Grasping at flags and straws

Grasping at flags and straws

Earlier this month, Jewish Republicans were frantically prospecting for a Jew-friendly sign – any sign – in the great Northwest wilderness. And eureka! A video clip revealed that Sarah Palin’s office window sports a small – but noticeable – Israeli flag.

For all I know it could have been a remnant left by one of the participants of the “Farthest North Jewish Film Festival” in Fairbanks last spring, but it is more likely an evangelical statement in support of the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Jewish Democrats were desperately panning for a few nuggets of their own, and they seemed to have hit Pentecostal pay dirt in the form of Palin’s recent attendance at a nasty Jews for Jesus sermon at her present church, and her spirited delivery of a commencement speech to young missionaries a few months ago at a church she had attended for decades.

The concept of a Jesus-loving, moose-hunting, hockey-Mom-turned-governor of Alaska is far more goyishe than Yiddishe – and that makes for great Jewish humor. This is blockbuster sitcom material and the comedians and cartoonists are having, and will continue to have, a field day for days, and possibly for years to come. But I have a hunch that Palin has the true grit to ride this out.

Extraordinary as she is, Sarah Palin is only human, and juggling high political office and the campaign trail with a special-needs infant, soldier son, and unwed pregnant daughter engaged to a self-proclaimed “f___in’ redneck” has given Americans on both the left and right of the political spectrum something to laud, laugh, cry, and shrie about – because Sarah Palin is but a microcosm of everything that’s great and embarrassing about America and the human condition.

So lighten up, Jewish Republicans, because all’s fair in love and war; and while Palin is sure to be admired, she will also be relentlessly lampooned by Comedy Central, harpooned by Greenpeace liberals, skinned alive by the people from PETA – not to mention ravaged by the packs of media hounds who are howling, prowling, and out for blood. But in all seriousness, the prospect of a determined Pentecostal vice president has increased the angst among some Americans who feel legitimately threatened by the relentless evangelical battering of the sacred wall separating church and state. This Israeli mother – who does not vote in U.S. elections – is similarly concerned about maintaining a respectful distance and border between Judaism and Christianity. And this has become increasingly difficult given the evangelical biblical spin on, and fusion of, “Judeo-Christian” values, heritage, and faith.

Sarah Palin, the Great Mother of the North, appears to be very capable and may be a tremendous asset to the McCain campaign, but she is not our savior – unless you’re a “Jewish believer” in another “perfected” American female fundamentalist by the name of Ann Coulter, who claims “the survival of Israel is inextricably linked to the survival of the Republican Party and its evangelical base.”

That Palin attends churches affiliated with the Assemblies of God is something that should make every Jew squirm a bit, but her attending a sermon by a Jews for Jesus leader is less of a concern for Israelis than some of the more disturbing legislative meddling in Israel’s affairs that we hope any prospective evangelical vice president will avoid.

There have been ongoing attempts by Capitol Hill pro-lifers to influence Israel’s stance and legislation on abortion and stem-cell research.

Evangelical groups have repeatedly used the 1998 congressional International Religious Freedoms Act as a means to promote missionary activity while preventing Israel from adopting and enforcing anti-missionary legislation. Religious freedom grounds are also being used to bolster the case for “messianic Judaism” (Christianity) in Israel, and in attempts to introduce changes in the Law of Return.

Accusations leveled by the State Department, the American Center for Law and Justice, and evangelical lobbying groups have depicted Orthodox Jews as violent persecutors of the church and messianic groups in Israel.

In some respects Israel’s relationship with American evangelicals takes on a certain Esauvian quality. Biblically and quite literally speaking, Sarah Palin is “a cunning [skillful] hunter, a [wo]man of the field.”

Go to and search “Palin” and “Church.” Watch her bless the Assemblies of God Masters Commission students in their mission to go out and “bring people in.” She goes on to say, “You guys are all a bunch of cool-looking Christians…. People are going to be interested in Jesus Christ through you because of the way you look. This red-headed Sasquatch for Jesus … you look good!”

Palin concludes, “I grew up at Wasilla Assemblies of God; nothing freaks me out about the worship service.”

But it does and should “freak out” some of us Jews, because – for us – it is strange worship.

Palin is an entrenched Christian fundamentalist who “grew up” in a church whose statements of belief include the following:

• “WE BELIEVE … in The Millennial Reign of Christ when Jesus returns with His saints at His second coming and begins His benevolent rule over earth for 1,000 years. At that time many in the nation of Israel will recognize and accept Him as the Messiah, the Savior who died for them and all mankind.”

• “WE BELIEVE … A Final Judgment Will Take Place for those who have rejected Christ. They will be judged for their sin and consigned to eternal punishment in a punishing lake of fire.”

Like our forefather Yitzchak, we Jews tend to be impressed to the point of blindness by looks and those who can walk the walk and talk the talk. And because of our tendency to fall into traps, I would think we should use the talmudic approach of “respect and suspect” whether sizing up Palin, Barack Obama, or any other politician or preacher.

We have to remember that neither the born-again status of George W. Bush, the Bible-teaching background of Jimmy Carter, nor Bill Clinton’s bedside promises to his dying pastor regarding Israel have managed to invigorate or strengthen the Jewish state’s position regionally or internationally.

Palin is an impressive figure who may put John Mcain over the top, and she could very well direct her evangelical influence and constituency towards reaching out in a positive manner to Israel. Alternatively, if we don’t keep our guard up, we may be witness to “outreach” efforts in the form of unwanted Christian influence.

So if you’ll permit me to get biblical again, some commentators see Yaacov’s prayer of “Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav” as an indication that Yaakov was more frightened of Eisav as a loving brother and friend than of a violent Eisav.

And our sages and great teachers recognize that “all the actions of the forefathers are auguries for their descendants.” With this in mind, it would appear that a polite and respectful insistence of a separation between the church and the State of Israel would be in keeping with our forefather Yaacov’s footsteps.

When it comes to the American election, this Golan mother of six will watch from a distance, and hope and pray that the best man or woman win. And like Yaacov, we as a nation and as individuals will have to turn inward, wrestle with our demons, and come out on top – regardless of the changes in a U.S. administration.