Going rogue on the West Bank

Going rogue on the West

As Sarah Palin begins what at least appears to be a testing - if not a parting - of the waters in anticipation of a potential presidential run, she has waded into the murky stuff that is the Israel/Palestine quagmire. One of the stops on her Going Rogue book promotional tour last week was ABC's Good Morning America. Noting that the Obama administration doesn't want Israel to build any more settlements on what it considers Palestinian territory, interviewer Barbara Walters asked the former Alaska governor/vice presidential candidate for her view. Palin's response: "I disagree with the Obama administration on that. I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon because the population of Israel is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand." More and more Jewish people flocking to Israel? What's Palin's source of information? Since 2002 - the year in which the major wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union came to an end - there has been a consistent downward trend in immigration to Israel. By 2006, immigration was down to 1980s levels, during which time 9,000 to 24,000 people immigrated annually. And in 2008, the number was 13,681, representing the lowest ratio of immigrants to veteran Israelis since the establishment of the state - 1.9 immigrants per 1,000 residents. Palin is perhaps not best known for her close allegiance to the facts. (See, for example, her discussion of health care reform this summer, when she claimed that bureaucrats on "Obama's 'death panels'" would "decide, based on a subjective judgment… whether [the old and infirm] are worthy of health care.") MEANWHILE, her declaration that Jews will flock to Israel "in the days and weeks and months ahead" - plainly at odds with statistical trends - has an eerily familiar ring. In fact, it's entirely consistent with the belief of "Christian Zionists" that a mass ingathering of Jews to Israel is the necessary prerequisite to the battle of good against evil at Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. As Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) puts it: "We are racing to the end of time," and more Jews (who, Christian Zionists believe, will either convert or face perdition) in all of historic Palestine are a key ingredient to fulfillment of that prophecy. Indeed, Sarah Palin's protest that the Obama administration has no right to oppose settlement expansion loudly resonates with the same approach taken by Christian Zionists. This summer, at CUFI's conference in Washington, Hagee addressed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - who was in Israel - by satellite, proclaiming that 50 million Christians support "Israel's sovereign right to grow and develop the settlements of Israel as you see fit, and not to yield to the pressure of the United States government." Barbara Walters, regrettably, failed to explore Palin's rationale for the bold assertions she made about Jewish migration to Israel and the need for expanded settlements to accommodate the attendant burgeoning population. Religious beliefs might be their source, or they might not. The explanation, though, clearly doesn't appear in current real-world conditions. It's troubling to think that Palin's policy pronouncements on the Middle East might be even remotely motivated by apocalyptic beliefs. Regardless, her support for expanded settlements in the West Bank - contrasting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recent announcement of a 10-month moratorium on new construction permits in the settlements - is, in fact, an aberrant position: in conflict not only with the sound "freeze settlements, two viable and secure states" policy of the Obama administration, but also at odds with the views of every US administration of the past 40 years. Expanding the settlements, if not a prelude to Armageddon, at a minimum significantly hampers, and perhaps even destroys any remaining prospect for a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Going rogue in the West Bank is simply too dangerous to be funny, or cute. The writer is an attorney and is president of Boston Workmen's Circle, a 110-year old communal organization dedicated to secular Jewish culture and social justice.