Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said in Greenville on Friday that he thinks a travel warning for Israel issued by the State Department is political retaliation by President Obama against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Huckabee, who is mulling a second run for the Republican presidential nomination, said the murder rate in Obama’s hometown of Chicago is 10 times what it is in Israel.
“For him to issue a travel warning and urge Americans not to go to Israel was simply inexplicable,” Huckabee told reporters at the Commerce Club downtown. “If he wants to tell people to be careful, tell them not to go to Chicago right now.”
Netanyahu, who is running for re-election, has clashed with Obama over U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
The Israeli prime minister is scheduled to address Congress on Tuesday in a highly unusual appearance arranged without White House notification.
Huckabee said he’d just returned from Israel, where he’d met last week with Netanyahu for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Huckabee’s views were rejected by former Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers of Denmark, who said the former Fox News personality isn’t pointing out that the White House has increased support for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.
“Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East,” said Sellers, who is gearing up to help former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton run for president after unsuccessfully running for lieutenant governor. “What Mike Huckabee is doing by playing politics is destructive.”
In issuing the travel warning last week, the State Department cited a “rise in political tension in Jerusalem and the West Bank” that has “resulted in injuries to and deaths of U.S. citizens.”
It also noted that hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens “safely visit Israel and the West Bank each year for study, tourism and business.”
Huckabee talked to reporters following a closed-door roundtable with local Republicans.
Asked about his second-place finish in South Carolina’s 2008 presidential primary, Huckabee said he probably should not have left the state in the days leading up to the vote, which he lost to Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“We should have spent the last few days leading up to the primary – all of it – in South Carolina,” Huckabee said.
“We were here most of the time, but we spent a couple of days in Michigan. And if we had it to do over, we’d have just stayed here.”
Huckabee won every county along South Carolina’s Interstate 85 corridor in 2008 except Oconee, but it wasn't enough to overcome McCain's advantage in the rest of the state.
Statewide, Huckabee claimed just under 30 percent of the vote, compared to more than 33 percent for McCain, who went on to secure the GOP nomination.
Huckabee also said snow in Greenville the day of the 2008 primary “hurt our turnout model pretty dramatically.”
“They had nice weather in Charleston,” he recalled. “We had snow on the ground up here. That was quite unusual to be faced with that.”
Huckabee isn’t the only potential Republican presidential candidate testing the waters in Greenville.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was in Greenville earlier this month for a book-signing and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is scheduled to visit March 17.
Another GOP White House hopeful, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is scheduled to attend a March 10 Republican event at the home of Ron Hamilton, owner of Majesty Music, a Christian music company, said Chad Groover, chairman of the Greenville County GOP.
Perry is also set to appear the next day at a Greenville Chamber event at the Poinsett Club, according to an invitation.