'McCain VP choice unknown to US Jews'

Jewish Democrats say Gov. Sarah Palin has "zero foreign policy experience," McCain's pick strange.

Sarah Palin 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Sarah Palin 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Skipping over two Jewish politicians under consideration as a vice presidential running mate, John McCain selected first-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on Friday. Palin, a reformer with high approval ratings but a low national profile, is the first female vice presidential nominee for the Republican party. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate McCain announced his selection the day after Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, shifting attention to the GOP ahead of its convention opening in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Monday. Palin's background corresponds to McCain's image as a maverick, both by his making a surprise selection and by choosing someone who was willing to buck powerful members of her own party to clean up government. Her lack of foreign policy or national security credentials, however, contrast with McCain's own record of military service and government focus in those arenas. The choice left the two Jewish congressman reported to be on the list of possible VPs - Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman - out of luck, but several politically active Alaskan Jews praised Palin's ties to the community. "The Jewish community should be very excited that Sarah was selected. She has been very conscious of the Jewish community here in Alaska and now with the opportunity of her new position, she'll have the opportunity to look at the Jewish community globally," said Alaskan Republican Jewish Coalition member Terry Gorlick, who knows Palin well and has worked with her on several issues. "Sarah's absolutely pro-Israel," he said, referring to conversations with her and comments she's made about Israel's security and its importance to the United States. He noted that as governor she signed a resolution honoring Israel for its 60th birthday. David Gottstein, who is active with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Alaska, said he had spoken to the governor about arranging a trip to Israel, but scheduling conflicts had kept it from happening to date. "She has ties and interests in the Holy Land," said Gottstein, who described her as someone who could be effective across party lines, noting that he worked well with her despite being a Democrat. But the National Jewish Democratic Coalition (NJDC) used the fact that Palin hasn't been to Israel to attack her familiarity with the country and the crucial foreign policy issues connected to the region. "In Governor Sarah Palin, McCain chooses a running mate with zero foreign policy experience," said NJDC executive director Ira Forman. "For a party which claims it is trying to reach out to the Jewish community, McCain's pick is particularly strange. Prior to today's selection, Palin apparently has never spoken publicly about Israel." And Obama surrogate Robert Wexler, a Jewish US representative from Florida, lambasted her for endorsing isolationist Republican Pat Buchanan in 2000. But in a letter she wrote to the editor of a local newspaper at the time, she explained that she was willing to wear a Buchanan button "as a polite gesture of respect" during a visit, as she would for any visiting presidential candidate, but that it shouldn't be seen as an endorsement. Another news report from then lists her as serving on the leadership team for Steve Forbes, a free market conservative who ran along with Buchanan as well as McCain for the presidential nomination. Palin's conservative credentials have drawn plaudits from many on the Right, including many religious constituencies who were pleased that McCain chose a staunch opponent of abortion after suggesting he might tap someone who is pro-choice. Many analysts have argued that Palin's selection, perceived as stemming in part from an effort to attract voters who backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries away from Obama, wouldn't succeed because of Palin's stance on abortion. Clinton herself issued a statement on the historic occasion. "We should all be proud of Governor Sarah Palin's historic nomination, and I congratulate her and Senator McCain," she said. "While their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debate." Jewish Democratic political operative Steve Rabinowitz said that "wrong direction" would alienate Jewish voters. "Sarah Palin is completely unknown to the American Jewish community. There is no Jew outside of Alaska who has a relationship with her," he said. "They supposedly vetted Eric Cantor, pretended Joe Lieberman was on the short list, and in the end chose someone who could not be more different from them." The Republican Jewish Coalition defended the pick. "Senator Lieberman and Representative Cantor would also have been excellent choices," said RJC spokeswoman Suzanne Kurtz, but McCain's nominee was just as good. "They'll make a great team," she said. The RJC put out a statement on Friday saying that "Palin has a proven track record of experienced and principled leadership. Palin has been a leader on the critical issue of energy independence and lessening our need to buy oil from nations not sharing America and Israel's foreign policy interests." And she received praise from other Jewish quarters, including from Anchorage Chabad Rabbi Yosef Greenberg. He recalled Palin's support for a Jewish museum he is building there and her hora lessons at the annual Jewish gala she has attended the last two years. Greenberg also spoke of her reaction to giving birth to a child with special needs. "She said, 'God doesn't give you something you can't handle,'" he said. "It was straight out of the Lubavitch book."