Dems to Palin: Bring up Rev. Wright, we’ll bring up Rev. Muthee [VIDEO]

WASHINGTON (JTA)—As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attempts to inject Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor back into the presidential campaign, the Republican vice-presidential candidate is facing increasing questions about her own associations with clergymen.

This week, in an interview with William Kristol for his New York Times column, Palin suggested that more attention should be paid to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, calling his sermons “appalling” and arguing that Obama had effectively condoned the comments because he didn’t leave the church.

Obama supporters in the Jewish community counter that they are ready to fight back with their own barrage of guilt-by-association attacks. They note Palin’s presence in church when speakers praised Jews for Jesus, suggested that terrorism in Israel was divine retribution for rejecting Christianity and argued that corruption would end if Christians took control of the financial sector.

In addition, a prominent Democratic strategist and liberal bloggers have responded to Republican efforts to link Obama to a domestic terrorist-turned-education activist by noting that John McCain once served on the board of an organization accused of anti-Semitism.

Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, reiterated his objections to such attacks, but said that if Republicans are going to engage in them, they should “have to answer for their own problems.”

“What’s good for the goose,” he said, “is good for the gander.”

Last spring, during the Democratic primaries, a firestorm erupted over Wright, Obama’s longtime pastor and a man the U.S. senator from Illinois had identified as a mentor. After video clips surfaced of Wright shouting “God damn America” on the Sunday after the Sept. 11 attacks, and criticizing U.S. support of Israel, Obama eventually cut ties with the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

In recent weeks, the Republican Jewish Coalition has run advertisements playing up Wright’s controversial comments and Obama’s connection to him. Palin, meanwhile, has taken the lead in injecting the issue into the national political conversation.

Some Democrats say this is a risky maneuver, given the emerging details about clergymen who have appeared in her churches. Two weeks before being tapped for the GOP ticket, Palin was in attendance at her current congregation—Wasilla Bible Church—when a leader of Jews for Jesus described terrorist attacks against Israel as “judgment” against those who have not accepted Christianity.

While a spokesman for Palin has said that the Republican running mate rejects this view, the McCain-Palin campaign has declined to say whether she shares her pastor’s general support for Jews for Jesus—a group that Jewish organizations accuse of using deceptive tactics because it tells people they can embrace Jesus and still remain true to Judaism.

Asked this week whether the Alaska governor would condemn the missionary group, McCain-Palin campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb told JTA that “vice-presidential candidates cannot be in the business of condemning religious groups who do not commit violence” in a country that guarantees “freedom of religion.”

Goldfarb added that it is “extremely inappropriate for any elected official” to comment “on any religious group” and its mission. “That’s a fundamental breach of the separation of church and state,” he said.

Fred Zeidman, co-chairman of the Republican Party’s Jewish outreach in 2008, said in an interview with Shalom TV last month that Palin “needs to answer” questions about her feelings on Jews for Jesus “to have any credibility for all citizens. I don’t think there’s any question about that. And if the answers are not to the liking of the Jewish community, I think that becomes problematic.”

On Monday, Zeidman told JTA that the campaign’s response “was not the best answer in the world.” He added that he “would love to hear” Palin’s thoughts on the issue “from her mouth.”

Zeidman was also quick to emphasize his view that Obama’s 20 years in Wright’s church was a much bigger issue than Palin’s attendance at one speech at her church.

Goldfarb, the campaign spokesman, said Palin wouldn’t be opposed to talking about her religious beliefs, provided she was asked about them by interviewers in the next few weeks.

Attention has started to shift to Palin’s involvement in a second service, this one in 2005 at the Wasilla Assembly of God church, just a few days before she announced her run for governor. The video of the service first gained attention because it shows a Kenyan pastor, Thomas Muthee, blessing Palin, and urging Jesus to protect her from “the spirit of witchcraft.”

In recent days, however, critics increasingly have focused on the speech that the clergyman gave before he brought Palin to the stage.

Muthee called for “God’s kingdom” to “infiltrate” seven aspects of society, including economics.

“It is high time that we have top Christian businessmen, businesswomen, bankers, you know, who are men and women of integrity, running the economics of our nations,” he said. “That’s what we are waiting for. That’s part and parcel of transformation. If you look at the Israelites, you know, that’s how they won. And that’s how they are, even today. When we will see that, you know, the talk transport us in the lands. We see, you know, the bankers. We see the people holding the paths. They are believers. We will not have the kind of corruption that we are hearing in our societies.”

Given Muthee’s linking of Israelites and banks, some observers and critics have concluded that the statement was anti-Jewish. But, a McCain adviser countered, when read carefully it is clear that the statement was not at all critical of Jews.

