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Conservatives debate antipathy for Palin

Ami EdenWorld
Published: 15 January 2010

Forget 2012 — Sarah Palin must think she’s headed to the White House even sooner.

How better to explain the former Alaska governor and GOP vice-presidential candidate’s eyebrow-raising comments a few weeks back, when she defended Israeli settlements on the basis that “more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead”? After all, it’s hard to think of anything else more likely to convince American Jews to pack their bags for Israel than Palin’s taking up residence in the White House.

News Analysis

And that’s just based on what Jewish conservatives are saying.

Jennifer Rubin, who generally blogs and writes for Commentary about the perceived dangers of the Obama administration, has a story in this month’s issue headlined “Why Jews Hate Sarah Palin.” The piece drew a swift rejoinder from former Bush administration aide David Frum, who rejected Rubin’s sympathetic take on the GOP presidential hopeful and argued that Jews would hardly be alone in not liking Palin.

The debate echoes wider fights among Republicans and conservatives, not only about Palin but also the future of the GOP.

“If one were to invent a political leader designed to drive liberal, largely secular, urban, highly educated Jews to distraction, one would be hard pressed to come up with a more effective figure than Palin,” Rubin wrote in her Commentary article. Jews more than any other group, she asserted, fall in the camp of liberals and conservatives who see Palin as “uncouth, unschooled, a hick, anti-science and anti-intellectual, an upstart, and a religious fanatic.”

Rubin also theorized that Palin’s personal life made her “alien to American Jews,” whether it’s her interest in hunting and guns or her decision to have five children and go through with her final pregnancy after learning that she was having a baby with Down syndrome. In addition, Rubin argued, Palin’s being viewed as “more sexy and athletic” didn’t sit well with Jewish women, who have grown accustomed to admiring female politicians who are “modest to the point of frumpiness in appearance and professional style.”

Frum, who served as a White House speechwriter and has been widely credited for helping to coin the term “axis of evil,” responded with a blog post challenging Rubin on several fronts, starting with the premise that Jews stand out in their dislike for Palin.

“The sole evidence she cites on behalf of her assertion [that Jews hate Palin] is a September 2008 poll in which Jews disapproved of Palin by a 54-37 margin. That does not look like foaming hatred to me, and anyway those numbers are now 15 months out of date,” Frum wrote in a blog post on his Website, Frum Forum. “Besides: Lots of people dislike Sarah Palin. Palin excites intense support among a core group of conservative Republicans. Beyond that base, she is one of the most unpopular figures in modern American life. She polls poorly among the young, among women, among independents. A plurality even of Republican women regard her as unqualified for the presidency.”

Frum also noted that Jews have been fond of politicians with larger families than Palin’s (Bobby Kennedy) and ones from humbler beginnings (Bill Clinton). He did, however, say that a major problem for Palin among Jews is “that they — we — doubt her intellectual capacity for the job.”

But Palin’s biggest problem in winning Jewish support, Frum speculated, is that she divides “her fellow-Americans into first-class and second-class citizens, real Americans and not-so-real Americans.”

“To do her justice, she has never said anything to suggest that Jews as Jews fall into the second, less-real, class,” Frum added. “But Jews do tend to have an intuition that when this sort of line-drawing is done, we are likely to find ourselves on the wrong side.”

Palin’s defenders, including Rubin, say that the Alaskan politician has defended herself only against unfair attacks from liberal and coastal elites.

Still, Rubin said in the conclusion of her article, Palin needs to take several steps if she hoped to expand her base and make inroads into the Jewish community.

Palin’s staunch support for Israel is a major plus but, Rubin wrote, she “must accept the obligation to speak with authority and command about pressing public-policy issues. She will have to make voters comfortable with the idea that she is neither ignorant nor lacking in intellectual agility.”

Rubin concluded that Palin must not only castigate her elitist critics, but “must also demonstrate that she can go toe-to-toe with them in articulating positions on the issues that all candidates are expected to address.”

JTA

 
 

Health-care vote could mean tough campaign for some Dems

WASHINGTON – A window was shattered by a pellet gun in an apparent vandalism attack at her Tucson district office. Sarah Palin has put her on the list of Democratic lawmakers she is targeting this fall. Arizona Tea Party activists are pledging to help defeat her bid for re-election.

All this because Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) voted for health-care reform.

Giffords is one of a few Jewish Democrats political observers say could have a difficult re-election campaign because of her vote for the controversial Democratic-backed health-care bill.

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A glass door at the Tucson office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shattered in an apparent vandalism attack just hours after Giffords voted for the health-care reform bill in Congress. Gary Jones

The bill passed March 21 would provide access to insurance for more than 30 million uninsured Americans, provide subsidies for those who cannot afford it, eliminate the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and require all Americans to buy insurance or pay a tax. Republicans have attacked the bill as too costly and portray it as government takeover of the health-care industry.

While support for the health-care bill represents a potential political liability if disaffection with the president runs high on Election Day, November is still far enough away that it’s not clear how much influence it will have.

The general mood of the country, which probably will depend on the state of the economy, will likely be the determining factor, said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. If the mood is sour, he said, voters “are going to evaluate health care in that light.”

Two-term congresswoman Giffords is in a more vulnerable spot than most. She hasn’t been in office long, and her district is not solidly Democratic. John McCain won it in the 2008 presidential election, with 52 percent of the district vote.

