Analysis: Israel's view of McCain unchanged by VP choice

The prevalent feeling in Jerusalem's corridors of power is that "more of the same" isn't that bad.

Sarah Palin 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Sarah Palin 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
With his brash and bold pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain sewed up the Eskimo vote (her husband is part Yup'ik Eskimo) as well as the ballots from University of Idaho alumni (where Palin earned a degree in journalism). But it will take some time, and some getting to know Palin, before it will be possible to gage the impact on other key US constituencies, like the Jews. On the surface, McCain's choice seems designed to realize a couple of key campaign objectives. First, it is widely expected to galvanize the right-wing Evangelical vote, a key vote McCain will need if he is to win the White House. On the surface it would seem that the "religious right" in the US really has no option but to vote McCain in November. True, they might not be in love with the maverick Arizona senator, who admitted to affairs that broke up his first marriage and whose positions on global warming, campaign finance reform, gay marriage, oil drilling and immigration are at odds with their own. But they like even less the pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, internationalist and liberal Obama-Biden ticket. The nightmare for McCain's strategists is not that this critical constituency will turn out and vote for Obama; it won't. Rather, the concern is that it will just stay home. During an election where African-American voters are widely expected to turn out in historic numbers to vote for Democratic candidate Barack Obama, a stay-at-home protest by the Evangelicals could doom McCain's campaign. Palin, to a large extent, addresses that problem. She is a bedrock Christian who led her high school chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was baptized as a teenager at the Wasilla Assembly of God Church, and - most importantly - is extremely pro-life, having given birth to a child with Down syndrome rather than have an abortion. That position will certainly enthuse some of the as-yet unenthusiastic Evangelicals. Secondly, her family story will give the McCain ticket some badly needed lunch-pail credentials. Ohio and Pennsylvania, with their large blue-collar, unionized populations, are key battleground states in this election. Palin, or more specifically her husband, is someone they can relate to. He's a veteran oil field worker and commercial fisherman, and a union member to boot. Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden pushed all the regular-guy, work-a-day buttons in his speech to the Democratic convention in Denver last week, going after these voters. Expect Palin to do the same this week at the Republican convention in Minneapolis; her own family narrative will likely give at least some of these voters a reason to take a second look at the Republicans. And, obviously, Palin's choice was an attempt to woo over at least some of the female Hillary Clinton voters disenchanted by Clinton's defeat, not all of whom are pro-choicers who won't consider Palin because she likes hunting and fishing and is a social conservative. Then there are the Jews. Some of the same qualities that make Palin so attractive to the Evangelicals and the blue collar workers - her anti-abortion stand, her National Rifle Association credentials, her members in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes - will make many Jews nervous. The question is whether it will make many of those who vote primarily on the Israel issue, a minority of Jewish votes but a significant population in a key state like Florida, nervous enough to take a fresh look at Obama. Palin's detractors have already floated the little tidbit that she wore a Pat Buchanan button when he made a presidential campaign stop to Wasilla, Alaska, in 1999, where she was mayor, a tidbit that won't make Jews happy, but may seem less toxic than Obama's longtime affiliation and friendship with his own former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. While US Jews struggle to figure out who exactly Palin is, some may look to Israel for cues, but they will look in vain, because Jerusalem won't oblige; officials are smart enough to realize that it would be extremely counterproductive for Israel to even hint at a favorite in this close and riveting presidential race. Besides, Jerusalem couldn't give any cues on Palin, because it has little clue itself about the candidate. If Palin was relatively unknown in the US before being plucked from obscurity and placed on the Republican ticket, in Israel she is completely unknown, her name failing to register not only with regular folks who have other things to worry about, but also even Foreign Ministry officials who pay attention to these matters. But Palin's obscurity, her lack of any record on Israel, or even statements on Israel issues, has not changed the overall sentiment in Jerusalem toward the race, and a lack of public endorsement of a ticket doesn't mean a lack of preference. Privately, the prevalent feeling in Jerusalem's corridors of power is that in the Obama-McCain race, "more of the same," the epithet Obama is throwing at McCain, is not that bad. When it comes to the Middle East, Jerusalem - or at least the current government - is not only unafraid of more of the same, but would actually embrace it from the next White House. The government likes what has come from the Bush administration over the last number of years and is in no hurry to see any change there. Almost nothing of Palin is known in Jerusalem beyond what has been written in the press over the last few days. But at least in the initial blush following the stunning announcement, that unfamiliarity has not changed Jerusalem's overall comfort level with the man who has deemed that Palin is indeed of vice-presidential caliber.