Representative Walter Jones (R-NC). Photo via Walter Jones/Facebook.

Meet the Republican congressman who calls for a settlement freeze


In many ways, Representative Walter Jones (R-NC), is a staunch conservative. He blasted former President Barack Obama’s “burdensome” environmental regulations as “completely out of touch with the American people.” The North Carolina lawmaker vehemently opposed the outgoing administration’s rule mandating that states offer Title X funding for abortion providers including Planned Parenthood. However, his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are far outside the norm for a Republican member of Congress these days.

This post was originally published at JewishInsider.com.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Jones called for a “moratorium” on Israeli West Bank settlement growth. Jones was one of four Republicans who voted with 76 Democrats against House Resolution 11 in January, a measure that criticized the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for condemning Israeli settlements at the end of the Obama Administration. While the overwhelming majority of Republican leaders including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and President Donald Trump assailed the UN for engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process, Walter offered a dramatically different response. “I think they (the UN) can be part of a process that could be helpful,” he explained. When discussing America’s role as a mediator, the 74-year-old North Carolina lawmaker noted, “America because of its friendship and relationship with Israel – and I have great respect for Israel – I think it’s going to take more than just one country to put this together.”

Jones was one of only two Republicans to sign onto a letter currently circulating from Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VI) and David Price (D-NC), which “affirms” the two state solution. In doing so, Jones joined 113 Democrats who back the measure. Explaining his support, Jones noted, “If we just sit back, watch and complain, and nobody is making any effort to get the two sides together, I think it is wrong.” The veteran GOP Congressman cites his Christian faith in motivating his desire to search for peace. In contrast to most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Jones repeatedly used the term “Palestine” throughout the interview.

Some pro-Israel organizations have worked tirelessly to unseat Jones given his unorthodox viewpoint as a Republican on the Jewish state. Breitbart called an ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) against Jones, which included anti-Israel protesters burning U.S. and Israeli flags while narrating Jones’ Congressional record, “brutal.” The ECI ad also warned that Jones was endorsed by the “anti-Israel group J Street.” In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Jones broke with his party in 2005 emphasizing that his vote in favor of the 2003 Iraq War was mistaken, years before candidate Trump made opposition to the war a mainstay of his presidential campaign.

Despite the numerous foreign policy challenges, Jones urged Trump to signal that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be “the number one issue” in order for America “to be a facilitator to find peace.” With Trump calling on Israel to “hold back on settlements,” and the President’s Special Assistant Jason Greenblatt meeting this week with Netanyahu, and visiting a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp, Jones may have reason to be more upbeat than usual.

Former Hawaii governor: Unlike Democrats, GOP united on Israel


On the first day of the Republican convention in Cleveland, with fewer traditional Republican Jews “>unanimously approved by the party’s platform committee last week, as proof that the Republican Party is the home for Jewish voters in the November election.

American Jews, the former Hawaii Governor stressed, in five of the last six presidential elections have supported the Republican candidate by increasing numbers. “The support for Republican presidential candidates by American Jews have tripled over the past twenty-five years,” she said.

Though she urged Republicans to support the Republican ticket, Lingle made no mention of Trump’s stance on Israel. Instead, she blasted President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. “Clinton and Obama have treated our allies as strangers, insulted their leaders, and ignored their advice and interests,” said Lingle.

GOP hopefuls stick to positions on NSA surveillance amid spying on Israel report


Republican presidential candidates – from both sides on the aisle on the issue of NSA surveillance – on Wednesday protested the Obama administration’s spying on Israel’s government and the collecting of their communications with members of Congress, after the Wall Street Journal broke the story on Tuesday.

But they also stuck to their positions regarding the program.

Appearing on “Fox & Friends” morning program, Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Israel and Americans alike have a right to be concerned about the fact that an ally of the U.S. and its citizens were unfairly treated with the use of the U.S. surveillance program during the debate over the Iran nuclear deal.

“Obviously, people read this report, and they have a right to be concerned this morning about it,” Rubio said. “They have a right to be concerned about the fact that while some leaders around the world are no longer being targeted, one of our strongest allies in the Middle East — Israel — is. These are all concerns, and they’re legitimate.”

However, Rubio cautioned that before rushing to conclusions people should understand the complicated issue. “We have to be very careful about how we discuss it, especially since there’s a press report that I don’t think gets the entire story,” said the GOP presidential hopeful. “I actually think it might be worse than what some people might think, but this is an issue that we’ll keep a close eye on, and the role that I have in the Intelligence Committee. I’m not trying to be evasive, but I want to be very careful in a national broadcast like this how we discuss these sorts of issues.”

Senator Rand Paul, appearing on the same program, was less defensive of the administration using the program to shoot down private conversations of U.S. citizens. “I’m appalled by it. This is exactly why we need more NSA reform and the debate in Washington right now has been unfortunately going the other way, since the San Bernardino shooting, everyone’s saying ‘Oh we need more surveillance of Americans.’ In reality, what we need is more targeted surveillance,” Paul said. “I’m not against surveillance, but I am against indiscriminate surveillance.”

Paul explained that “when we listen in on foreigners’ conversations when they’re talking to Americans, we’re scooping up tens of thousands of conversations of Americans, and that this is a real problem because it’s a real invasion of our privacy.”

Rubio: Adelson cares about Israel


This post originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio publicly addressed his relationship with GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson on Tuesday, as the latter is reportedly readying to back him for president.

Appearing on Fox News’ with Neil Cavuto from Capitol Hill, Rubio remarked, “Adelson is a great American. And the only issue he has ever talked to me about is the state of Israel.”

Rubio was referring to recent comments made by Republican presidential frontrunner, whom Rubio is trailing now in the NH primary, according to a new PPP poll, who suggested that Adelson will have total control over Rubio if he chooses to back him.

“I like Sheldon a lot, he’s been a person I’ve known over the years. We have a very good relationship and you know I’m self-funding, I don’t want anybody’s money. If Sheldon gives to him, he’ll have total control over Rubio and that’s the problem with the way the system works – whoever gives,” Trump told Cavuto.

To which Rubio responded, “If somebody is ready to support our candidacy, they are buying into our agenda, and we are not buying into theirs.”

“The only issue [Adleson] has ever talked to me about is the state of Israel – the future security of Israel and the relationship  between Israel and the US,” the Republican presidential hopeful stressed. “And I’m deeply committed to that, and I will be no matter who supports me.”

Dear Congressman Sherman: Your ‘no’ vote on Iran deal threatens Israel


In the least plausible alternative version of my life, I would have stayed in the San Fernando Valley rather than leaving more than 40 years ago and moving to Jerusalem. In that scenario, I’d be represented in Congress by Democrat Brad Sherman — and I might be less infuriated by his recent announcement that he’ll vote against the Iran deal, because if I were an Angeleno rather than an Israeli, his decision wouldn’t pose a threat to me, my neighbors and my country.

At this distance of years and miles, I don’t usually pay much attention to an L.A. congressman, but a random tweet alerted me to Sherman’s statement. 

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s declaration that he’ll vote against the accord made more headlines and is even more upsetting, given the relatively greater weight of each vote in the Senate. In both cases, their statements barely mention Israel, but their explanations track Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talking points for foiling the deal in Congress. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect that Schumer and Sherman have devoted much of their study of the issue to their constituents and have concluded that voters who support the Vienna accord are a captive audience for a Democratic incumbent, while passionate opponents are swing voters and perhaps swing donors.

I imagine that Sherman, Schumer and other Democrats who intend to vote against the agreement might respond that Netanyahu is, after all, Israel’s elected leader and therefore the accredited spokesman for its security concerns. But there would be a logical absurdity in that argument. They could not even consider opposing the agreement if they believed that the elected leader of their own country is the sole authority on its national security. They know that an election granted President Barack Obama the right to govern within constitutional limits. An election is not a certification of omniscience. The same is true of Netanyahu.

In Israel, the most prominent dissenters from Netanyahu’s position are veterans of its military and intelligence agencies. There’s Shlomo Brom, former head of strategic planning in the Israeli general staff, who has debunked precisely the myths of the Vienna accord that fill Schumer and Sherman’s statements. Ami Ayalon, former commander of the Israeli navy and former head of the Shin Bet security service, has stated, “When it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option.” Yuval Diskin, another former Shin Bet director, this week tweeted in Hebrew that he “identifies absolutely” with Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times on why Israelis should support the accord.

