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Unseemly wrangling

 

Unhappy with Obama’s Israel policy, some Jews turn to Palin

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.”

 
 

As Feingold exits, Senate loses a principled liberal

WASHINGTON – The speech that Russ Feingold gave to end his career in the U.S. Senate was much like his career itself: by turns crystal clear, obscure, ornery, defiant, and gracious — and quoting a fellow Great Plains Jew to boot.

“But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free, I’ve got nothing but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me,” the three-term U.S. senator from Wisconsin said Nov. 2, quoting Bob Dylan while conceding to Republican Ron Johnson, a Tea Party-backed plastics billionaire who beat him by a 52-47 percent split at the polls.

Then, “It’s on to the next fight. It’s on to the next battle. It’s on to 2012!”

Feingold’s spokesmen later denied that the senator was hinting at a Democratic presidential bid exploration like the one he had pursued in 2006-07. What he did mean they wouldn’t say.

It was typical of the fiercely independent streak that put Feingold into office and may well have pushed him out.

Ira Forman, the former director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said Feingold’s refusal to accept outside campaign money may have helped elect him in the past but likely was his downfall in this election.

“He wouldn’t accept DSCC ads,” Forman said, referring to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, typical of the bodies that run negative ads against opponents. “He often ran against people who were the beneficiary of that kind of advertising. He hoped people would stand up for his integrity, as they had in the past.”

Forman’s voice tinged with regret.

“He’s an independent voice, a loss to Democrats and the Jewish community,” he said of Feingold.

In fact, Feingold’s Jewish identity, while strong, rarely manifested itself in leadership roles on Israel, Holocaust commemoration, or the other areas that many Jewish lawmakers have made their own.

That was an approach rooted in a childhood in Janesville, Wis., a Plains town near the Illinois border. Feingold, 57, has described his upbringing as blessedly free of anti-Semitism.

“I was honored because I was Jewish,” Feingold said, describing teachers and other grown-ups to Sanford Horwitt, who wrote a political biography, “Feingold: A New Democratic Party.” “It was an amazing way to be treated.”

In 2003, asked by the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle whether Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) stood a chance in his presidential bid, Feingold’s answer was why not?

“As a Jewish candidate from a state with a small Jewish population, I don’t feel I faced any issues as a Jew,” Feingold said. “In fact, it may sound naïve, but I think some voters regarded my being Jewish as interesting. I’ve only had a good experience.”

The Feingold family was socially involved, erudite, and reserved — characteristics that continue to define Russ Feingold. His staff is fiercely loyal to him, although he keeps them at a distance.

Feingold is embarrassed by forthright fans. The Dylan song he chose to quote, “Mississippi,” speaks to the senator’s teasing intellect: It is not from Dylan’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, but from his 2001 album “Love and Theft.”

Feingold’s lawyer father, Leon, was the first Jewish president of the local Rotary Club; he mingled with farmer clients at 4-H events. (Leon’s father, Max, a refugee from Russia, established the family in the town and immigrated to Israel in 1950.)

Feingold has said that his Jewish legacy is manifest in his political career.

“I understood my religion as the pursuit of justice,” he told Horwitt.

That’s pretty much the extent of his public leadership on Jewish issues, although he routinely joins initiatives launched by other Jewish Congress members, recently expressing concerns to the Turkish government over its distancing from Israel and in 2008 joining a raft of Jewish senators pushing back against rumors that President Obama is a Muslim. He attends services on the High Holidays, and his sister, Dena, is a rabbi in Kenosha, south of Milwaukee.

Still, a national Jewish community that has a soft spot for independent liberals embraced Feingold. He drew Jewish support in his successful 1992 senatorial bid to oust the Republican incumbent, Bob Kasten, even though Kasten had a strong pro-Israel record.

“He is somebody who’s remarkably dedicated to civil liberties and to the Constitution, and has the courage of his convictions,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director of the National Council for Jewish Women. “He took a lot of gutsy stands,” she said, citing Feingold’s lone dissent in 2001 when the Senate approved the U.S. Patriot Act.

That vote drew derision at a time of heightened concerns over terrorism, but eventually made him a hero of the Democratic base. It is a legacy still in dispute: A televised encounter last week between two liberals, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell over whether Feingold should have tacked further right to get re-elected — O’Donnell’s position — has gone viral in the blogosphere.

Feingold was among a handful of lawmakers in the recent election who drew the endorsement of both J Street, the “pro-peace, pro-Israel” group, and donors associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Officials in both groups lamented his departure.

Feingold’s independence was his biggest draw. With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), he crafted a law severely limiting corporate donations to campaigns. Unlike McCain, who won re-election last week, Feingold abided by the rules of his law even after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it.

“This was a public servant who visibly, proudly, and courageously stood on principle,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, which backs election reform. “His effort to make America’s election system more fair and transparent made major contributions to good government.”

It was an independence borne of his upbringing and the turbulent 1960s in which he came of age. Feingold’s home, harmonious in its support of liberal causes until the ‘60s, was riven by a split between Feingold’s two father figures: His father supported the war in Vietnam, and his brother David, older by five years, opposed it.

Feingold emerged from the era determined to do what best hewed to his philosophical principles, and in the process he occasionally frustrated his party. In 1998 he famously was the only Democrat to vote to consider the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment of President Clinton — not because he believed Clinton was guilty, but because he believed in the constitutional process of impeachment.

Three years later he voted to confirm former Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) as attorney general, even though they were polar opposites on critical civil liberties questions. Feingold’s reason: his abiding belief that a president, in this case George W. Bush, had the right to pick his cabinet. He later also supported Bush’s nominee for Supreme Court chief justice, John Roberts.

His explanation of his Ashcroft vote in 2001, to skeptical Feingoldians at The Progressive, a liberal journal, presaged the vituperative climate that brought about his downfall.

“I believe we have to hold the line and not use ideology alone in making decisions about cabinet appointments,” Feingold said. “I fear if we keep going, more and more areas of our government are going to fall into the Great Divide and be engulfed in a culture war.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

A plea for Jonathan Pollard

 
 
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