In her mid-November open letter to new Republican members of Congress, Sarah Palin told freshman lawmakers to support Israel, uncritically, and to let President Obama know that “Jerusalem is not a settlement.” Of all the things to focus on, why did Palin choose this contentious topic? What is the importance of the Holy City for the Alaskan contender—and why did she directly quote Prime Minister Netanyahu’s retort to Obama about the administration’s call to freeze settlement activity in Jerusalem?
Palin’s love affair with Israel is nothing new. In June of this year, she told a large Norfolk, Virginia audience that Obama’s criticism of the raid on the Gaza Flotilla, in which nine activists were killed, “sold out our ally Israel.”
Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest circulation daily, reported in a mid-November article titled “Yay Sarah!,” that the former governor is planning a trip to Israel. In that article Orly Azulai, the Yediot reporter, was impressed by Palin’s speeches to Jewish groups, in which she reminds her listeners that she always kept an Israeli flag on the windowsill of her office when she was governor of Alaska [see photo, top]. She received the flag from close friends who had visited Israel, and she kept it on her windowsill because of her “great love for Israel.”
When Palin repeats Netanyahu’s mantra “Jerusalem is not a settlement,” she does so with a naiveté that the Israeli Prime Minister cannot permit himself. As Israeli critics have pointed out for decades, and as even American Jewish pundits are now willing to say, “Jerusalem,” for Netanyahu and his supporters, seems to be an infinitely flexible term. As a recent Forward editorial put it:
But which Jerusalem does Prime Minister Netanyahu refer to? Before 1967, most of what we now consider Jerusalem was not part of the city, East or West, but part of the West Bank. Israel annexed twenty-eight Palestinian villages after the Six Day War, dramatically expanding the traditional footprint, which has expanded further in the decades since… As emotionally satisfying as it may be for Jews the world over to hear Netanyahu’s defiant claim of ownership, Jerusalem is home to another people too.”
Sarah Palin, it turns out is a better apologist for Israeli government actions than many American Jewish publications that still harbor liberals on their editorial boards.
Just a day after a Nov 24 story in which the New York Times, like the Forward, dared to question the Israeli government’s definition of “Jerusalem,” the Times published a letter from an Israeli government spokesperson stating that:
The notion that some areas of Jerusalem—the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years—should be off-limits to Jews, while the entire city is open to Arabs, is deeply prejudicial. The suggestion that Jews, or any other ethnic group, would be denied residence in an American city would instantly be condemned as racist.
Moreover, there are no settlers in Jerusalem, which is sovereign Israeli territory, just as there are no settlers in Tel Aviv and Haifa.
While the Times often reports on construction in Israel, it reports much less often on the constant incitement against Israel from the Palestinian Authority, including a delegitimization campaign against the State of Israel—the biblical sites, the history and the borders of the country.(Joel Lion, Spokesman and Consul for Media Consulate General of Israel, New York, Nov. 24, 2010)
Denying Israel is Almost like Denying the Faith
Palin, whose expertise in Middle Eastern matters was nurtured by former McCain foreign-policy adviser and neoconservative Randy Scheunemann, recently told Barbara Walters that Israeli settlements need to expand, rather than contract, because “more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.” Here Palin was not “misspeaking” or making a gaffe; rather she was signaling to her conservative evangelical base that she too was aware that the Rapture was imminent—and with it would come the fulfillment of biblical prophecy concerning the return of the Jews to Zion.
In Going Rogue, Palin wistfully recalls the church of her youth:
Back in Wasilla, the most ‘alive’ congregation was our local Assembly of God, so my siblings and I attended Sunday School there and enjoyed attending the youth group with our friends… My siblings and I were baptized together in Big Lake’s freezing, pristine waters by Pastor Paul Riley. I got into the habit of reading Scripture before I got out of bed every morning and making sure it was the last thing I did at night.
But we learn much more about Palin’s beliefs regarding Israel from a 2008 story in the conservative, Rev. Moon-owned Washington Times:
Mrs. Palin’s brand of evangelical Protestantism is especially well-disposed to the preservation of Israel for biblical reasons, said Merril Matthews, an evangelical Christian and a Dallas-based health-policy specialist.
Mrs. Palin was baptized as a teenager at the Wasilla Assembly of God Church. She frequently attends the Juneau Christian Center, which is also a part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God. Her home church is the Church of the Rock, an independent congregation.
“Historically, the Assemblies of God have been dispensationalists, which means they believe in ‘the rapture’ of Christians that takes them out of the world,” said Mr. Matthews. “Central to that position is a very strong support for Israel. It’s integral to their view of both prophecy and politics. Denying Israel is almost like denying the faith.”
Let’s Get Visceral
Despite an overwhelming Republican victory, the 2010 elections were not an unequivocal victory for the “pro-Israel” voices in the GOP or in the United States. Traditional Republicans will be as strident as ever about supporting “our only democratic ally in the Middle East,” but the Tea Party candidates’ position on Israel remains an open question as many libertarians favor isolationist policies. Still, there’s a good chance that aid to Israel, like the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will manage to be exempt from their ire. The billions of dollars spent every month on the two wars (and over 270 American military bases around the world) are somehow not a sign of “big government” for the Tea Party faithful.
Late last month, in a trenchant article for The Nation, Princeton lecturer Melissa Harris-Perry sought to explain why many of her students (and her eight-year-old daughter) found Sarah Palin so compelling a figure. “[U]nderestimating Sarah Palin is a mistake of epic proportions,” Harris-Perry concluded, adding that while “Much of the urban East Coast discourse about Palin and The Tea Party women is dismissive and mocking… this perspective ignores that visceral emotions are at least as important as sober rationality in making political choices.”
Visceral emotions frequently govern the debate over Israel as well. If Palin does run for president in 2012 we can be sure that unequivocal support for Israel will be a significant campaign issue, and that candidate Palin, as a master of appealing to visceral emotions, will be at a significant advantage.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly associated Palin’s Juneau Christian Center with Herbert W. Armstrong. RD regrets the error.