Yes, I’m picking my experts (though if space and patience allowed, I could list many more). What Ayalon, Brom, Diskin and colleagues who have expressed similar views have in common is that — to use Hebrew slang —they’re not “vegetarians.” They know there’s sometimes no choice but to use military force. But they also have an utterly unromantic understanding of the costs of using force and the limits of what it can accomplish. They are the kind of security experts that a Democratic member of Congress should want to consult. (There’s little point in discussing which experts a Republican lawmaker should consult: The GOP’s fundamental principle is that any agreement reached by Obama is illegitimate, which meshes sweetly with Netanyahu’s core belief that all diplomacy is delusion.)

I could go point by point through the errors in Schumer and Sherman’s criticisms of the deal. It’s either mistaken or deliberately misleading to state, as Schumer does, that there’s a “24-day delay before we can inspect.” That’s the outside limit for reimposing sanctions if Iran blocks inspection of a previously unknown site. It’s mistaken or deceptive to imply, as Sherman does, that Iran will be free to pursue a weapons program in 15 years. Inspections, surveillance and the ban on nuclear weapons last long after that.

But the real flaw in Sherman and Schumer’s arguments — and in Netanyahu’s — is that they measure the accord against the ideal agreement they wanted, or against the one they claim Obama could have reached. Such arguments are appropriate for an academic seminar. Were Obama running for re-election, they could be fairly raised by opponents challenging his foreign policy record.

But they are worse than irrelevant to a decision today about whether to vote for or against the agreement in Congress. The only relevant measurement for a member of Congress is the consequences of approving the accord versus the consequences of rejecting it.

Therefore, the burden of proof for opponents is to explain how, if the U.S. Congress manages to sabotage the accord, they propose to keep the current international sanctions intact and bring Iran back to negotiations. They must explain how, while scuttling the deal, they will avoid discrediting the moderate camp in Iranian politics and strengthening the hardline faction most committed to terrorist proxies across the Middle East. They must explain how the current reality, in which Iran’s enrichment program is unlimited, is safer than the limitations imposed by the agreement, and how they propose to prevent the regional nuclear arms race that is likely to ensue if Iran does produce a bomb.

Alternatively, they must explain how any military action short of full-scale invasion would slow Iran’s program more than the accord would — or explain how they’d convince the American public to support invading Iran, and why they think America would be more successful in creating a safe Iran from the ruins than it was in building a stable Iraq.

Otherwise, they must explain exactly why voting against this deal makes anyone — in the United States, Israel or anywhere else — safer than voting for it. And I’m not talking about “safe” as used in “safe seat.”

Mr. Sherman, Mr. Schumer: I suggest you quickly hold a consultation with Daniel Kurtzer and the other former American ambassadors to Israel who have endorsed the agreement, that you hold a video conference tomorrow morning with Ayalon, Brom and Diskin, and you announce that your concerns have been allayed. If a measure of integrity doesn’t convince you to do so, I hope that enough of your constituents remind you that you are not the only possible Democratic candidates for your seats. Because from where I sit, in Jerusalem rather than the San Fernando Valley, a vote against this agreement looks like premeditated irresponsibility.


Gershom Gorenberg is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, where this essay originally appeared. He is the author of “The Unmaking of Israel,” “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977” and “The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.” He blogs at South Jerusalem. Reprinted with permission.

Rivlin to GOP congressmen: Israel will defend itself against Iran


Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told a delegation of visiting Republican Congress members that Israel “can and will do all that is necessary to defend itself” in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

“Along with Israelis on all sides of the political spectrum, I am deeply concerned about the recent nuclear deal signed with Iran,” Rivlin told the group at a meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning. “We stand together in a partnership, established on the strong foundations of common values, and a shared vision, deeply rooted in democracy, the values of liberalism, and human rights for each and every citizen.”

The delegation, which is being led by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House majority leader, is from the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Rivlin called Israel’s allies, including the United States, “a strategic cornerstone for us.” He added: “The U.S.-Israel relationship has known ups and downs. We must not be alarmed by disagreements when they arise. Whatever Congress decides, it will be your decision as representatives of the American people. We, as your allies and partners, must make sure that whatever the result of this vote, our strategic alliance stands and grows even stronger.”

Later on Tuesday, another congressional delegation visited the Temple Mount and was harassed by a group of Muslim men. The tour of the site holy to both Jews and Muslims was interrupted first by worshippers who yelled at the lawmakers, making them unable to hear their guide, and then by guards from the Muslim Waqf, the religious administrators of the site, The Jerusalem Post reported. There was no physical contact.

During its visit, the group also toured Israel’s southern border with Egypt, the Golan Heights near the border with Syria and West Bank settlements.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., led the tour, which was organized by the Israel Allies Foundation. The foundation works with Congress and parliaments around the world to mobilize political support for Israel.

Adelson: Nuke Iran to get it to talk business


Sheldon Adelson, a top backer of Republican and right-wing pro-Israel causes, advocated bombing Iran with a nuclear device as a means of negotiation.

“You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say ‘OK, let it go,’ and so there’s an atomic weapon goes over, ballistic missiles in the middle of the desert that doesn’t hurt a soul, maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever,” Adelson, a casino magnate, said in a rare public appearance on Oct. 22 at Yeshiva University in New York. “And then you say, ‘See? The next one is in the middle of Tehran.’ ”

Video of the event was posted on the Mondoweiss website.

Adelson, a lead backer of Republican candidates in the 2012 presidential campaign, was criticizing the Obama administration’s readiness to negotiate with Iran’s leaders toward undoing the country’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

“So, we mean business, you want to be wiped out? Go ahead, take a tough position and continue with nuclear development,” said Adelson, who owns a major Israeli newspaper considered close to the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“You want to be peaceful, just reverse it all and we will guarantee that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes,” he said.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, are major contributors to the Birthright Israel program.

As peace talks kick off, right wing intensifies efforts to influence their outcome


Israeli settler leader Dani Dayan has made it his mission over the years to warn members of Congress, particularly Republicans, of the perils of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Dayan has been a regular visitor to Washington, his trips often coinciding with developments in the peace process. During the Annapolis talks in 2007-08, Dayan would watch Israeli officials as they met with the media in the lobby of the venerable Mayflower Hotel, just blocks from the White House, and then move in to offer his own spin.

In June, Dayan met with GOP House leaders in a meeting organized with help from the Zionist Organization of America. The meeting was followed by a Washington Jewish Week report that another settler leader, Gershon Mesika, met with 20 Congress members just days before the relaunch of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

The intensive cultivation of relationships on Capitol Hill appears to be bearing fruit.

Within days of talks kicking off in Washington last week, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a freshman who attended the June meeting with Dayan, drafted a letter asking the U.S. attorney general to hinder the release of Palestinian prisoners — a move approved by Israel to help kick-start negotiations.

Dayan didn’t ask Salmon to write the letter. That request was made by the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a conservative lobby funded in part by gaming billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

But the congressional measures now being undertaken to impact the trajectory of peace talks have their roots in the warm relations that settlers and their American friends have forged in Congress over the past two decades.

“It was important to meet with the Yesha people,” a GOP official said of the June meeting, using the Hebrew acronym for the settlers’ council, “to find out who the settlers are, what they feel obstacles to peace are, what Judea and Samaria means from a historical perspective.”

In addition to Salmon’s letter, a perennial effort to tighten a 1995 law requiring the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem reappeared just as talks resumed. The strengthened law would remove a presidential waiver that has enabled successive presidents to delay the move on the grounds of national security.

Members of Congress behind both initiatives deny that the measures — neither in timing nor in substance — are intended to scuttle the peace talks. On the contrary, the lawmakers say they are intended to improve the chances of success for the talks by strengthening Israel’s bargaining position and making American parameters clear to the Palestinians.

“There will never be clear sailing as long as there are people who do not recognize Israel as a Jewish nation,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), one of the sponsors of the new Jerusalem bill.

But the settler leaders and the right-wing pro-Israel groups that support them are more blunt about their objectives.

“I told the congresspersons that the strategic choice that John Kerry made to go on with the conventional peace process to try to renew negotiations … will have catastrophic consequences for the American national interests,” Dayan said. “Because when he fails — and he will fail — the fact that the secretary of state of the United States failed will be noticed very clearly in Tehran and in Damascus and in Moscow and in Pyongyang.”

Daniel Mandel, the director of ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy, said his group was gearing up to push back against talks it believes are doomed because the Palestinians remain unwilling to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

“Our strategy now that negotiations have resumed is to unblinkingly focus on the unregenerative nature of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority,” Mandel said, referring to Mahmoud Abbas, the P.A. president.

Efforts to exert congressional pressure to affect the outcome of peace talks are not new.

Following the launch of the Oslo peace process in the early 1990s, right-wing Israelis and their allies helped pass a congressional bill that would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move that would buttress Israeli claims to the city whose ultimate fate was to be determined by Israelis and Palestinians.

