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Lord Sacks defends role writing Mike Pence's Knesset speech

Emeritus Chief Rabbi said it was “a great tribute to the Jewish people” that the vice president sought his guidance

    Parts of US Vice President Mike Pence's Knesset speech was written by the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks (right)
    Parts of US Vice President Mike Pence's Knesset speech was written by the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks (right) (Photos: Getty Images)

    Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has defended his decision to help write the speech delivered by controversial US Vice President Mike Pence in the Knesset this week.

    Mr Pence has been heavily criticised throughout his political career for his hard-line views on gay rights, abortion, and women’s rights.

    Lord Sacks said it was “a great tribute to the Jewish people” that Mr Pence had sought his guidance on the historic connection between Jews and Israel. 

    Religious references featured heavily in the speech, in which the Vice President also announced the United States’s intention to move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, and said the Iran nuclear deal was a “disaster”.

    He received a mixed response during his address on Monday, with a number of standing ovations as well as a protest by Israeli Arab MKs who were ejected from the chamber.

    Mr Pence has in the past suggested public money used to research treatments for HIV/Aids should instead be spent on so-called conversion therapies for gay people.

    He has been critical of marriage equality and women’s rights and seven years ago tried to redefine rape in an attempt to re-write legislation on abortion funding.

    It was revealed on Tuesday that Lord Sacks had spent 90 minutes with Mr Pence in New York in November discussing the speech and had been “consulted” constantly by the Vice President’s office ahead of its delivery.

    Dan Sacker, Lord Sacks’s spokesman, said the former Chief Rabbi was not party political, but was “intensely involved and interested in the spiritual and historical dimension of political and public life”.

    Mr Sacker said it had been made clear in advance that Mr Pence’s speech would have a “strong spiritual and biblical dimension”. Lord Sacks was not paid for his help and his spokesman said the men did not pray together during the meeting.

    The New York meeting “centred around how best to frame elements of the speech – in particular the biblical and historic connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and the American and Jewish stories,” Mr Sacker said.

    “It was these, and only these, elements of the speech that Rabbi Sacks assisted with. He considered it a great tribute to the Jewish people that someone like Vice President Pence would turn to a Jewish source for guidance on such matters.”

    Lord Sacks’s office did not respond to questions about whether he agreed with Mr Pence’s positions on issues including women’s rights, assisting refugees or “conversion” for homosexuality.

    Raoul Wootliff, the Times of Israel journalist who revealed the link between the two men, was told by White House sources that Lord Sacks had played a “major part” in writing the speech, and that Mr Pence had “sought out” the former Chief Rabbi.

    The US sources reportedly said Mr Pence had thought it “critical to have his counsel for a speech of this magnitude”.

    The JC understands the link-up was only acknowledged by Mr Pence’s office when the Americans believed the Vice President was going to be accused of plagiarising Lord Sacks.

    Among the passages which were seen as similar to Lord Sacks’s past addresses was one in which Mr Pence referred to Jews taking “the language of the Bible” and making it “live again” – words which the former Chief Rabbi used on a CD to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary a decade ago.

    Mr Pence also alluded to Abraham traveling to Israel and said: “He ruled no empire, he wore no crown, he commanded no armies, he performed no miracles, delivered no prophecies…”

    The passage is an almost verbatim repeat of lines Lord Sacks wrote in his 2001 book Radical Then, Radical Now.

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