Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has one less speaking engagement on his agenda.
Amid calls for a boycott of the Jewish National Fund of Ottawa's annual Negev Dinner over their choice of Huckabee as keynote speaker, the organization cancelled the former Arkansas governor's speech, and announced that it would seek a less divisive replacement. The decision came shortly after Kingston resident Bruce Bursey launched a change.org petition, demanding the JNF find a different speaker for the dinner, which aims to raise funds for Autism research in Israel. Bursey accused the former Fox News host of spreading “hatefulness towards and about transgender people.”
At the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in early June, Huckabee called transgenderism a “social experiment” and mused that, had he known about transgender identity in high-school, “I’m pretty sure I would’ve found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.”
JNF CEO Josh Cooper told The Canadian Jewish News that Bursey’s petition “had absolutely no impact whatsoever” on the decision to cancel Huckabee’s speech. But in an email statement to msnbc, Cooper said the organization had been forced to rescind Huckabee’s invitation after “the media spotlight” put focus on “Mr. Huckabee’s comments about issues that bear no relevance to JNF or autism.” Cooper explained that the JNF had initially chosen Huckabee because “he is a staunch supporter of the State of Israel” and “has never wavered from this position.”
The controversy illustrates a growing political tension in the Jewish communities of North America between members who prioritize social liberalism and those more concerned with promoting unconditional support for the Israeli state. With the rise of the far-right in Israel, and the evangelical movement in the United States and Canada, the Jewish state’s staunchest supporters in the western hemisphere increasingly look like Huckabee: Christian conservatives with right-leaning views on social policy.
Jews remain one of the most reliably Democratic voting blocs in American politics, and their liberalism is particularly pronounced on social issues. A Pew Poll from 2013 found that Jews were far more supportive of legal abortion than any other American faith group, with 89% of Jewish respondents saying that the procedure should be legal in most or all cases. White mainline Protestants were a distant second at 63%. A 2012 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 81% of American Jews backed same-sex marriage.
Of course, American Jews are also among the country’s staunchest supporters of Israel, with only 11% telling Pew Research in 2014 that the U.S. was “too supportive of Israel,” 31% that the U.S. was “not supportive enough,” and 54% saying U.S. support was “about right.” But that poll also found that Jews weren’t America’s most emphatically pro-Israel religious community, with 46% of White evangelical Protestants saying that the United States’ support for its ally was insufficiently strong.
The Jewish community of Canada has drifted rightward in recent years, with Conservative Party Prime minister Stephen Harper claiming 52% of the Jewish vote in his last election. But during that 2011 campaign, Harper explicitly promised that he would not move to ban abortion or gay marriage.
The cancellation of Huckabee's speech isn’t the first time that the tensions in the political marriage of Jewish and evangelical Zionists have bubbled up into the GOP’s 2016 race. Back in April, two prominent gay hoteliers came under fire from the LGBT community after they hosted a reception for Republican candidate and same-sex marriage opponent Sen. Ted Cruz at their Manhattan apartment. The pair explained that their interest in Cruz was rooted in their common appreciation for the state of Israel.