A separate bill sought to prevent U.S. troops from patroling the Golan Heights to help cement a peace deal with Syria. Yitzhak Rabin, then the Israeli prime minister, expressed his frustration at both moves.

Back then, the right-wingers had mainstream allies; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied for the Jerusalem law. AIPAC did not respond to requests for comment on the new Jerusalem bill, which is backed by the ZOA.

Republican House officials say their members are deeply skeptical about the renewed talks, which were launched after an intensive round of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry. Sensitive to Republican mistrust of President Obama’s foreign policy agenda, Dayan said he attempted to persuade House leaders that the peace process would harm U.S. interests.

“I would like Congress to explain to the State Department that this is a morally improper way to conduct diplomacy,” Dayan in an interview this week.

Sarah Stern, the director of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, said her primary concern was for the families of those killed by the released prisoners, but she acknowledged there was a dividend in alerting Americans to the dangers of the peace process.

“I can’t petition the Israeli government as an American citizen, I can only petition our officials,” Stern said. “But as a sidebar, it’s painful to see Israel has to go through so much just to get the Palestinians to sit down, and it’s a very sad thing that Israel has been subject to so much pressure by Kerry.”

Opinion: Obama has made Israel stronger than ever


A famous scholar of American Jewish life once observed that we “earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans”.  We are committed to building a just and compassionate society and want our nation to provide a safety net with basic social services, even if we might not personally benefit from such programs.

We also know that on women’s issues, on gay rights, on Medicare, and on making sound investments in our economic future there is simply no comparison between the parties.  Between President Obama’s humane values and the Republican dog-eat-dog vision for society.

The Republicans know that they cannot hope to appeal to Jewish voters when domestic issues are what’s on the table.  Rather than offering a sensible domestic program that our community might support, they have therefore courted our votes the only way they know how: on foreign policy.  But try as they might, the GOP cannot obliterate the fact that President Obama has spent four years making our ally Israel stronger than ever before.

Faced with this daunting situation, Mitt Romney and the GOP have built a campaign for Jewish votes on rumor and innuendo, suggesting that we have somehow thrown Israel “under the bus”.  They have used Super PACs and unfettered secret money to fuel a massive negative advertising campaign targeted at Jewish voters.  But they keep coming up against an inconvenient obstacle: the truth.

President Obama has demonstrated a very serious commitment to defending Israel against Iran.  He has rejected a policy of merely trying to contain and deter an Iran armed with nuclear weapons.  Instead, he has vowed he will never permit Iran to get to that point.  And he has made clear he will not shy away from using force to stop Iran’s nuclear program should it get that far.

The Republicans advocate taking a risky gamble on Mitt Romney’s lofty promises, but only President Obama has a proven track record on this issue.   He has imposed more severe unilateral sanctions than ever before and leveraged America’s restored prestige to convince our European allies to embargo Iranian oil.  As a result, Iran’s currency has crashed and its leaders are panicking.

Meanwhile, it seems we learn more information every day about how Mitt Romney has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own fortune in Russian, Chinese, and other foreign companies that do sensitive business with the regime in Iran.  How can we trust Romney’s public promises when his own behavior says otherwise?

Nor can the GOP hide Governor Romney’s repeated gaffes on the campaign trail, which betray a dangerous misunderstanding of Israel’s strategic challenges.  In private settings, not only does he suggest that 47% percent of Americans should be abandoned by their government, but he also mistakenly claims that the West Bank shares a border with Syria and argues that helping Israel seek peace would not be worth his while if elected president.

Many Republican advertisements have even twisted the words of Israeli leaders for domestic political gain. Yet we know that treating Israel like a partisan football is bad for America and bad for Israel.

Far from abandoning Israel, President Obama has helped make the Jewish State stronger than ever before, delivering more military assistance than any prior Republican or Democratic administration.

President Obama has also  provided critical support for Israel’s protection against missile attacks or rockets, doubling our funding for the Arrow and David’s Sling defense systems.  He pioneered the idea of providing U.S. funding for the Iron Dome anti-rocket program that has already begun to save Israeli lives.

Obama secretly gave Israel “bunker buster” bombs in 2009, which Bush repeatedly refused to do, constraining Israel’s capabilities versus Iran. Obama expanded American efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program in secret, and those efforts – including the Stuxnet computer virus – have slowed Iran’s ambitions considerably.

Israel’s leaders know the truth of the President’s record. That’s why Netanyahu told AIPAC that “our security cooperation is unprecedented.” and soon afterwards suggested Obama deserves a “badge of honor” for his defense of Israel at the UN.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has praised the President for Washington’s “wide, all-encompassing, and unprecedented” security cooperation under his watch.  He observed that, “honestly this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything I can remember in the past.”

Put simply, even if he and Netanyahu are not exactly the best of buddies, when it comes to Israel’s security President Obama never says one thing in public and does another in private.  He is a president who feels a visceral, personal commitment and then follows through.  A commitment to Israel’s defense.  A commitment to fighting nuclear proliferation, starting with Iran.  As journalist Jeffrey Goldberg describes it, a leader who really feels it in his kishkes.

President Barack Obama has passed the kishke test.  Now, there’s one more problem for Republicans: can we really say the same about Mitt Romney?


Dr. Weinberg is a Non-Resident Fellow at the UCLA Center for Middle East Development and formerly served as a Mideast advisor to the late Representative Tom Lantos.

Oren ‘categorically denies’ he singled out GOP as taking partisan Israel shots


Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, “categorically denied”  that he specified the Republican Party when he described as harmful making Israel a partisan issue.

“I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel,” Oren said in a statement emailed Tuesday to reporters. “Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle.”

Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), in a training session Monday for Jewish activists at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., said Republican efforts to depict President Obama as insufficiently pro-Israel were a salve to those who longed for a wedge between Israel and its most powerful ally.

“We know, and I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel,” she said.

Oren has repeatedly said attempts to make Israel a partisan issue are detrimental to the bipartisan support the Jewish state has for years enjoyed, but he has never singled out one party as more responsible than the other for promoting such divisions.

GOP senators plan resolution promising support should Israel strike Iran


Republican senators plan to introduce a non-binding resolution pledging military, economic and diplomatic backing for Israel should it strike Iran.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told JTA on Tuesday that he and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) were drafting the resolution for introduction next month in the Senate.

Graham, attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week, said he was seeking Democratic co-sponsors.

The resolution would underscore the Senate’s hopes for peace and for sanctions to force Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent, he said.

“But in the event Israel had to take preventive action, we would have their back,” Graham said, in terms of military, economic and diplomatic support.

On the issues: GOP hopefuls on Israel, Iran, abortion, Social Security and more


In advance of Super Tuesday, JTA takes a look at the stances of the four Republican presidential candidates on some issues of Jewish interest. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

ABORTION

Newt Gingrich: Has said that abortion should not be legal, though he makes exceptions in cases of rape, incest and danger to a mother’s life. He signed a pledge promising to sign a federal law that would “protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.”

Ron Paul: Opposes abortion rights but argues the issue should be left up to the states. But he signed the pledge supporting a federal law banning abortion when the fetus is “capable of feeling pain.” He advocates repealing Roe v. Wade and defining in federal law that life begins at conception.

Mitt Romney: Says Roe v. Wade should be overturned but until then opposes federal laws that clash with it. He says that abortion should be a state issue. Romney has said that he would support state laws defining conception as the moment life begins. He has repudiated his past support for abortion rights.

Rick Santorum: Favors a constitutional ban on abortion. He believes abortion should be illegal with no exceptions for rape or incest. Santorum wants doctors who perform abortions to face criminal charges.

FOREIGN AID

Gingrich: Endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s proposal to start each country’s foreign aid allocation at zero every year before deciding how much it should receive. Gingrich believes, however, that the existing multi-year aid commitment to Israel should be honored.

Paul: Opposes all foreign aid, including to Israel. He says U.S. aid undermines Israeli sovereignty.

Romney: Endorsed Perry’s start-at-zero aid proposal and has said that the U.S. should not be borrowing money from China to pay for humanitarian aid for other countries. Romney supports increasing military aid to Israel.

Santorum: Defends foreign aid as a cost-effective means of promoting American interests abroad. “America is that shining city on the hill,” he said. “It is the city that comes to the aid of those in trouble in the world.”

IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Gingrich: Advocates assassinating Iran’s nuclear scientists and sabotaging its gasoline supply. He says he would give logistical support to Israel if it attacks Iran. Gingrich has questioned whether a bombing campaign could take out Iran’s nuclear sites, calling the notion “a fantasy.” He calls for regime change.

