At the height of the 2008 electoral battle, readers sent heated letters to this newspaper either blasting or embracing the Republican ticket consisting of John McCain and Sarah Palin. It was Palin, in particular, who drew the most impassioned prose.
“The thought that Sarah Palin is but a ‘heartbeat’ away from the presidency fills us with dread,” wrote Sandy Dermon of Fort Lee.
On the other hand, David Robin of Fair Lawn pointed out that Palin “delivered a captivating speech at the Republican convention, [creating] quite a lot of excitement and even received grudgingly admitted praise from many Democrats.”
Since the election, Palin has remained squarely in the public eye, drawing support not only from the Tea Party movement but from unexpected quarters as well.
While Jewish support for Palin has been extremely thin, Benyamin Korn, former editor of the Jewish Exponent, recently came down firmly in Palin’s corner, joining Jewish conservative commentators such as Norman Podhoretz – one-time editor of Commentary, who has compared Palin to President Ronald Reagan – and William Kristol, editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard.
To herald the launch of the national organization Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin, together with the Website Jewsfor Sarah.com, Korn has circulated an op-ed entitled “Palin’s policies reflect Americans’ spirit on Israel,” in which he said the new organization was “dedicated to promoting consideration of Palin’s policy positions in the wider American Jewish community.”
“We find Palin’s positions on Israel, Iran, national security, fiscal responsibility, energy, and social policy – as well as her record on these issues as governor of Alaska and candidate for vice president of the United States – to be serious, substantive and politically mainstream,” he wrote. “Though not at present a candidate for any office, Palin’s track record in public office has been exemplary and has withstood the test of the most demanding scrutiny of investigative news media.”
He maintained, as well, that JASP is made up of “academic, religious, and community leaders,” though these leaders were not identified in the piece.
Seeking to take the current pulse of the Jewish community, this newspaper called some of the 2008 letter-writers for an update on their views.
David Teman of Teaneck said that “people are still very much animated by Palin; she’s quite relevant.” He pointed out, however, that he has experienced a “total disconnect” with friends who oppose her vigorously.
“They would ask, ‘Who would vote for Sarah Palin?’ as if it was such a silly concept.”
“We would,” Teman said he answered, asking in turn, “Are you happy with how Obama is treating the Israeli government?”
Learning about the group, Fort Lee resident Edith Sobel, former editor of the Jewish Community News, said, “I can’t tell you how distressed I am. It’s bad enough when ignorant people fall for her, but when intellectuals [do], that troubles me.”
Calling Palin “a font of misinformation,” Sobel said “she gets away with it because no one challenges her on the truth. To think that people of merit, quality, and intelligence see in her a potential candidate is shocking and appalling.”
Sobel, who had just returned from one of her many trips to Israel, added that the people she knows there are nervous about President Obama’s recent behavior, “but some of them are terrified by Palin.” They’re very anxious to see peace talks, she said, “and they feel that her attitude is against them.”
Dr. Sylvia Riskin, founder of The Samuel F. and Sylvia S. Riskin Children’s Center – established in memory of her husband and run by the Jewish Family Service of Clifton/Passaic – was also surprised to hear that there was Jewish support for Palin.
“Contrary to all biblical virtues, Sarah Palin talks about but does not practice honesty, compassion, and tolerance for others,” she said. “Her behavior encourages violence. She is anti-government and distorts what the government can provide, such as Medicare and Social Security.”
Alan M. Schwartz of Teaneck took another approach, noting that while he considers Palin a viable candidate, “there are several other potential Republican alternatives who would be worth the attention and consideration of our community and others.”
He said that, like many others, he is “troubled by the Obama administration’s treatment of Israel and of Netanyahu and about the corresponding lack of urgency about dealing effectively with Iran’s growing nuclear threat. The contrast between the two is very disturbing.”
Schwartz pointed out that while he might not agree with Palin on all the issues, this would not make him feel “hostile” to her. While she appeared to have been inadequately prepared for some of her election season interviews, he said, “a certain disdainful attitude on the part of the media toward her was carried to an extreme,” even in this newspaper. “She should have been given a more respectful hearing rather than challenged on superficial things,” he said. “She’s not the perfect candidate, but there was a politically motivated double standard.”
Naomi Sternberg of New Milford said she was very much in favor of Palin becoming the Republican candidate because then “we Democrats will get in much more easily.”
She said, however, that she doesn’t doubt that some Jews have been motivated to support Palin because of the situation with Israel.
“A lot of my co-religionists will support whatever Israel does without any questions whatsoever,” she said. “I’m a fantastic supporter of Israel, but I don’t believe that any country does everything 100 percent correctly.”
Sternberg pointed out that she is still troubled by the same issues that bothered her during the 2008 election.
“[Palin] has become very adept at making money,” she added. “She’s very skilled, and she knows how to incite people.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who wrote in a September 2008 column in this newspaper that “Our daughters need more women like Sarah Palin … who balance being mothers and succeeding in their careers,” said he believes the American Jewish community “must work hard to defeat Obama in 2012.”
“He betrayed the trust of the American Jewish community. He misled us all,” he said.
“Whether or not it will be Palin or some other candidate is far less important,” he said, adding that he opposes an emphasis on a particular candidate.
Jews should focus not on candidates but on policies, he said, supporting those who endorse select issues.
As regards those issues, “I never believed that abortion should be one of the Jewish community’s leading issues. We’re not as stalwart on abortion as Christianity is.” Nor, he said, should gun control be one of our “foremost issues.”
He noted, however, that he strongly believes in Palin’s fiscal policies.
“I believe in empowering the individual,” he said. ” I would venture to say that our religion strongly emphasizes earning a living with dignity.”