Sarah Palin and the Jewish community

Palin is an odd choice for a party which has spent most of last year saying it was reaching out to Jews.

Sarah Palin 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Sarah Palin 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Upon returning from the Democratic Convention in Denver we find a political landscape that has drastically changed. In the course of just one week Sen. Barack Obama picked Sen. Joseph Biden as his vice presidential nominee while Sen. John McCain picked Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate. These two picks say a great deal about the judgment of each presidential candidate and about their understanding of the American Jewish community. Biden, of course, was the more conventional pick - especially for the Jewish community. The senior senator from Delaware is one of the most well-known and respected politicians among American Jewish leadership. He may be unique for a non-Jewish senator in that he loudly exclaims that he is a Zionist. Even his adversaries admit that there is no more knowledgeable senator when it comes to Middle East policy. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency describes his record his record on Israel as "sterling." On domestic issues he is totally in sync with Jewish public opinion - supporting the separation of church and state, reproductive freedom and energy independence. Palin is another story. She is an exceedingly odd choice for a party which has spent the better part of the past year loudly exclaiming that it was reaching out to Jewish voters and made much to do about considering two Jewish legislators - Joe Lieberman and Eric Cantor - as vice presidential possibilities. First, Palin has absolutely no foreign policy experience - it is ironic that McCain has spend his spring and summer telling Americans that the most important characteristic he is looking for in a vice president is an individual who is ready on day one to assume the presidency. Moreover, Palin has never visited Israel and besides signing a pro-Israel resolution passed by the state legislature, she has apparently never spoken out or focused on the Jewish state. ON DOMESTIC issues she is totally out of step with public opinion in the Jewish community. Palin is against reproductive freedom - even in the cases of rape and incest - and as a result one of the first organizations to support her nomination was the Christian Coalition. She speaks about the effects of climate change in the Arctic, but she also is clear that she does not believe that climate change is man-made. Another position which American Jews will find strange is one she shares with McCain - she believes that creationism should be taught in public schools. The reform narrative that GOP operatives like to site when speaking of Palin could be appealing to Jewish voters. However, Palin has a few problems here, as well. She eventually came out against the "Bridge to Nowhere" but only after the issue became a public embarrassment to the Republican Party and it was apparent that federal funds would not cover the whole cost of the project. When she ran for governor in October of 2006, she was all for spending taxpayer dollars on this very dubious "pork." It took her another 11 months to see the light. Moreover when she was first elected mayor of Wasilla (population 6,000) she was severely criticized by the local paper for firing city employees because they had supported her opponent. Then there is the Palin troopergate scandal. On July 11, she fired the state's top cop, Walt Monegan. Monega says Palin fired him because he refused to fire a state trooper who went through a messy divorce with the governor's sister. Palin initially denied the charge but later admitted that some of her officials spoke to Monegan about firing the trooper. Monegan claims that she herself put on the pressure and the state legislature has begun an investigation into the charges that the governor used the power of her office for her personal/family agenda. FINALLY, THERE is the matter of two anti-Israel politicians - Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan. In February Palin in an interview lavished praise on Ron Paul. There is also a controversy over whether Palin has supported former presidential aspirant Pat Buchanan. To be fair there is no evidence that Palin shares either of these Republicans' anti-Israel creed. However, since the beginning of the GOP narrative within the Jewish community is that Obama can not be trusted because of a handful of people who have endorsed him. If this guilt by association standard is one the McCain stands by, then they also need to deal with Palin's past support for anti-Israel politicians. The Jewish vote in 2008 has been a hot topic of conversation in the media. John McCain's fist major decision of this campaign - picking Palin for his running mate - leads us to believe that the Jewish community's concerns are not so high on his priority list. The writer is chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.