Paul: Argues that the Iranian nuclear threat is “blown out of proportion.” Instead of imposing sanctions on Iran, he suggests the U.S. should be “maybe offering friendship to them.” Paul says he would not object if Israel decides to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Romney: Calls a nuclear Iran “the greatest threat the world faces.” He says he supports “crippling sanctions” but would order a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “if all else fails.” “Ultimately, regime change is what’s going to be necessary,” he said.

Santorum: Says that if sanctions do not stop the Iranian nuclear program, he would support tactical strikes against its nuclear sites. He proposes that the U.S. should give Iran an ultimatum to open up and dismantle its nuclear facilities or face military action.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN RELATIONS

Gingrich: Says the Palestinians are an “invented” people but clarified that he supports a negotiated Palestinian state. He says he would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Paul: Says the U.S. should not be dictating terms of a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. During Operation Cast Lead, he said Gaza was “like a concentration camp” and suggested that the Palestinians were being wrongly labeled the aggressors.

Romney: Says President Obama “threw Israel under the bus” and suggests there should not be “an inch of difference” between the U.S. and Israel. His website says he “will reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Santorum: Said on the campaign trail that “all the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis, they’re not Palestinians. There is no ‘Palestinian.’ This is Israeli land.” He says that Israel has a right to build in the West Bank.

RELIGION AND STATE

Gingrich: Says that the “secular left” wants “a totally neutral government without meaning.” Argues that the left’s “stand for a separation of church and state” has “perverted Thomas Jefferson’s words beyond belief.”

Paul: Has argued that there is no constitutional basis for “a rigid separation between church and state.” Says that while the Constitution prohibits theocracy, the First Amendment means “Congress should never prohibit the expression of your Christian faith in a public place.”

Romney: Praised the separation of church and state in his 2008 speech on religion but said that some have taken it “well beyond its original meaning.” He warned against efforts to exclude religion from public life in the name of “the religion of secularism.”

Santorum: Warns against America becoming a place where “only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case,” saying that the idea “makes me throw up.” He said that “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

SOCIAL SECURITY

Gingrich: Proposes allowing younger workers to invest in personal retirement accounts instead of Social Security while still requiring employers to pay into the current Social Security system.

Paul: Says that Social Security is unconstitutional. Rather than scrapping the system immediately, he proposes allowing workers under the age of 25 to opt out.

Romney: Supports raising the eligibility age and slowing increases for inflation for higher-income retirees. He would leave benefits the same for people currently over 55.

Santorum: Supports raising the eligibility age, trimming benefits for wealthy retirees and other cost-saving adjustments. Previously supported shifting Social Security to personal retirement accounts but says this would be too expensive under current economic circumstances.

Iowans weigh in on GOP’s Ron Paul and Israel


I have come from Israel to the United States to witness the Republican candidates’ campaigns for the presidency. Earlier this week, I spent some time reporting from Iowa, including talking to Ron Paul supporters. Of those I met, first one must say they were all very courteous and nice. If Paul’s supporters — now we can start calling them voters — bear any grudge against Israel, they hide it well. At least the supporters here in Iowa do. At least those with whom I was speaking did. And, one must also say, not one Paul supporter refused to speak to me. In the course of four days, but mostly on Jan. 2, I interviewed about a dozen of them. Not all agreed to be named, but many did. They did, even though they probably suspected that I’m not Paul’s greatest fan, as all my conversations started exactly the same way: “Hello, are you a Paul supporter? I’m a writer from Israel, and I would like to talk to you about your candidate and Israel. Would you give me two or three minutes of your time?”

Aaron Storm, 30 and single, works in technical support. He is a staunch Paul voter. Back in 2008, he voted for Paul in the primaries, and he voted for him again in the general election, even though Paul wasn’t officially on the ballot. “I vote my heart and conscience,” he told me — meaning, when Mitt Romney becomes the Republican nominee, Storm should not be counted as a likely GOP voter.

I met Storm at the downtown Des Moines Marriott, where Ron Paul and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), were holding a rally Monday morning. The room was packed with supporters and reporters, and Storm looked happy — his candidate seems to be doing well, better than four years ago.

“So what is it about Paul and Israel?” I asked him. His answer — and this is pretty much what I’ve heard from nearly everyone I’ve been speaking with — was somewhat surprising. It is all a big misunderstanding, he patiently explained. “All the candidates say they will support Israel, but Paul is actually supporting Israel. He is the only one saying that Israel should be able to do whatever it wants to do.” Like bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor back in the early ’80s. The Reagan administration was very unhappy with this action, and “Paul was the only one that was not against this,” Storm said.

Then he used a phrase that was repeated in many of my conversations. “You [Israelis] are like slaves to the lender.” The U.S. gives you financial support, and you have to do what the U.S. tells you to do. Don’t you want to get off the hook? “We give much more money to Israel’s enemies then we give to Israel; it doesn’t make sense for Israel to want us to continue doing it,” Storm said. Then he made another point that I’ve heard from more than one Paul supporter: “Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu told Congress that Israel would never ask America to fight for Israel; why can he say that, and Ron Paul can’t? This is what Netanyahu wants; Paul agrees with him.”

Tim Juang, 18, of Minnesota, is another supporter who pulls Netanyahu’s speech out of the hat. “He said that Israel can defend itself,” Juang reminds me. Juang came here with some schoolmates to volunteer for Paul before the Iowa caucuses. And he is the youngest and most blunt of all my Paul-supporting interviewees. Preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon is “a form of bigotry,” he told me. We Americans “have nuclear weapons, and you”  — Israelis — “also have nuclear weapons. Why can’t Iran also have nuclear weapons? Only because they are Muslims? This is racism.”

During his short speech, minutes earlier, Paul pleaded with his fellow Americans to “stay out of the internal affairs of other nations.”  Juang could not agree more. “We should not intervene; most of our fears are unjustified.”  He did not say anything about Israel that could even remotely be considered antagonistic, but he also didn’t try to portray himself as the biggest fan of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Diana — one of two Dianas with whom I spoke, this one on the condition that her last name would not be printed —  is not at all like Juang. She’s “a devout Christian who loves Israel. I want to have a president that will let Israel do what needs to be done. I want America to stop giving money to Israel’s enemies.” Yes, she knows that Israel is also getting some funds, but, just like Storm, she doesn’t see the rationale behind this double giving. “If we don’t give more money, we all benefit. Americans will benefit, because we need this money and don’t have any to spare to spend on other nations, and Israel will benefit because its enemies will not be getting any money.” 

Diana Burkhalter is the other Diana. She is yet another Paul supporter whom Romney (or any other candidate winning this race, other than Paul) would not be able to count on, come Election Day. “Paul wants all peoples to have sovereignty of land — to America and to Israel,” she said. Other Republican candidates feel that the United States must intervene in other places, so, when Paul says he wants no such intervention, “People interpret this as [being] anti-Israel,” she told me. But it is not — if you care to believe Burkhalter or any one of the other Paul people I’ve interviewed.

“It is all media propaganda,” Storm said of how Paul is perceived. And as we speak, I am reminded of something Newt Gingrich had told me two days before: “As Republicans learn more about Paul’s positions [his support] would drop” — and I am not at all convinced that he is right. The young people I interviewed seem as informed as they want to be. It is not that they don’t know Iran is dangerous; they just don’t see why the United States should be the one doing anything about it. It is not that they don’t respect Israel or its security concerns; they just don’t see why American money should be spent to protect people who have vowed to protect themselves.

Among Paul’s supporters, there are also bigots and anti-Semites, no doubt. And the candidate himself has been accused of saying (which he denied) some nasty things about Israel. In the week before the Iowa caucuses, though, the Paul supporters I had a chance to meet were all patient and cooperative, and, well, quite friendly toward this visiting, nagging Israeli. So much so that when I thanked Storm for his time and his answers, he just nodded and then said, “Shalom.”

Romney: My first visit as president would be to Israel


Mitt Romney said his first foreign trip as president would be to Israel.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said during a foreign policy debate Tuesday night that President Obama had been unfriendly to Israel.

“The right course for Israel is to care about Israel,” he said during the debate with seven other contenders for the GOP nod, held in Washington. “My first foreign trip will be to Israel to show we care about them.”

Obama has not visited Israel as president. He visited Cairo early in his term to deliver an appeal for friendship to the Muslim world.

Another candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, said he would likely make Israel his first stop, although his first foreign policy priority would be to counter anti-American trends in Latin America.

Among the questions raised at the debate, co-sponsored by CNN, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, was whether the candidates would join Israel in an attack on Iran to stop it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Herman Cain, a businessman, said he would once he had assessed Israel’s mission as sufficiently clear.

Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker, said he would join such an endeavor only if it were a last resort and he was certain it would result in regime change.

He said not supporting Israel could be dangerous in such a situation, because should Israel feel abandoned, it might resort to nuclear weapon attacks on Iran. Israel does not acknowledge possessing nuclear weapons and has always maintained it will not be the first nation in the region to use them.

