(combined sources, with portions written by Sara Lehmann of the Jewish Press) Amidst growing interest in the United States surrounding the upcoming presidential election, Major Pete Hegseth, increasingly well-known as one of the rising stars in American conservative media, participated in a week-long fact-finding mission to Israel. Organized by Dr. Joe and Karen Frager, Dr. Paul and Drora Brody, and Odeleya Jacobs, with the assistance of Ken Abramowitz and Mark Rubin and with the cooperation of the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, the visit gave the media personality the chance to better understand many of the issues facing Israel. Also in Israel with the delegation was fellow Fox News political affairs analyst and commentator Lisa Daftari and Queens Jewish Link publisher Yaakov Serle.
Hegseth is today a Fox News contributor who also guest-hosts many of the network’s news programs. Most recently he was part of the team assigned to cover both the Democratic and Republican Conventions. He earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government after graduating from Princeton. A veteran of the United States military, holding the rank of major, Hegseth served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has gone on to be one of the most prominent voices for the veterans community. He earned two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman Badge. He is the former CEO of Concerned Veterans of America and Vets for Freedom.
Speaking at a media briefing in Jerusalem, Hegseth said that even after just a short time in Israel he quickly understood that the mainstream media was lacking in portraying a realistic picture of Israel’s challenges—and its wonders. A native of a small town in Minnesota, he stated that he had never met a Jew until going to college. But he says that the only way to really understand Israel is to come and experience it. “Seeing is believing and it is therefore critical that as many people of all backgrounds are encouraged to come to Israel,” Hegseth said.
The four-day visit would take Hegseth, his wife Samantha and the other members of the delegation to many Israeli sites from north to south. On the first day, the trip organized by Ateret Cohanim explored the Jewish presence throughout all of Jerusalem’s Old City, including Jewish re-settlement in the Muslim Quarter (formerly called the Kotel Quarter), an experience that Hegseth described as deeply enlightening and important. He said that the newfound experiences would enable him to have better perspectives on the region that would benefit his reporting and the understanding of his viewers. While in Israel, he worked on a series of pieces for the Fox News network, including interviews with IDF personnel. Israel’s security concerns, as well as its accomplishments, were on full display during the visit.
Hegseth repeatedly stressed his intention to learn and discover on the guided tour, which included a visit to Mearat Hamachpela (Cave of the Patriarchs) and a tour of Chevron’s Jewish community in Beit Hadassah with spokesmen Noam Arnon and David Wilder.
An exploration of the ancient city of Shiloh in the Shomron, with its recent archeological excavations, underscored the Jewish people’s Biblical ties to their homeland. “Facts on the ground confirm that Jewish ties to the land are undeniable,” Hegseth commented. “It’s a matter of affirming it, which is why this is so important. Because if you can rewrite history, you rewrite anything.”
As a military man, Hegseth gained an in-depth appreciation of Israel’s security concerns on tour of Israel’s northern borders. From atop an Israeli bunker dating to the 1967 War on the triangle border of Chamat Gader he saw the real and dangerous proximity of Syria and Jordan. Hearing gunshots in the distance while at an observation tower overlooking nearby Syria on Mount Bental made ISIS, Al Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations jump off newspaper headlines and become actual threats.
Listening to Women in Green co-founder and spokeswoman Nadia Matar describe the 2014 kidnapping and murder of the three teenage boys in Gush Etzion, Hegseth recognized the daily threat Israelis endure, particularly those in Judea and Samaria. He witnessed firsthand the Jewish response of building at Shmurat Oz VeGaon, which was established in memory of Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel, Hy”d.
While exploring Sderot, Major Hegseth saw the dangerous proximity of neighboring Gaza, where Hamas rockets and tunnels have terrorized its residents. He listened to Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi vow to remain strong. Only a few days after the Hegseth delegation visit, another rocket hit Sderot.
Hegseth took these sights and inspirations with him to a dinner event hosted in his honor at the Jerusalem Leonardo Plaza that was attended by many MKs and officials, including Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Avi Dichter and Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan. “I came here to listen and understand,” he said at the dinner. “I came to see and experience, to internalize what it is to be Jewish in the State of Israel and to bring these truths back to America.”
While acknowledging that as a Fox News contributor he was not able to endorse any specific candidate for the presidency, Pete Hegseth nevertheless made his political allegiances extremely clear during a one-hour briefing. Describing Hillary Clinton as an “historically terrible candidate,” he also described the Obama Administration as having significantly weakened America’s influence in global policy.
Hegseth is the author of the recently released “In the Arena,” a vision for a new direction for American domestic and foreign policy based on a passage from a famous address delivered by President Theodore Roosevelt. “A world without American leadership is a world set adrift, and the lesson that we have learned from the last seven years is that when America retreats the world becomes a far more chaotic place.”
“The alliance between America and Israel is indispensable in ensuring the future of freedom in the free world,” Hegseth said. He stressed that this was an understanding shared by the Republican candidate.
Dr. Joe Frager, Dr. Paul Brody and Odeleya Jacobs have been responsible for bringing many influential American figures to Israel in recent years, including Gov. Mike Huckabee, Glenn Beck and Washington Congressman Dave Reichert. Dr. Frager said that the value of such a visit cannot be overestimated. “Pete Hegseth is a star who reaches millions of people each day, who directly influences how many Americans think and how they understand the world,” Frager said. “We therefore knew that he needed to come and see Israel firsthand and not simply absorb a media narrative that we all know is typically biased and misleading.”