The ‘Israelites’ video

The adviser, John Beerbower, said that the term Israelite “refers to the biblical kingdom, not the modern state,” and that Muthee is speaking of the “restoration of the Davidic kingdom,” a key element of evangelical Protestantism. He added that the statement can be read as a “compliment” to Jews, because he is actually saying that the Israelites were people of “integrity,” and still are today.

As for Muthee’s comments about wanting to see Christian men and women running the country’s economy, Beerbower said the clergyman was merely expressing a desire to see the Christian men and women who are in those positions act with integrity.

Dewey Wallace, a professor of religion at George Washington University who teaches on Christianity in the United States, agreed that the reference to “Israelites” could be viewed as “a bit of a compliment” to the Jewish people. But he said Muthee’s reference to “top Christian businessmen, businesswomen” went beyond a desire for men and women of “integrity” in banking; rather, it’s a wish for evangelical Christians to serve in those posts.

He noted, though, that Muthee was not targeting Jews with his comments, but all non-born-again Christians.

“I don’t think Jews need to be more concerned than Episcopalians,” Wallace said.

Goldfarb noted that Palin had actually left Wasilla Assembly of God as a member in 2002 and was only visiting that day. He argued that just because Palin sat in the audience or came up on stage did not mean she agreed with all of Muthee’s remarks—which, he added, were somewhat difficult to understand.

Rabbi Jack Moline, religious leader of a synagogue in Alexandria, Va. and a leader of the new group Rabbis for Obama, downplayed the importance of Muthee’s blessing of Palin. He said that what people do in their house of worship can look foreign to anyone who doesn’t have a background in that tradition.

Another front in the “guilt by association” war was opened up on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” when Democratic strategist Paul Begala pointed to McCain’s stint on the board of the U.S. Council for World Freedom. Begala identified the council as an “ultra-conservative, right-wing group” that the Anti-Defamation League said had increasingly become a gathering place for extremists, racists and anti-Semites.

“That’s not John McCain,” Begala said, but warned that the GOP candidate “does not want to play guilt by association or this thing will blow up in his face.”

An ADL spokesman said the group was currently looking for a copy of that report, which was published in 1981.

A New York Times article from 1986 reported that the ADL, in a letter to the group’s founder, John Singlaub, said that since he took over in 1981, the retired major general had “brought about a considerable cleansing of the organization.”

An Arizona Republic article from that same year said McCain had been trying to cut ties with the group for two years.

Singlaub told The Associated Press on Monday that he didn’t recall McCain’s efforts to leave the group, but he also said the Republican was not an active participant in the organization.


Increasing Political Isolation for Jews

If all those statistics are true about Jews still being one of the most liberal voting blocs in the nation, why are they increasingly estranged from the American left?

Easy: The left, ranging from the anti-globalism fringes to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to some segments of the mainstream liberal community, has adopted policies and perspectives that even many progressive Jews regard as offensive and dangerous.

Good causes have been rendered marginal by activists looking for easy-to-grasp heroes and villains; political correctness has turned Israel from a noble experiment into the ultimate example of vicious colonialism.

And a political culture that can’t say no to extremists has turned the concept of civil rights on its head. It’s no longer unusual to see activists peddling the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" at anti-war and anti-globalism rallies — and for organizers, for all their talk of human rights, to remain silent in the face of this overt anti-Semitism.

That’s producing a kind of political disenfranchisement for Jewish voters who remain strongly liberal, but increasingly lack partners with whom to pursue those political interests.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is in sync with mainstream Jewish voters on a host of important domestic issues. But there is also no other group that is as tolerant of some of the most anti-Israel and

anti-Jewish voices.

Many have been highly critical of Israel in recent years. That’s no sin, since many American Jews and Israelis openly criticize Israeli policies.

But many of these lawmakers go further by giving legitimacy to those who criticize the very idea of Israel, and whose criticism veers off into outright anti-Semitism.

When a United Nations conference

on racism was hijacked by anti-Israel forces and turned into a lynch mob of open anti-Semitism, administration officials boycotted the conference — but leading CBC members, including Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) demanded full U.S. participation.

When McKinney and Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) lost their reelection bids, some CBC members complained about excessive Jewish influence in American democracy. McKinney’s father, a defeated state legislator, was blunter: when asked about why she lost, he angrily spelled out the reason: "J-E-W-S."

Overt expressions of racial intolerance are no longer acceptable in American life, but if the targets are Jews or Jewish influence, many who rally under the civil rights banner are surprisingly tolerant of intolerance.

Other CBC members have provided a Capitol Hill platform for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. When Farrakhan returned from a recent Mideast "peace mission," it was CBC founder Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who provided him a forum, as if he was a legitimate statesman, not a garden-variety bigot.

It’s not just the CBC.