The only other candidate to address the question, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), said he would not join Israel, but added that he did not believe Israel would launch a strike.

GOP candidates push back on cutting aid to Israel


Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain pushed back against a proposal by Ron Paul to cut funding to Israel.

Paul, a Texas congressman, during the GOP debate Tuesday in Las Vegas repeated his proposal to cut foreign aid, including the $3 billion Israel receives annually in defense assistance.

“That foreign aid makes Israel dependent on us,” he said. “It softens them for their own economy. And they should have their sovereignty back, they should be able to deal with their neighbors at their own will.”

Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, and Cain, a businessman, pushed back.

“We should not be cutting foreign aid to Israel,” Bachmann said. “Israel is our greatest ally. The biggest problem with this administration and foreign policy is that President Obama is the first president since Israel declared her sovereignty who put daylight between the United States and Israel. That’s heavily contributed to the current hostilities that we see in the Middle East region.”

Cain said, “If we clarify who our friends are, clarify who our enemies are, and stop giving money to our enemies, then we ought to continue to give money to our friends, like Israel.”

The debate was sponsored by CNN and the Western Republican Leadership Conference.

A Las Vegas focus group of likely GOP voters conducted on the eve of the debate by The Israel Project found unanimous support for continuing aid levels to Israel.

Israel top foreign policy issue at GOP debate


Israel was the foreign policy topic most often raised by viewers ahead of a Republican presidential debate.

Fox News Channel launched the foreign policy round of the debate on Thursday night by noting that Israel was by far the biggest word in its foreign policy “word cloud” culled by Google from questions compiled ahead of the debate.

Moderators asked former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and entrepreneur Herman Cain how they viewed the attempt this week by the Palestinian Authority to win statehood recognition through the United Nations.

Both candidates earned loud applause from the Orlando, Fla. audience by chiding President Obama for creating distance between the U.S. and israeli governments.

“You don’t allow an inch of space to exist between you, and your friends and allies,” Romney said.

Koch backs GOP hopeful in bid to sway Obama on Israel


Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, as promised, endorsed the Republican candidate for Anthony Weiner’s vacated congressional seat.

Koch, who made the official announcement Monday, had said he was going to back the GOP’s Bob Turner over Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin in the special election for New York’s 9th District in a bid to force President Obama to change his Israel policies.

“If David Weprin is elected, you think that sends a message?” Koch, a Democrat, said when he announced his endorsement in Queens. “His election would be viewed by President Obama as simply that of another Democrat elected to office in what is one of the largest Jewish constituencies in the nation.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council rebuked Koch.

“Ed Koch’s most recent actions reveal his true colors; sadly, he’s just a former Democrat who is now a contrarian, attention-seeking shill for the GOP,” NJDC President David Harris said in a statement. “Which is deeply troubling given his heyday as a leading Jewish Democrat.”

The statement listed a number of examples, such as Koch’s 2004 endorsement of George W. Bush, as reasons his “conduct places him squarely outside the mainstream of the American Jewish community—to say nothing of the Democratic Party.”

Koch’s endorsement of Turner over Weprin, an Orthodox Jew, came with a caveat, however: He took the opportunity to take a swipe at Republican leadership over the debt crisis.

“I think the Republicans are scoundrels in the way they’re handling the matter—the Republican leadership, I mean,” Koch said.

Turner brushed off the criticism, calling it “vintage Ed.”

The 9th District, which meanders between Brooklyn and Queens, is likely to be eliminated in the decennial redistricting.

GOP, Democratic appropriators agree on funding for Israel


House Republican and Democratic appropriators said assistance to Israel would continue at existing levels, although they agreed on little else.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee, in a joint statement with Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of Appropriations, said that Israel’s $3.075 billion in aid would remain unaffected under the 2012 State and Foreign Operations Act.

Hearings on the bill start this week.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee, said she was “pleased” that the measure “fully funds our commitment to ensure our ally Israel maintains its qualitative military edge,” but she decried other proposed cuts, saying the result would be to “downsize” the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Granger countered that the cuts ensure “tough oversight and accountability.”

The appropriations bill, which outlines spending, is a companion to the State Department authorization bill approved last week by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which sets conditions for spending.

Glenn Beck’s Jerusalem rally program to feature Sarah Palin, other GOP presidential candidates


Glenn Beck’s upcoming rally in Israel to feature Sarah Palin and other republican presidential candidates, ynetnews.com reports.

Tens of thousands of excited Israelis and Americans, music performances, appearances by local and international celebrities, senior politicians and a live broadcast that will reach millions of viewers – this is just some of what is in store for Glenn Beck’s upcoming rally “to restore courage,” which is set to take place on August 24 in Jerusalem.

Beck has been leading a publicity campaign for the event over the past few weeks, urging his viewers and listeners to fly out to the Holy Land.

The staunch Christian Fox News personality aims to show support for Israel by recreating last August’s rally “to restore honor,” which he held in Washington, DC.

This year, the Wailing Wall will replace Lincoln Memorial as the backdrop for the event, which will take place at Jerusalem’s Old City and the Teddy Stadium simultaneously.

Read more at ynetnews.com.

No Israel question during GOP presidential debate


Israel was nowhere to be found as a topic during the first Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire.

Presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Ron Paul discussed the economy, health care, social issues and other topics during Monday night’s two-hour debate at St. Anselm College, but a question on the candidates’ stance on Israel was conspicuously absent.

The only explicit mention of the Jewish state came in passing, during one of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s answers when he charged President Obama has “turned his back” on America’s allies, including Israel.

GOP Senate freshmen pledge support for Israel


The vast majority of Republican freshmen in the U.S. Senate have signed on to a letter committing to current levels of defense assistance to Israel.

Among the 13 freshmen, 11 have signed the letter initiated by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to the party’s Senate leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“As we work to reduce wasteful government spending, we recognize that providing for the national defense is a constitutional responsibility of the federal government,” said the letter, first reported Thursday by Politico. “Therefore, we must continue to prioritize the safety of our nation and the security of our allies, including Israel.”

A similar letter from U.S. House of Representatives’ GOP freshmen in February garnered 65 signatures in a class of 87. The appeals—and the support they garnered—is significant because it answers questions that pro-Israel groups had about the 2011 class of GOP freshmen, many of them spurred to office by the Tea Party movement, which has cost cutting as its central focus.

Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, visited Israel within weeks of his election in November.

The two freshmen who did not sign also are favorites of the Tea Party. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called openly for cutting aid to Israel and for the bulk of foreign aid funding. The other freshman not to sign is Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

The letter is a sign that President Obama’s proposal to maintain levels of funding for Israel, currently at about $3 billion annually, will be untouched.

GOP House freshmen sign on to Israel aid letter


The majority of Republican freshmen in the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on to a letter committing to current levels of defense assistance to Israel.

Among the 87 freshmen, 65 have signed the letter initiated by Reps. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Austin Scott (R-Ga.) to the party’s House leadership.

“As Israel faces threats from escalating instability in Egypt, Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, Hamas terrorists in Gaza and the existential danger posed by Iran’s nuclear program, full U.S. security assistance to Israel, including supporting Israel’s acquisition of the Iron Dome defense system, has never been more important for our own national security interests,” said the letter asking fellow freshmen to sign, which was still accruing signatures as of Tuesday.

The appeal—and the support it garnered—is significant because it answers questions pro-Israel groups had about the 2011 class of GOP freshmen, many of them spurred to office by the Tea Party movement, which has cost cutting as its central focus.

The letter is a sign that President Obama’s proposal this week to maintain levels of funding for Israel, currently at about $3 billion annually, will be untouched.

Dold joined Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who is not a freshman lawmaker, in sending a similar letter last week to House appropriators.

Haley Barbour the latest GOP hopeful heading to Israel


Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, will visit Israel.

The Republican Jewish Coalition announced Tuesday that it would host Barbour in Israel Feb. 5-9. The RJC has hosted Barber in 1994, when he chaired the Republican National Committee.

He will be the third potential Republican 2012 presidential candidate to visit Israel in recent weeks. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney visited Jan 13-14; ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is currently touring the country.

Barbour, like Romney and Huckabee, is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli government officials.

“The Middle East faces many challenges, from the instability in Lebanon and Egypt and the threat of a nuclear Iran to the continuing danger posed by Hamas in Gaza,” the RJC said in a statement. “As Iran and its proxies attempt to expand their reach in the region, it is vitally important that American and Israeli officials build and nurture a strong partnership in the fight against terrorism.”

Huckabee, speaking Monday at at a cornerstone-laying ceremony at a Jewish building project on the Mount of Olives in eastern Jerusalem, said the Palestinians could establish a state, but not in the West Bank. He said it was unconscionable to oppose Jewish residency in any part of Israel or the West Bank.

