Journalist Richard Silverstein, whose blog Tikun Olam is dedicated to the resolution of the Israeli-Arb Conflict, wrote a recent article for the Guardian.co.uk on the selection of Governor Sarah Palin as Senator John McCain’s vice presidential running mate.
Praise the Lord and pass the ballot box.
Things are different in Alaska, perhaps because politically there is less at stake. But now that Sarah Palin moves onto a national stage as John McCain’s running mate, it might be useful to examine some of her faith-based values in greater detail.
She emphasised these views in a talk she gave in June at her hometown church in Wasilla, Alaska. In his introduction, controversial evangelical Pastor Ed Kalnins noted that when he first met Palin, she was the mayor of the town:
When I got the chance to meet our mayor, I said: “This person loves Jesus. That’s the bottom line. She loves Jesus with everything she has. She’s a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ before she’s a mayor.”
After boasting that her 19-year-old son Track had enlisted in the military and was about to be deployed to Iraq, Palin said:
Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [US soldiers] out on a task that is from God. … That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.
Subsequently, she spoke about a $30bn natural gas pipeline that she’s seeking to build from Alaska through Canada to the lower 48 states:
I can work really, really hard to get a natural gas pipeline, a $30bn project that’s going to create a lot of new jobs for Alaskans and will have a lot of energy flowing through here. And pray about that also. I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that.
Then, after listing the tasks she can do as governor to make the state a decent place to live, she added:
None of that is gonna do any good if the people’s heart isn’t right with God. We can work together to make sure that God’s will be done here in Alaska.
After watching this video, I can perfectly understand why evangelicals are overjoyed with her nomination. But I can’t understand why McCain was as well. Did he not think that statements like this might disturb non-evangelicals, not to mention non-Christians, of which, believe it or not, there are a few in this country?
Religiously, Sarah Palin is George Bush unbuttoned. The latter manages much of the time to disguise the evangelical passion of his political mission. Palin possesses the same zeal, but lays it on the line for all to see. There is no artifice, no subtlety. It’s all right there. If this woman is right for the vice-presidency, then evangelical Christianity is even more pervasive and powerful than I feared.
Frankly, candidates like Palin are the Jews’ worst nightmare. The sentiments she expresses are part of a vestigial memory we internalise about what intolerance and bigotry sounds like. This certainly doesn’t rise to the level of flat-out anti-Semitism. But we know when we’re not wanted, and as non-believers we’re not wanted in the evangelical Christian worldview, except as enablers of Jesus’ final coming.
The Politico’s Ben Smith reports that only two weeks ago, Palin attended her local church to hear Jews for Jesus executive director David Brickner excoriate Jews for not accepting Him as their Lord and saviour:
Brickner’s mission has drawn wide criticism from the organised Jewish community, and the Anti-Defamation League accused them in a report of “targeting Jews for conversion with subterfuge and deception”.
Brickner … described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God’s “judgment of unbelief” of Jews who haven’t embraced Christianity.
“Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. It’s very real. When [Brickner’s son] was in Jerusalem he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment – you can’t miss it.”
I’m not going to make the same mistake anti-Obamaites made in attributing the Rev Jeremiah Wright’s views to Obama by attributing Brickner’s views to Palin. But I think it’s entirely legitimate to ask what she was doing there while a speaker Jews view as anathema was expressing such ideas. And it’s appropriate to insist that she not participate in such forums in the future and that she dissociate herself from the views she heard that day.
We are a minority who, in a way, lives on the kindness of strangers, to quote Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. In the evangelical world that Palin embraces there is little kindness for Jews.
Until now, McCain enjoyed the highest poll ratings of a Republican presidential candidate in a long time (around 32%). No longer. With Palin on his ticket he can kiss a good deal of that Jewish vote goodbye. Sure, he’ll still retain 20-25% of the hardcore true believers. But forget the rest. Smith also writes about an email he received from the Republican Jewish Coalition touting Palin as a friend of Israel because her office has an Israeli flag on the wall:
The fact that this tiny image [of the Israeli flag] is the best the official voice of Republican Jewry has to defend Palin is a mark that McCain may have just helped solve Obama’s Jewish problem.
On Tuesday, MSNBC reported that Palin, chaperoned by Joe Lieberman, had her first pro forma meeting with Aipac’s national board of directors at her Minneapolis hotel, where the campaign has sequestered her:
A campaign official … said [the meeting] was geared towards putting the American Jewish community at ease over her understanding of US-Middle East relations.
“That’s obviously going to be an issue,” the aide said. “It’s not like being the senator from New York, obviously. But these aren’t issues that are off her radar.”
Palin … expressed her “heartfelt support for Israel” and spoke of the threats it faces from Iran and others, the campaign official said.
“We had a good productive discussion on the importance of the US-Israel relationship, and we were pleased that governor Palin expressed her deep, personal, and lifelong commitment to the safety and well-being of Israel,” Aipac spokesman Josh Block said. “Like senator McCain, the vice-presidential nominee understands and believes in the special friendship between the two democracies and would work to expand and deepen the strategic partnership in a McCain/Palin administration.”
This is clearly boilerplate stuff. And you’ll notice that the story was fed to the press by spokespeople instead of the candidate herself. This is a further indication of nervousness on the campaign’s part in having Palin present her own views on the issue.
Clearly, McCain’s people worry that Palin has as little understanding of Israel as she has of other major foreign policy issues. It would be legitimate to question whether, at this point, she gets many issues of concern to the Jewish community. Her evangelical background isn’t going to help persuade Jews otherwise.
This is through no fault of her own. But the fault lies with McCain, who chose Palin without thinking through the impact this would have on his campaign in the Jewish community.