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December 4, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 4, 2009 Palin ignites new debate on GOP support for Israel By James D. Besser New York Jewish Week WASHINGTON, D.C.---Jew- ish Democrats say she's the best thing that could happen to them in 2012, and Repub- licans say she's almost beside the point as Jewish voters sour on President Barack Obama's Israel policies, runaway budget deficits and a faltering domes- tic agenda. Welcome to the first skir- mishes of Campaign 2012 and the adventures of Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and maybe the lat- est in a line of Evangelical Christians who think Bible prophecy is being fulfilled in today's Middle East conflict. Palin, touring to promote her new book "Going Rogue," sparked reactions ranging from concern to bafflement when she criticized Obama administration pressure on Israel over Jewish settle- ments--and said settlement growth is needed for the many Jews who will be "flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead." Was she simply misin- formed about recent immigra- tion trends in Israel--or was she echoing popular millen- nial prophecies that predict a great ingathering of Jews in the last days before Israel is consumed in the terrible wars signaling the coming of the Christian Messiah? A leading analyst of the religion-politics intersection said the latter is the only likely interpretation. "This notion of Jews flocking to Israel in the days andweeks aheadcan only come from a pre-millennialist perspective," Mark Silk, a Trinity College professor and director of the school's Leon- ard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, told The Jewish Week. "It seems to be her frame of reference when it comes to the Middle East." A prominent Jewish Repub- lican, though, scoffed at that interpretation. "This was just Sarah being Sarah," said this political vet- eran, who asked not to be iden- tiffed. "This is a sideshow; the real issue is President Obama's failed domestic agenda and his even worse Middle East policies." But Jewish Democrats see in Palin an opportunity to ham- mer home the point they have been making for years--that the GOP is increasingly in the clutches of political and religious extremists, including those who want to love Israel to death for theological reasons. Political scientists aren't predicting sweeping changes on the Jewish voting land- scape. But some agree that the new Democratic admin- istration has displayed some surprising vulnerabilities that could affect the Jewish vote in next year's congres- sional midterms, when the Democrats will likely face significant losses, and in the nascent 2012 races. Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn said Jewish voters are heavily influenced by the perceived competence of presidential candidates, and that "Presi- dent Obama is vulnerable because he's not evidencing the ability to manage much of anything." But potential GOP gains could be offset if the party is seen as veering off in the di- rection of the Christian right, Kahn predicted. "Espousing the political theology of John Hagee [a Texas mega church preacher and founder of Christians United for Israel] and guys like him would be a disaster forany party's potential nomi- nee," Kahn said. "Most of the Jewish community will recog- nize that. That doesn't mean Evangelical Christians haven't developed good relations with many in the pro-Israel com- munity. But Jewish voters will take that relationship only so far." In some ways, the early 2012 skirmishing is a case ofdejavu all over again. Once again, the Republicans are predictingthe mass disillusionment of Jewish voters with the Democrats-- despite their withering loss with that segment in the last election. Once again, Jewish Democrats are downplaying concerns in pro-Israel lead- ership circles about Obama's Middle East policies. Few dispute that Jewish voters are echoing the broader decline in President Obama's approval ratings. The most recent survey data is an early October Gallup poll showing 64 percent of American Jews approving of Obama's job performance, the second high- est approval rating, behind those professing no religion, but an apparent plunge from last year's numbers. Among Protestants, Obama's approval rating was about 47 percent, But the new Jewish num- bers represent a big drop from the 78 percent of the Jewish vote Obama garnered last November. "I don't know that anybody is making political calcula- tions based on 2010 or 2012," said Matthew Brooks, the longtime director of the Re- publican Jewish Coalition. "What you do see is deep concern among Republicans, but also on a bipartisan basis, about the policies and posi- tions of this administration." Concerns include what many see as an indecisive approach to Iran and mixed messages about the Middle East peace process, he said. "Raising questions about Israel's fundamental right to build in places like [the east Jerusalem neighborhood of] Gilo, and aboutthe sovereignty of Jerusalem, represents a fundamental miscalcula- tion, and plays into concerns many Jews have about his administration's policies," Brooks said. "Also, there is widespread concern about the sloppiness about the way this administration is conducting its foreign policy, including the Hillary Clinton visit, in which she said one thing at one stop, something completely differ- ent two hours later." That, he said, "sends a horrible message about this administration's lack of focus and discipline.', Jewish voters, Brooks said, are increasingly upset about continuing unemployment and skyrocketing budget deft- New antiSemitism monitor sees role as reactive, proactive PAGE 21A cits--the reason 38 percent of Jewish voters voted for the Republican victor in the