“I cannot imagine as an American being told that I could not live in certain places in America because I was Christian, or because I was white, or because I spoke English,” Huckabee was quoted as saying by media. “I would be outraged if someone told me that in my country, I would be prohibited and forbidden to live in a part of that country, for any reason.”

Asked to elaborate by reporters later, Huckabee said that a Palestinian state should not come at Israel’s expense.

“There are vast amounts of territory that are in the hands of Muslims, in the hands of Arabs,” he said. “Maybe the international community can come together and accommodate.”

Senate Dems press GOP on Paul’s call to cut aid


Senate Democrats urged Republicans to reject a colleague’s call for an end to foreign aid, including aid to Israel.

“Both Republicans and Democrats are committed to reining in the federal deficit, but assistance to Israel is not a matter of ‘pork barrel spending,’ ” said the letter sent Tuesday to the GOP chairmen of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget committees, respectively Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “Rather U.S. foreign aid to Israel demonstrates America’s rock-solid commitment to ensuring Israel’s right to exist.”

The letter, signed by seven Senate Democrats, comes in the wake of a call last week by newly elected Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to slash foreign spending, including all assistance to Israel.

“At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel,” the letter said.

In the wake of Paul’s remarks, the Republican Jewish Coalition said Paul was “misguided” for saying Israel funding should be cut, adding that he was likely alone among his colleagues in his proposal.

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)., Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Obama remark misinterpreted, Cantor spokesman says


U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor’s promise that the new GOP majority will “serve as a check” on the Obama administration was “not in relation to U.S.-Israel relations,” his spokesman said.

Brad Dayspring told The Washington Post Monday that the comment last week by Cantor (R-Va.), the putative leader of the House of Representatives, to visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been misinterpreted to refer to Israel.

According to a statement released by Cantor’s office, the congressman told Netanyahu in a meeting that “the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the administration and what has been, up until this point, one-party rule in Washington. He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”

Cantor’s Republican Party swept midterm elections earlier this month for the House.

Such meetings with opposition leaders are unusual, and Cantor’s office at the time cast it as a get-together between two men with a longstanding relationship.

ANALYSIS: Obama worked hard to gain Jewish trust


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (JTA)—A major Republican tack against Barack Obama has a simple theme: By his friends you shall know him.

For the McCain campaign, in recent weeks this has meant repeatedly linking the Democratic presidential nominee to William Ayers, the former member of the Weather Underground. But Jewish Republicans had been employing the strategy for many months in the run-up to the Nov. 4 vote, with the goal of portraying Obama as soft and unreliable in his support for Israel.

Jewish GOPers point to Obama’s 20-year membership in the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his associations—however limited—with Palestinian activists and his consultations with some foreign policy experts seen as critical of either Israel or the pro-Israel lobby.

To buttress this line of attack, they stress Obama’s stated willingness to meet with Iranian leaders. Hovering in the background—and at times right up in the voters’ faces—have been Internet campaigns and outright pronouncements by some conservative pundits depicting Obama as an Arab or a practicing Muslim.

Obama has responded by explaining how he has dropped troubling relationships, touting his ties to some Jewish communal leaders in Chicago and pro-Israel lights, casting himself as a lifelong supporter of Israel and presenting himself as a leader who would work to revitalize black-Jewish relations.

He has insisted repeatedly that Israel’s security is “sacrosanct,” cited his defense of Israel’s military tactics during the 2006 war in Lebanon and pressed for tighter U.S. sanctions against Iran as part of his pledge to do everything in his power to block Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. senator from Illinois has spoken thoughtfully about Jewish holidays and religious traditions, as well as the early influence of Jewish and Zionist writers on his worldview. And last Martin Luther King Day, Obama used the pulpit of the slain civil rights leader to condemn anti-Semitism in the black community.

“I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time,” Obama told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year, noting “theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.”

“So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

Such policy and ideological pronouncements were enough to secure support during the Democratic primaries from a few pro-Israel stalwarts in the U.S. Congress (most notably Robert Wexler of Florida) and the media (New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz). And even the recently defunct New York Sun—a neoconservative newspaper that had plenty of problems with Obama’s domestic and foreign policies—felt inspired to publish an editorial in his defense on the general question of support for Israel.

“We’re no shills for Mr. Obama, but these Republicans haven’t checked their facts,” the newspaper declared in the January 9, 2008 editorial. “At least by our lights, Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America.”

Still, despite such sentiments and Obama’s feverish efforts to allay Jewish concerns, polls showed him having trouble with Jewish voters—first during the primary season, when he reportedly trailed his main party rival, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and then throughout much of the general election race when surveys showed him failing to match the totals of previous Democratic nominees.

In recent weeks, however, as the Republican ticket has had to cope with the nation’s economic collapse and the declining popularity of vice-presidential choice Sarah Palin, Obama has been able to flood swing states with waves of newfound Jewish surrogates who were either neutral or with Clinton during the primaries but are now speaking out for him.

Their effectiveness was in evidence last week in a Gallup Poll that showed Obama breaking through a plateau that had dogged him for months: The Democratic candidate garnered 74 percent Jewish support, matching past Democratic candidates and bypassing the persistent 60 percent showing since the primaries.

The trend toward Obama was tangible earlier this month at the B’nai Israel synagogue in Rockville, Md., where the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Noah Silverman made the case for GOP nominee John McCain in a debate with Michael Levy of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Unlike the false depictions of Obama as a radical Muslim that have spread through the Internet, Republican Party reminders of Obama’s past associations with alleged radicals “are not smears,” Silverman said.

The packed hall burst into sustained laughter. Such derision, however, has not inhibited the guilt-by-association attacks. John Lehman, a Reagan administration Navy secretary, at this city’s Jewish community center last week cited the usual litany. He even tossed in Wright, though McCain has banned the use of the pastor’s liberation theology as a cudgel.

“You’re known by the company you keep,” Lehman said several times.

He later defended his mention of Wright, who once described Israel as a colonial power and used the phrase “goddamn America” in a sermon about the continued struggle facing blacks.

“It’s an important issue,” Lehman told JTA. “I don’t see how someone could sit in a pew for 20 years and listen to that crap.”

The Youngstown audience wasn’t interested—it peppered Lehman and the Obama surrogate with questions about policy.

That doesn’t mean that some of the attacks are not substantive. In an interview with JTA during the primaries, Obama failed to say how he could not have been aware of Wright’s radical views on Israel over a 20-year relationship with his church.

“It doesn’t excuse the statements that were made, it’s just simply to indicate it’s not as if there was a statement like this coming up every Sunday when I was at church,” Obama said at the time, evading the question, which was how Obama responded to Wright’s radicalism on those occasions, however infrequently he may have encountered it.

A few weeks later, Wright’s public appearances grew intolerable, and the Obamas left the church and cut off the pastor.

On other fronts, Obama has been less decisive in walking back from what many Jewish and pro-Israel activists—including his own supporters—see as obvious blunders.

Obama still won’t acknowledge that his “I would” reply to a debate question in 2007 about whether he would meet unconditionally with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant just that. And his clear declaration of support for Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital at the AIPAC policy conference in May was followed up by poorly conceived clarifications to the Palestinians, then to the pro-Israel community, then to anyone who was still bothering to ask.

The most effective Republican tack has been his status as a blank slate: Obama is 47 and has barely four years of experience on the national stage.

What has smoothed these concerns has been a strategy of systematically cultivating the Jewish community since his first run for state Senate in 1996. His closeness to scions of Chicago’s most influential Jewish families—including the Pritzkers and the Crowns—propelled a state-by-state outreach that strategically targeted similar dynasties.

For instance, the campaign’s Jewish outreach director in Ohio, Matt Ratner, came on board after a meeting between the candidate and his father, Ron, a leading Cleveland developer. The campaign has set up Jewish leadership councils in major communities and hired Jewish outreach directors in at least six swing states.

Obama used the same strategic outreach in building his policy apparatus. The foreign policy team making the case for an Obama administration that engages in intense Middle East diplomacy features several accomplished Jewish members.

In addition to Wexler, Obama’s circle of advisers on Israel and Iran policy includes familiar veterans of the Clinton administration such as Dennis Ross, once America’s top Middle East negotiator; Dan Shapiro, a lobbyist who once headed the legislative team for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.); and Mara Rudman, a former national security councilor.

Obama reached out to Wexler, a make-or-break figure among Florida’s Jews, before announcing for president, and since 2005 has been consulting with Ross—the most reputable name among Jews in Middle East peacemaking.

