hugely popular in Israel because of his song “Exodus,” the theme song to the 1960 movie “Exodus” about the creation of the state of Israel.
“He wrote the words to the song ‘Exodus’ and is revered in Israel as one of their heroes,” Huckabee said.
According to Boone’s website, “Boone is Christian ambassador to Israel, leading many tours of the country for the Christian Broadcasting Network. He also possesses an Israel Cultural Award, the country’s highest award for a non-native. He is spokesman for the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews ‘Wings of Eagles’ program, allowing 300,000 Jews from iron curtain countries to resettle in Israel.”
Huckabee, an avid musician who has played bass guitar with a number of famous bands and leads his own band, said Boone sang “Exodus” one night with an impromptu band that Huckabee formed while in Israel at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.
“We had a jam session with Mike Tobin, Fox News Jerusalem bureau, on guitar; Maurice Sklar, violinist from U.S. and member of our group, local blues guitarist and other local keyboard guy, and me on bass — we rocked the house with ‘Ain’t That a Shame,’ ‘I Almost Lost my Mind’ and some other stuff, plus Pat did ‘Exodus’ and brought the house down,” Huckabee said.
U.S. policy in Israel has also been a focus of Huckabee’s trip.
“[Israelis] are very concerned about the Obama administration’s policies that puts more pressure on Israelis building bedrooms in settlements than Iran building bombs,” said Huckabee. “Obama approval rate in Israel is 4 percent. It was sky-high a year ago. They are not sure they can count on the U.S. to stand with them.”