recent New Jersey governor's contest, according to a RJC analysis. In private, Jewish Demo- crats concede that Obama's standing in the Jewish world has slipped, along with his overall rating in the polls. Much of that, they argue, is the inevitable decline that comes after the excitement and glitz of the campaign give way to the hard realities of governing. Ira Forman, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said the battle now underway for dominance within the GOP and this month's Palin-mania point to factors that have kept Jews from crossing the partisan line in the past, despite the rising affluence of some and despite concerns about Democratic policies on Israel. "It's a cultural issue; there is a non-rational, anti-intellec- tual, white Evangelical base in the party that is antithetical to the culture of most American Jews," Forman said. And that base is best exem- plified by Sarah Palin and the fervent supporters who have mobbed her at recent book signings, he said. Palin's pres- ence on last year's GOP ticket was a major factor in Obama's 78 percent victory among Jew- ish voters, he said. "Jews tend to respond to candidates who know the issues, who give the impres- sion of competence," he said. "When we see a non-rational appeal like Palin's, we tend to be very uncomfortable." Forman agreed that Palin and her supporters may be trying to unite two his- toric threads in recent GOP politics--angry economic populism and the "culture war" politics of the Christian right--and said that both are factors in keepingJewswedded to the Democrats. Forman argued that with Palin rising in the GOP stand- ings and formerArkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee--a former Baptist preacher who is seen as going after both Christian right and conservative Jewish voters--at the head of the pack, the Republicans face an undiminished problem with mainstream Jewish voters. And he says the growing unwillingness of GOP leaders to confront extremist elements that have come to dominate the "tea party" movement will add to their woes with all minority voters. Forman seemed sure that Palin was referring to the Christian apocalypse in her comments about settlement growth. "I don't want to prejudge it," he said. "But I don't see any other rational explanation." Jeffrey Goldberg, a blogger for The Atlantic, interviewed a prominent expert on millennial theol- ogy, Dr. Thomas Ice of the Pre-Trib Research Center at Liberty University, who agreed Palin's statements reflected the prophetic view of a massive ingathering of Jews in Israel as a precondition of the Second Coming. Silk, the Trinity College pro- fessor, told The Jewish Week, "I tend to resist the automatic response of the left that every expression of support for Israel from evangelicals is a reflec- tion of the millennial point of view. But her trajectoryis more theologically out there. This is one case where something she said may be giving us a peek behind the curtain." Some analysts say the Palin surge is just the latest media sensation, likely to quickly fade away. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said GOP leaders understand that a Palin candidacy would be suicidal for the party. "If Palin is the GOP nomi- nee in 2012, Obama will win easily," he said. "It is that simple. Obama's margin will be so large that no group is going to matter very much. A Democratic leaning segment of voters might defect to a mainstream GOP nominee, but not Palin. It isn't even a credible threat." Harder for the GOP to deal with will be the angry popu- lism that has given birth to the tea party movement--and the Sarah Palin phenomenon. Reprinted with permission from the New York Jewish Week, Our 63rd Season of Summer Magic in the Blue Ridge Mountains for Boys and Girls Blue Star Camps For Three Generations a Family Owned Private Coed Kosher Jewish Camp Orlando Area Get-Together Sunday, December 13th at 2:00pro At ~e home of Keith ~d Jflie Levitt 4146 Aaissa Ave Orl~do 32814 R.S.V.P. 407-926-0491 Meet Jason Popkin, OwnedDireetor Blue S~ Camps www.bluestarcamps,eom By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA) Hannah Rosenthal knows her new position fighting anti-Semitism will include responding to anti-Jewish attacks and rhetoric, but she also figures to be heavily involved in outreach, too. "I expect there will be some reactive things when hate rears its ugly head," said Rosenthal, who started work Nov. 23 as the State Department's new special envoy to monitor and com- bat anti-Semitism. "But I see some of this as proac- tive, being an ambassador and educator to organiza- tions, to activists, to people in various parts of the world, on the importance of viewing anti-Semitism as a human rights issue." Acknowledging it may sound a little "hokey," she Courtesy Hannah Rosenthal Hannah Rosenthal says in her new role as U.S. anti. Semitism monitor that she wants to help build tolerance. said it's about "participat- ing in some strategies that will build tolerance and make the world a better place." Following a stint in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, Rosenthal served from 2000 to 2005 as executive direc- tor of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group comprised of the ma- jor synagogue movements, national organizations and local Jewish communities across North America. Most recently she was the vice president for com- munity relations for the not-for-profit WPS Health Insurance Co. in Madison, Wis. Rosenthal, 58, a former rabbinical student, is the daughter of a rabbi who was the only member of his fam- ily to survive the Holocaust. She says she comes from a family that "believed in Monitor on page 23A ttmnks to our Friends at "l"he Jewish Pavilion. He~iuJity b 'lhtly a Way of Lif'e! ALF License No. 8447, SNF 1635096