WASHINGTON (JTA) – Call it a double miracle for the pastor who would be president: Mike Huckabee managed to unite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama while grabbing the spotlight from Donald Trump.
Netanyahu’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, slammed Huckabee, a Republican candidate for the White House in 2016, for saying that Obama will march Israelis “to the door of the oven” as part of the Iran nuclear deal. And Obama has mocked Huckabee’s remarks, casting them as part of a coarsening of political debate.
Dermer made his comments in an interview Monday on USA Today’s “Capital Download” program after Huckabee doubled down on his remarks.
“These are not words that I would use or that I think are appropriate,” the Israeli envoy said. “We don’t in any way impugn the motives of the people who are doing this deal. I think it’s important to conduct this debate in a way that’s befitting of the alliance between our two countries.”
Dermer said he believes a majority of Congress members are against the deal, but acknowledged that there may not be enough votes to override a presidential veto.
“They want to work with us to discuss what happens the day after,” Dermer said. “We’re not in that conversation at this point because we want to focus on preventing what we think is a very bad deal for Israel, for the region and for the world.”
Meanwhile, despite criticism from the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Huckabee asserted Tuesday morning that the Jewish community is supportive of the linkage between the Holocaust and the Iran nuclear deal.
“The response from Jewish people has been overwhelmingly positive,” Huckabee said on the “Today” show. “The response from Holocaust survivors, from the children of Holocaust supporters. Last night I was in an event, I was probably one of four gentiles in the entire event, this was a Jewish event, people were overwhelmingly supportive.”
The Zionist Organization of America stood by Huckabee, saying the analogy was appropriate for the situation.
“The ZOA agrees with Governor Huckabee that this Iran deal could lead to a Holocaust-like massacre of the Jews,” the ZOA said in a statement. “In such circumstances, when the Jewish state is threatened with nuclear annihilation, a Holocaust analogy such as Governor Huckabee used is acceptable and not out of place.”
Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister and a former governor of Arkansas, has come under fire for the analogy made in an interview over the weekend with Breitbart News.
Other Republican presidential candidates addressed Huckabee’s remarks.
“The use of that kind of language is just wrong,” Jeb Bush said Monday after a town hall-style meeting in Orlando, Florida. “This is not the way we’re going to win elections and that’s not how we’re going to solve problems. So, unfortunate remark — not quite sure why he felt compelled to say it.”
Bush pointed out that he has been to Israel several times, and called the Iran nuclear agreement “a bad deal.”
Donald Trump’s special counsel, Michael Cohen, told CNN on Monday that he does not think that Trump finds Huckabee’s words offensive. Trump, who has been at the center of a media storm of late with controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants and U.S. Sen. John McCain, has roundly criticized the Iran deal.
“I think what [Huckabee is] really trying to say is we’re in a bad place,” Cohen said.
“I’m not offended by the words,” he said, acknowledging that he lost family members in the Holocaust. “What I am is I’m concerned. I’m truly concerned for the safety of not just this country but the countries all around the world.”
Obama made his remarks on Huckabee’s statement at a news conference Monday in Ethiopia, where he is on a visit.
“The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are, I think, part of just a general pattern that we’ve seen that is — would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad,” Obama said.
The president listed a series of recent rhetorical controversies, including Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark, likening Secretary of State John Kerry to Pontius Pilate for his role in reaching the Iran deal and Trump mocking Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his captivity during the Vietnam War.
“We’re creating a culture that is not conducive to good policy or good politics,” Obama said.
“In 18 months, I’m turning over the keys – I want to make sure I’m turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems the country faces and the world faces,” he said. “And that requires on both sides, Democrat and Republican, a sense of seriousness and decorum and honesty.”
Huckabee stood by his remarks.
“What’s ‘ridiculous and sad’ is that President Obama does not take Iran’s repeated threats seriously,” CNN quoted Huckabee as saying in a statement issued after Obama’s remarks. “For decades, Iranian leaders have pledged to ‘destroy,’ ‘annihilate,’ and ‘wipe Israel off the map’ with a ‘big Holocaust.’”
Jewish Democrats and the Anti-Defamation League have excoriated Huckabee for the comparison.
“Whatever one’s views of the nuclear agreement with Iran – and we have been critical of it, noting that there are serious unanswered questions that need to be addressed – comments such as those by Mike Huckabee suggesting the president is leading Israel to another Holocaust are completely out of line and unacceptable,” ADL’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also criticized Huckabee’s analogy, telling CNN such rheotric would hamper efforts to build bipartisan opposition to the deal and advising that “no president of the United States should be compared in any way to Adolf Hitler.”
Obama says the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers is the only means of keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Israel’s government and most Republican lawmakers say it leaves Iran poised to become a nuclear weapons threshold state.
(Israel correspondent Marcy Oster contributed to this report.)