Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been causing a stir on his latest trip to Israel, particularly with his high-profile support of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
Earlier this week, the former Arkansas governor opted to hold a fundraiser in the town of Shiloh in Samaria, provoking a furious backlash from many left-wing media outlets and pundits, who wish to see all Jews expelled from the region to pave the way for a Palestinian Arab state.
He has also raised eyebrows for refusing to use the term "West Bank" – coined by Jordan in 1950 after its illegal but brief conquest and annexation of the area – instead preferring to use the term that was commonly used before then: Judea and Samaria.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva in Jerusalem, he said he felt an obligation to challenge the prevailing discourse surrounding Israeli rights to Judea and Samaria.
"I think a lot of it has to do with what leaders say, and one of the reasons I refer to the area as Judea and Samaria is because I believe that that's the Biblical language, it's the historical language, the supportable language," he said.
"'West Bank' doesn't really provide the proper description of what the land is – its historic purposes, its roots."
Jordan's first King, Abdullah I, captured Judea and Samaria in the 1948 war against Israel. The British-trained and commanded Arab Legion expelled all Jews living there at the time, and King Abdullah hoped to incorporate it into his kingdom. Following in the footsteps of previous conquering armies in the holy land, after annexing Judea-Samaria he replaced the traditional Jewish names for the area with one that reflected his own political designs, labeling it the "West Bank" of his kingdom, along the River Jordan.
The annexation was not internationally-recognized, and Jordan lost control of the region less than two decades later in the 1967 Six Day War with Israel, eventually ceding all claims.
Yet despite its dubious origins, outside of Israel "West Bank" has replaced "Judea and Samaria" as the commonly-used term for the area. Most Israelis – particularly those living in the region – as well as many Jews in the diaspora, still use the original names, however, viewing the term "West Bank" as part of a wider attempt to deny their connection to their own homeland.
Huckabee, who is also a Baptist minister, has long been an outspoken supporter of Israel, and has visited Judea-Samaria several times before. But the GOP presidential candidacy race has provided his views with a far more visible platform – and he seems to be making a point of using that platform to challenge the prevailing discourse on Judea and Samaria/"West Bank," dismissing commonly-made claims that any Israeli or Jewish presence in the area is "illegal."
Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem Wednesday – which at some points turned hostile as left-wing journalists took issue with his views – Huckabee called on Americans to support Israeli communities in Judea-Samaria.
"I think it is very important that as Americans we show support for Israelis in their capacity to build their neighborhoods in their own country," he said, while blasting the international obsession – shared by the current White House administration – with "Israeli settlements."
"It is interesting to me that our government has put more pressure on the Israeli government to stop building bedrooms in their own neighborhoods, than on Iran to stop building bombs," he remarked.
"I don’t see it as occupied, that makes it appear as if someone is illegally taking land," he said of Judea and Samaria. "I don’t see it that way."
Indeed, despite the term being commonly used by media outlets and world leaders alike, many legal experts have noted that under international law Judea and Samaria are not "occupied" at all.
Of his visit to Shiloh, situated in the Binyamin region of Samaria north of Jerusalem and site of the first Jewish capital city, Huckabee was similarly defiant.
"3,500 years ago it was the capital of Israel. The fact that it is in Samaria is immaterial to me. I would happily go to Shiloh at any time."
His comments have been alternately derided and condemned, as is often the case for those who dare to challenge prevailing orthodoxies.
But there will be many who see the very fact that the issue is being raised at all now as a welcome sign of change.
Eliran Aharon contributed to this report.