Theory that Palin Dog-Whistled Christian Zionists is Wrong

In the National Journal, Matt Cooper suggests that Sarah Palin’s blood libel comments were intended as a dog whistle for evangelicals:

The former Alaska governor was likely trying to send a signal to her evangelical Christian supporters who are, in fact, deeply pro-Israel (although many Jews are wary of their support for the Zionist state, seeing them as more interested in the Rapture than a healthy Jewish nation).

Palin was likely aligning herself with pro-Israel evangelicals by identifying with Jews, not by insulting them, although that was surely the effect given the widespread bristling at her remarks.

After all, it’s not the first time Palin has aligned herself subtly with Jews. She has noted that after her election as governor in 2006, her childhood pastor suggested that she take the Bible’s Queen Esther as a role model. Esther was a beauty queen who became a fierce protector of the Jewish people. Palin is comfortable in the role of Esther, and many of her evangelical supporters see her in that guise, describing her as Esther-like. The multi-faith website Beliefnet called this phenomenon “Esther-mania.”

By adopting the blood libel language, Palin was most likely trying to pull another Esther — aligning herself with Jews, not denouncing them. It appears to have been a badly miscalculated effort, but it’s unlikely that it was her intention to offend.

(h/t Sarah Pulliam Bailey)

This is just ill-informed. I’ve extensively covered Christian Zionism, and spent a lot of time around Christian Zionists. First of all, the Esther fixation among evangelicals is not about identifying with the Jews or Jewish history; it’s decidedly about the idea that any person could be like Esther and save their people or their culture from annihilation. As I’ve noted before:

When the religious right talks about an Esther figure, or an “Esther moment,” it’s a means of motivating the base to believe that anyone, like Queen Esther, can step up and save the world from evil. (Sure, Esther was anointed to save the Jews from genocide, and that’s pretty much the same as saving America from socialism, eh?)

When religious right figures discuss Palin as an Esther figure, or her ascendancy to the national stage as an “Esther moment,” they are not identifying with Jews or Jewish history. Rather, they are referring to spiritual warfare — a cosmic battle between good and evil, in which Palin emerges as an uber-Christian, uber-American warrior who can vanquish satanic forces. Christian Zionists I’ve met don’t actually identify with — or in many cases know anything about — Jewish history or the history of anti-Semitism; their “love” of Israel is instead fetishistic. And the Esther analogy is invoked not to demonstrate the evils of anti-Semitism, but rather perceived threats to Christian nation mythology — such as legal abortion, or Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon.

It’s not obvious to me that Christian Zionists, or the evangelicals Cooper claims Palin was dog-whistling, understand the history of blood libel (for that history, see Susannah Heschel’s excellent essay today) or would read a reference to it as an effort to “align” oneself with the Jews. Just as they don’t invoke the Queen Esther story as a cautionary tale about anti-Semitism, but rather one about domestic culture wars, or a cosmic clash of civilizations, they’d be unlikely to read Palin’s reference to blood libel as sympathetic to Jews. Instead, it was quite obviously an effort on Palin’s part to make her followers sympathetic to her, regardless of the other consequences of her words.

What’s more, the Esther analogy is applied to Palin despite her very un-Esther-like qualities. As I wrote during the 2008 presidential campaign:

But when her legacy is applied to Sarah Palin, Esther does not protect the marginalized; she further marginalizes them. She does not stand up to xenophobia and racism; she incites xenophobia and racism. She doesn’t protect Americans from real enemies; she turns on her fellow Americans, portraying them as enemies.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email