When anti-globalism, anti-International Monetary Fund forces come to Washington to demonstrate, a wide range of left-wing groups rally under a banner that also includes nutty anarchists and aggressive pro-Palestinian forces.

Collectively, they depict Israel as the last colonial power and the ultimate example of institutional human rights abuses, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein as misunderstood freedom fighters, Zionism as inherently racist.

That same process is at work in the nascent anti-war movement focused on the expected U.S. strike against Iraq.

Many Jews probably share the aversion to a unilateral, preemptive U.S. strike, but don’t expect to see lots of Jews joining anti-war demonstrations; the movement is already linked to the same pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli forces that produced so much overt anti-Semitism at the U.N. racism conference.

Even Tikkun Magazine Editor Michael Lerner, in a letter to supporters, expressed concern about "vulgarity and anti-Semitism" in the new anti-war movement. The left just can’t say no to groups, however extreme and however intolerant, as long as their intolerance is wrapped in the proper Third World, anti-colonialist argot.

Another example: the divestment campaign on American college campuses, which reached an absurdist crescendo with the recent divestment conference at the University of Michigan.

Many Israelis agree that their country has a human rights problem. But to say that Israel is in the same league as Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Syria or an endless list of others reflects a breathtaking lack of balance that looks more like political correctness run amok and a pathological hatred of Israel than compassion for victims.

Overwhelmingly, the left chooses to ignore genocide by Third World countries, while relentlessly criticizing Israel for an occupation most recent governments have tried to end.

The result: Jews who remain liberal, which means a majority are becoming politically isolated.

Their views on a host of domestic issues remain progressive and they continue to be turned off, not only by the Republican Party’s positions on those issues, but by the iron grip of the religious right on the GOP.

But increasingly, they feel uncomfortable in coalitions with groups that tolerate or even encourage the viscerally anti-Israel, Third World rhetoric and misguidedly accepts anti-Semitism in the name of human rights.

Your Letters

Joel Kotkin

Joel Kotkin’s article on Gray Davis (“The First Jewish Governor?” March 8) truly hit the mark. It underscores the point that a number of us in the Jewish community have been attempting to make — “Not all Jews look alike … and they don’t have to think alike, either.”

The wooing of the Jewish community for its financial support was not invented by Davis, although he has taken it to a new level. This has led Jews to a false sense of security that if they just elect someone who purports to be a friend of the Jews, the other problems of our society will take care of themselves. Unfortunately, Davis is not the only beneficiary of such misplaced trust. There are a number of Jewish politicians who have likewise thrived on just such a misconception.

Now is the time for Jews to take a good look at their society, country and government, and support candidates for more reasons than just being friendly to the Jewish community. We need to be more selective. If not, we simply invite deception by those who purport to be our friends.

Jack Ballas, Pacific Palisades

After reading Joel Kotkin’s recent story, one should feel ashamed and embarrassed if he or she is a Jewish Republican or centrist Democrat. Kotkin asserts that this may be the end of an era in which Jews support politicians who take seriously the idea “that the powerful should hope to help the powerless.” He feels that Jews have lost the passion for justice and good government and, as such, “may be becoming just like the gentiles, only richer.” What a smear. It’s time for the Jewish community to look beyond the rhetoric and failed social policies of the left and see that the Republican Party offers a viable, vibrant alternative. Those Jews who believe in personal responsibility, limited government, lower taxes, education alternatives and a strong military should not be made to feel like pariahs in their own community.

Eddie Blau, Calabasas

Daniel Pearl

No statement can truly reflect the deep revulsion we feel upon hearing of the barbaric slaying of Daniel Pearl (“A Voice Silenced,” March 1). Losing one’s life in the pursuit of truth reveals the enormity of terrorist danger. Reports of Pearl’s last words, “I am a Jew…” evoke the haunting memories of the Holocaust when Jews, in the last moments of their lives, proudly proclaimed their heritage.

Brian Goldenfeld,Woodland Hills

Amy Klein

I read Amy Klein’s column (“Divided We Stand,” March 8) about two hours after having a brief discussion with my 22-year-old son on religion. I summed up how I truly felt, and he was satisfied.

I told him that if every individual was allowed to practice his beliefs, or choose to believe in nothing, refrain from proselytizing, and most importantly, never self-righteously look down on anyone who felt differently, the world would be a nicer place. Simple? Yes. Prosaic? Yes. But think about the possibilities.

Karen Berrenson, Woodland Hills

Henry Waxman

I have spent a good deal of time thinking about the excellent article (“Justice Delayed and Justice Denied,” Feb. 15) and wonderful work of Rep. Henry A. Waxman in regard to the disappointing performance of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). I believe that the problems pointed out by Waxman boil down to a simple proposition — participation in ICHEIC by the insurance companies is wholly voluntary. Consequently, there is, in the end, absolutely no mechanism by which to enforce its rules, its purposes or its goals. Any insurance company can withdraw from ICHEIC at any time without any adverse consequence. Ultimately, then, all power and all decision-making authority is vested in the companies themselves.