“His vision of direct American engagement” with leaders in Tehran “for the purpose of stopping Iran’s nuclear program was so compelling I wanted to be a part of it,” Wexler told JTA.

“Direct American engagement” with Iran was once inconceivable as a pro-Israel position. Due in part to a concerted effort by Obama and his Jewish friends, however, it has gone mainstream, most recently in a bill co-authored by the Democratic nominee that promoted tightened anti-Iran sanctions as well as the utility of engagement. The bill, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives but was killed by Senate Republicans without explanation.

The bill is just one example of how Obama has offered detailed policy proposals that have meshed his emphasis on diplomacy with some of the hallmarks of Israeli and pro-Israeli strategies, especially when it comes to Iran. By the time Obama or his surrogates have rattled off a detailed sanctions plan that includes targeting refined petroleum exporters to Iran, the insurance industry and Iranian banks, listeners at some forums almost appear to have forgotten about Obama’s one-time pledge to meet with Ahmadinejad. It doesn’t hurt that the McCain campaign is short on such specifics.

In a trip to Israel over the summer, Obama impressed his interlocutors by internalizing their concerns over Iran and immediately integrating them into his own vision for the region, Ross said in an interview.

“He told the Israelis during the trip that ‘Iran with nuclear weapons was not only an existential threat to Israel, and I view it that way, but I also would view it as transforming the Middle East into a nuclear region, undermining everything I’d hope to accomplish,’ ” said Ross, who accompanied Obama on the trip.

None of this guarantees a smooth pro-Israel presidency. During the primaries, Obama cautioned Cleveland Jewish leaders that to be “pro-Israel” does not mean being “pro-Likud,” an encomium that could haunt the U.S.-Israel relationship if Obama is elected and the Likud Party—as projected—returns to power in case of early elections in Israel. Still, Obama supporters credit a meeting with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for some of the nominee’s initiatives dealing with the Islamic Republic.

But it is the overemphasis on Obama’s Middle East views and associations—real or imagined—that might prove the critical weakness in Republican efforts to cut down Obama’s support among Jews. It’s not just that it’s true now, as it has been in past campaigns, that Jews are not single-issue voters. It is also that Obama has uncovered an exquisite Jewish spin to his broader appeal to generous notions of America’s liberal past.

In making the case that Obama is an unreliable flip-flopper, Republicans note that one of the biggest applause lines in his AIPAC speech was his Jerusalem pledge. But they don’t mention that the biggest applause line had nothing to do with Israel—especially extraordinary considering the foreign-policy-first crowd.

“In the great social movements in our country’s history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder,” Obama said in his conclusion. “They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man—James Chaney—on behalf of freedom and equality. Their legacy is our inheritance.”

In Washington’s culture of sarcastic bon mots, surely there lurks a line about what it takes to make an AIPAC activist cry. Judging by some of the faces in the crowd that day in May, Obama found the soft spot.

Don’t run Republican Jewish Coalition ads, pro-Israel group J Street tells Jewish newspapers


WASHINGTON (JTA)—A campaign by a new dovish pro-Israel group to get Jewish newspapers not to run Republican Jewish Coalition attack ads has raised questions about what’s kosher and what isn’t in this fraught political season.

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Reading about Queen Esther helped guide Palin


If there was any doubt that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will shake up Washington and institute real change, the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee has put that question to rest. Few people can match McCain’s maverick spirit andbipartisan nature like Palin.

I’ve known Sarah Palin since her election as governor in 2006. I am confident she will be a great friend of the Jewish community and Israel, as well as a terrific leader and great vice president.

It is not surprising that her historic nomination has brought enthusiasm and excitement to the nation.

In my speech at the Republican National Convention, I shared a few reasons for that excitement.

“As a fellow Republican governor, I have had the chance to get to know Gov. Sarah Palin,” I said in that speech. “She is a terrific individual and an outstanding governor. Sarah is a person with proven leadership skills and strong moral character.”

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, wrote that he was “excited” by the choice.

“Sarah brings a wealth of experience to the campaign and will pose a formidable challenge to the Democratic nominees,” Cantor said. “Sarah Palin is a smart woman who represents change.”

Gov. Palin brings numerous strengths and qualities to the position of vice president. She has been a mayor, a governor and the head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. While serving in these positions, she has built a reputation as a leader willing to work across party lines to bring about real reform and to better the lives of her constituents.

Gov. Palin has cut taxes and curtailed budgetary spending. Rooting out corruption and establishing ethics reform have been hallmarks of her career.

Gov. Palin has also shown that she is not wedded to party politics nor does she play politics as usual. She has said that the function of a politician is not to serve one’s self-interest but rather to serve with a “servant’s heart.”

Perhaps one of Gov. Palin’s greatest assets is her firm grasp on one of our country’s greatest security issues — how to tackle our dependence on foreign oil and our growing need for energy independence. On this critical issue, she has a depth of experience and firsthand knowledge that will prove invaluable to a McCain-Palin administration.

As governor, she challenged the influence of big oil companies and fought for the development of new energy resources in her state. And as an outdoorswoman and naturalist, she understands and cares deeply about the impact of climate change.

Gov. Palin has advocated that environmental issues be weighed against economic and social needs and that meaningful discussion take place in order for policymakers to make the best decisions for our country.

During her tenure as commander-in-chief of Alaska’s National Guard, she made it a priority to visit the troops from her state deployed to Kuwait and Germany.

Finally, on Iran — an issue that is critically important to readers of this publication — Gov. Palin gets it. She recognizes the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, while advocating for strengthening the strategic U.S.-Israel relationship.

It is also clear that Gov. Palin is a woman of deep personal faith. She has established a good relationship with the Jewish communities of Alaska, supported the residents’ desire to create the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and was present at the reading of Alaska’s resolution commemorating Israel’s 60th anniversary.

In her office in Juneau, Gov. Palin has hung an Israeli flag. She displays the flag because Israel is in her heart.

One of the finest qualities Gov. Palin has demonstrated recently is her tremendous grace under fire. Since the announcement of her selection as our vice presidential nominee, she has faced an onslaught of rumor, smear and innuendo. Yet Gov. Palin has remained strong and resolute. She has let the truth speak for itself.

Shortly after coming into office, Gov. Palin asked her former pastor for examples of biblical people who were great leaders and what was the secret of their leadership. The pastor suggested she re-read the story of Queen Esther, the Jewish woman who rose to help her people and became queen of Persia.

Like Queen Esther, Gov. Palin has faced tremendous adversity, and time and again she has risen to overcome obstacles. This is the sign of a true leader.

As Americans get to know Gov. Palin, I think they will see all the wonderful things about her I have seen over the years. She will be a great friend and advocate for the issues important to us. For that she deserves our respect, friendship and, most importantly, our support.

Linda Lingle, a Jewish Republican, currently serves as the governor of Hawaii.

Courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency

toilette de esther queen esther

1841 Théodore Chassériau – Esther. Esther se parant pour être présentée au roi Assuérus, dit La toilette d’Esther, 1841. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Esther

Allies and foes scrape through Palin bio for Jewish material


ST. PAUL (JTA)—A small Israeli flag propped up on a window frame. A Pat Buchanan button sported briefly as a courtesy. A prospective son-in-law with a biblical name.

Little about the Frozen North is Jewish outside the realm of fiction (see Mordechai Richler, Michael Chabon, “Northern Exposure”), so when Republicans pitch Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain’s vice presidential pick, to the Jews and Democrats try to undermine her, both sides tend to reach.

Picking through the trivia and smears for substance, there’s this: Palin, 44, has genuinely warm relations with her Jewish constituents—6,000 or so—and appears to have a fondness for Israel. She also comes down on the strongly conservative side on social issues where Jews tend to trend liberal.

“Governor Palin has established a great relationship with the Jewish community over the years and has attended several of our Jewish cultural gala events,” Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch in Anchorage, wrote in an e-mail after McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee and longtime Arizona senator, announced that she was joining his ticket.

“Governor Palin also had plans to visit Israel with members of the Jewish community, however, for technical reasons, the visit has not occurred yet.”

Palin is likeable enough that she got props from Ethan Berkowitz, the Jewish former minority leader in the Alaska House of Representatives who appears poised to become the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives since Nick Begich disappeared in a snowstorm in 1972.

“I like her and this is an exciting day for Alaska,” Berkowitz told JTA.

Republicans have been scouring the archives to uncover evidence of Palin’s outreach to Jews and to Israel.

Her single substantive act is signing a resolution in June marking 60 years of Alaska-Israel relations, launched improbably in 1948 when Alaska Airlines helped shepherd thousands of Yemeni Jews to Israel. However, she did not initiate the legislation: Its major mover was John Harris, the speaker of the Alaska House.

The paucity of material led the Republican Jewish Coalition to tout the appearance of a small Israeli flag propped against a window of the state Capitol in an online video in which Palin touts the virtues of hiking Juneau.

In an e-mail blast, RJC executive director Matt Brooks offered the screengrab as an answer for “those of you who have had questions regarding Sarah Palin and her views on Israel.”

In a seemingly equal bit of stretching in the other direction, some Democrats played up an Associated Press report that Palin—then the mayor of the small Alaska town of Wasilla—had sported a Buchanan button in 1999 when the Reform Party candidate visited there.

“John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans,” said an e-mail blast from the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee for president, quoting U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Obama’s top Jewish surrogate. “Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer with a uniquely atrocious record on Israel, even going as far as to denounce bringing former Nazi soldiers to justice and praising Adolf Hitler for his ‘great courage.’ ”

The problem was that Palin had corrected the record as soon as the AP report appeared, noting in a letter to a local newspaper that had published the account that she wore the button as a courtesy. In fact, in the 2000 election, during the GOP primaries, she was an official of the Steve Forbes campaign.

The hunger for Palin-Jewish news extended beyond partisan politics. Pulses quickened among some in the Israeli media when the McCain campaign revealed Monday that Palin’s 17-year old unmarried daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and that her fiance’s name is Levi. (It was revealed later that his last name is Johnston, so no seders in the immediate Palin family future.)

The National Jewish Democratic Council focused on a more substantive difference between Palin and the U.S. Jewish community: her staunch social conservatism.

“For a party which claims it is trying to reach out to the Jewish community, McCain’s pick is particularly strange,” NJDC director Ira Forman said in a statement. “On a broad range of issues, most strikingly on the issue of women’s reproductive freedom, she is totally out of step with Jewish public opinion. The gulf between Palin’s public policy positions and the American Jewish community is best illustrated by the fact that the Christian Coalition of America was one of the strongest advocates of her selection.”

Palin backs abortion only in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, opposes stem cell research and believes creationism should be taught in schools alongside evolution.

Perhaps the most damning feature of her resume on Jewish issues is its thinness—her broader problem as well. Berkowitz, the Jewish congressional candidate, poked a little fun at the resume by citing Palin’s enthusiasm for guns and hunting.

“As far as Republican vice presidents go, she will be a much better shot than Dick Cheney,” he said. “But this is John McCain’s choice and an insight in terms of his judgment.”

Ben Chouake, who heads NORPAC, a New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee and one who is close to the McCain campaign, says he learned that McCain favored Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time Democrat and Al Gore’s vice-presidential pick in 2000, until the last minute but caved to arguments that Lieberman would alienate the Republican Party’s conservative base.

“I don’t know anything about her, but I’m not concerned because she is the governor, who is someone with executive experience,” Chouake told JTA.

Palin has served less than two years as governor and, as NJDC noted, has “zero foreign policy experience.”

Greenberg, the Chabad rabbi who has not endorsed a candidate, suggests that she makes up in soul what she lacks in experience, referring to her fifth child, Trig, a Down syndrome baby born just four months ago.

“I was personally impressed by Governor Palin’s remarks of hope and faith when she gave birth to a child with special needs,” he said. “We all feel that the Governor is a remarkable, energetic, and good person.”

(JTA staff writer Jacob Berkman contributed to this report from New   York.)

Analysis: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews


When Sen. John McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate today, the Jewish political blogosphere — as loud and fast and opinionated as (for lack of a better word) the Gentile Web — came to a screeching halt.

After all, you can fight about John McCain, and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden . . .but Sarah Palin?

It took an Internet eternity for Jewish Republicans to come out swinging for Sarah, an just as long for Jewish Democrats to hit back.

“Homerun!” Larry Greenfield, the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, wrote me via e-mail five hours after McCain’s announcement. “Governor Palin has a very close relationship with the Jewish community of Alaska, with Chabad (Rabbi Greenberg) and with AIPAC. She is close to the Frozen Chosen!”

Seconds later came a blast from Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) claiming Palin endorsed Pat Buchanan’s presidential run in 2000: “John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans.”

Oh, now it’s getting good.

When Sen. Barack Obama picked Sen. Joe Biden last week, the Democrats had nothing but praise for the long term senator, citing positive comments from AIPAC and decades of foreign policy experience. And Jewish e-mail boxes filled with Biden’s now familiar quote: “You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and I’m a Zionist.”

Then Republican Jews struck.

An e-mail quickly circulated linking to an article on a right-leaning web site claiming Biden was in the pocket of the Iranian mullahs. As for AIPAC’s kind words about Biden? “AIPAC has to say nice things,” a Republican activist told me. “They have to be bi-partisan.” And that pro-Zionist quote? Pretty words, just like his boss, Obama.

The Dems responded with a further defense of Biden’s record. If you could call Biden’s support for Israel into question, said the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council Ira Forman, then you could call Golda Meir’s loyalty to Israel in question.

The Veep debate among Jews is important because there are many Jewish voters who are still a bit leery about Obama. Jews traditionally vote Democratic (upwards of 75 percent voted for John Kerry in 2004 — and we didn’t even really like him). A growing number of Jews have found a home in the Republican party, and are fairly candidate-proof — they vote red no matter what.

A significant number of Jewish voters, however, will change their vote depending on which candidate they perceive as “better for Israel.” These voters believe that Israel is facing immediate existential threats from Palestinian terror, from a near-nuclear Iran, and from over-eager politicians forcing it to make dangerous territorial concessions for the sake of elusive peace. These voters — call them “Israel Firsters” — see their one vote as crucial to preventing another Holocaust, and theirs are the votes that Jewish Dems and Jewish Republicans are fighting over.

Obama and Israel is the battleground issue for Jewish voters in the 2008 election — these are the Jewish votes up for grabs in this race. If Republicans can paint Obama as a Muslim or Muslim sympathizer, as an appeaser to Iran, as inexperienced on foreign policy, as insufficiently caring about Israel in his kishkes — the Yiddish word for guts — then they can peel off Jewish votes.

This strategy won’t matter in heavily pro-Democratic states like California and New York, but it can matter in swing states like Ohio and Florida. And it matters elsewhere in the race: Jews give money, Jews get involved, Jews shape opinion far out of proportion to their numbers. (Yes, there are only six of us in the entire country. Amazing what controlling the media will get you!)

Enter Sarah.

If McCain had picked Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or — cue the bar mitzvah band — Joe Lieberman, he would have unquestionably swept up the Israel Firsters. These men have track records and gravitas when it comes to Israel and foreign policy. (This debate among Jews and Israel reflects the larger foreign policy concerns about Obama that Republicans are making the centerpiece of their opposition. Many conflicts in Jewish life mirror conflicts in the larger culture — that’s Anthropology 101).

But he chose Sarah Palin: former mayor of a small Alaska town, governor of Alaska, devout Christian.

For Jews who are not necessarily Israel Firsters, she carries some positives and negatives. Positives: she is a crusader for good government and a fiscal conservative. She is smart and successful and patriotic. Jews like all these things.

“As governor of Alaska, Palin has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Alaska’s Jewish community. She has demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of the community and has been accessible and responsive,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks.

Negatives: She is anti-abortion.

Jews are among the largest pro-choice constituency in the country. She has, according to one web site, supported the idea of teaching Creationism and evolution in public schools. “‘Teach both,” she was quoted as saying on a local TV station. “You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.'”

Dependence on foreign oil is a major issue for American Jews, since a lot of that oil comes from regimes that hate Israel and support terror.

Republican Jews are emphasizing Palin’s desire to drill Alaskan oil and develop domestic oil resources as away to decrease our dependence.

“Palin has been a leader on the critical issue of energy independence and lessening our need to buy oil from nations not sharing American and Israel’s foreign policy,” Brooks said in his statement.

But Jews are also pro-environment, and have jumped on the alternative energy (hybrid) bandwagon in a big way. Obama’s convention speech calling for a 10 year campaign to switch to alternative sources of energy may carry deeper resonance.

For the Israel Firsters, Palin may be a problem. Palin has no foreign policy experience. No Israel experience. Her AIPAC rating? When you enter her name on the AIPAC home page, you get this:

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The RJC’s Greenfield says her AIPAC relationships are great, but confined to Alaska. And Republicans are now marshalling a great comeback to the charge that Palin once supported Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan is anathema to the Jews. He is someone who has blamed Israel and American Jews for directing American foreign policy against American interests. He has spoken kindly of Adolph Hitler — who is not popular with Jews — and, well, this is going to be interesting.

Sarah Palin might cause the Israel Firsters, who seemed to be pretty much done with Obama, to take a second look.


Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and JewishJournal.com.




Sarah Heath (Palin), sportscaster