At Bet Tzedek, we represent hundreds of indigent Holocaust survivors.

The only reality of note is that the only action over the past 60 years that has had a measurable effect on recalcitrant insurance companies has been the filing of lawsuits in American courts. It was not until these suits were brought that the companies even thought about launching an effort, albeit a toothless one, to create a vehicle by which claims might someday be paid. Nothing but their fear of American justice has ever had any significant effect on the actions of the insurance companies.

Waxman ponders how troubling the prospect of ICHEIC operating without oversight is, particularly since the operation of ICHEIC has become the cornerstone of United States policy on Holocaust-era insurance claims. In truth, Waxman is rightly troubled. There is now no viable oversight capable of protecting and preserving the rightful claims of survivors. The United States, if it is to exercise any meaningful persuasive authority in this arena, must add to its arsenal of influencing factors its support of access by survivors to American courts of law. Trust in the American pursuit of justice is what we all need. Indeed no more powerful tool exists and no other method of persuasion has ever worked.

Waxman urges the United States to “explore new forms of leverage that will compel the insurance companies to live up to their obligations.” The newest leverage is the oldest — American justice.

David A. Lash, Executive Director Bet Tzedek Legal Services


Harold Schulweis has read the Supreme Court properly — as strengthening religious pluralism — and the Jewish “moral and legal tradition” selectively (“The Israeli Supreme Court’s Conscience,” March 1). Schulweis correctly quotes the standard “Amidah” and Maimonides as sympathetic toward faithful converts. The crucial question is: Who is a faithful convert? On this the traditional sources are clear. Converts are expected to accept all of the commandments — starting with kashrut, Shabbat and family purity — as defined by those traditional sources. According to those traditional sources, converts who do not accept all of the commandments are not deserving of the sympathetic treatment due to faithful converts; according to the traditional sources that Schulweis cites, they are not Jews at all.

Schulweis and his fellow non-Orthodox rabbis have adopted alternative, nontraditional, conditions for accepting converts that they claim are consistent with the spirit of the tradition. Nevertheless, if Schulweis is going to quote traditional sources (the liturgy, Maimonides) in defense of the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision, he should also note that the conversion standards he and the Israeli Supreme Court are advocating are clearly inconsistent with the conditions for accepting converts explicitly specified in the traditional sources he quotes.

Jacob Alex Klerman, Los Angeles

Thank you for highlighting the issue of non-Orthodox conversions of Israel. This historic ruling was the result of a united effort between NA’AMAT, Israel’s largest family service agency, and the Masorati and World Union for Progressive Judaism.

The effort began in 1995, when a group of parents who had adopted children from abroad found that they could not convert these children to Judaism and, in desperation, turned to NA’AMAT, known as the place to go when families have problems. NA’AMAT arranged for Masorati conversions and, simultaneously, began the suit concluded last week.

NA’AMAT USA is proud to support this important legal work and will continue to work with our sister organization in Israel to encourage an open society that respects all streams of Judaism.

Miriam Hearn, Western Area Director NA’AMAT USA

Kids Page

I want to thank Abby Gilad for her interpretation of Parshat Terumah (“For The Kids,” Feb. 15) I am a recent convert, landscape designer and avid Jewish Journal reader. I found it very interesting that the Israelites were commanded to build the ark out of shita (acacia wood) and cover the completed ark with gold, both inside and out. This is so fascinating because most acacia varieties at this time of year have golden yellow flowers covering their branches. One variety in particular is completely covered with golden flowers — acacia baileyana.The acacia may be a reminder to us when in full bloom of the events that happened at this time of year according to Parshat Terumah.

Sonny Estrada, Los Angeles

Jewish Porn Star

I have seen Nina Hartley in action (“The Porn Star and the Rabbi,” Feb. 15), which is precisely why I find her appearance within the sanctuary of Temple Beth Ami to be so very offensive.

The gimmick may be a brilliant publicity stunt, but it is also a complete desecration of all that is sacred to the Jewish faith. Judaism exalts physical intimacy between husbands and wives in a manner that reflects the sanctity of their union. With all due respect to Hartley’s expertise, her profession negates the essence of Jewish teachings which instruct us to imbue our actions and deeds with holiness. Her self-proclaimed “spiritual” experiences hardly qualify as a model for Jewish enlightenment.

At the end of the Shabbat, we distinguish between the sacred and the profane with the “Havdalah” service. Surely this separation should apply to our conduct within our synagogues and temples.

Shula Levitch ,Valencia