Helping those who cannot afford health insurance, rather than focusing on re-election, was Gifford’s paramount concern in deciding which way to vote, her spokesman said.

“The congresswoman is convinced it was the right thing to do, and good for the country,” said her communications director, C.J. Karamargin.

Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who has been particularly outspoken on health-care issues, is another potentially vulnerable Jewish Democrat. Grayson has called the U.S. health-care system a “holocaust” — making him a darling of the left but a target of the right.

Grayson unseated a four-term Republican in 2008 to win the 8th congressional district in Florida, which includes part of Orlando. While President Obama carried the district in 2008, George W. Bush carried it in the prior two presidential races.

National Jewish Democratic Council CEO Ira Forman acknowledged that votes in favor of health-care reform could be problematic for Jewish Democrats like Giffords and Grayson, but he is “doubtful it will be the determinative vote” for an incumbent’s prospects of survival this fall.

Victory on a historic reform of health care “is much better for Democrats in general” than a defeat, Forman said. However, the larger issues of the economy and the unemployment rate are likely to be greater factors for vulnerable Democrats come election time, he said.

The only Jewish Democrat to vote against the health-care bill was New Jersey first-termer John Adler, who also is likely to face a tough battle in November. Hailing from a district in the Philadelphia suburbs, Adler will be facing off against former Philadelphia Eagles lineman John Runyan.

Adler said he did not back the legislation because it didn’t do enough to control costs and make health care affordable for his constituents. He also reportedly had encountered strong opposition to the bill at meetings throughout his district.

Obama carried Adler’s district by five points in 2008, but Bush eked out a slight win in 2004. Before Adler, the district’s congressional seat was held by a Republican for 16 years.

Adler’s vote will make it easier for him to argue that he is “not a rubber stamp” for the president.

The executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, agreed that the health-care bill is likely to be a big issue in the 2010 election. The RJC has called for repealing the bill.

More upsetting than the bill itself, Brooks said, is that, “with an exploding debt and deficit, the president is focusing not on jobs but on health care.”

Meanwhile, at least one Jewish Republican challenger is hoping that his opposition to the health-care reform legislation will help him knock off a Democratic incumbent. Randy Altschuler, a contender for the GOP nomination in New York’s 1st congressional district, which includes much of Suffolk County on Long Island, said he backs repealing the health-care legislation and replacing it with a different type of reform because the “spending, tax increases, and heavy government intervention” outweigh its “marginal benefits.”

Altschuler first must win a tough primary race against Chris Cox, Richard Nixon’s grandson, before being able to square off against incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop.

“That’s a race where these kinds of issues are going to resonate,” Brooks said of the brouhaha over health care.

JTA

 
 

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.”

 
 
Breaking News — First Person

Palin’s ‘blood libel’ remark overwhelms message

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 14 January 2011

WASHINGTON – It was a well-crafted message preaching unity — and mined with a “blood libel” that blew it all apart.

Sarah Palin’s video message Wednesday, her first substantial commentary since Saturday’s shooting in Tucson that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others, at first appeared to succeed in reconciling two American precepts that have seemed irreconcilable in recent days: a common purpose and a rough-and-tumble political culture.

News Analysis

“Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions,” said the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate. “And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere.”

But barely a breath later, Palin painted herself the victim of a “blood libel” — a notorious term fraught with Jewish historical and emotional significance.

“Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn,” Palin said. “That is reprehensible.”

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Sarah Palin's video message after the Tucson shooting, released Jan. 12, 2011, included a reference to herself as a victim of a blood libel.

Palin’s casual reference to the ancient fiction that Jews killed children to drink their blood as part of a ritual – one that has inspired pogroms, massacres and attacks on Jews throughout the centuries and even today is referenced as fact in parts of the Arab world and the former Soviet Union — set off alarm bells.

Jewish reaction ranged from outraged to uncomfortable to defensive.

“Instead of dialing down the rhetoric at this difficult moment, Sarah Palin chose to accuse others trying to sort out the meaning of this tragedy of somehow engaging in a ‘blood libel’ against her and others,” National Jewish Democratic Council President David Harris said in a statement condemning her remark. “Perhaps Sarah Palin honestly does not know what a blood libel is, or does not know of their horrific history; that is perhaps the most charitable explanation we can arrive at in explaining her rhetoric today.”

Jews for Sarah, a pro-Palin group, defended Palin, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2012.

“Gov. Palin got it right, and we Jews, of all people, should know a blood libel when we see one,” Jews for Sarah said. “Falsely accusing someone of shedding blood is a blood libel — whether it’s the medieval Church accusing Jews of baking blood in Passover matzahs, or contemporary Muslim extremists accusing Israel of slaughtering Arabs to harvest their organs, or political partisans blaming conservative political figures and talk show hosts for the Tucson massacre.”

Palin made the video to push back against claims by some liberal commentators that she played a role in the hyper-partisan rhetoric in Giffords’ district before the election in part by putting out a map with a gun-sight target over Giffords’ congressional district as one Palin wanted the Republicans to win in 2010.

Her video calling for “common ground” set a tone that would have jived perfectly with the unity message President Obama delivered in Tucson later Wednesday, if not for the blood libel remark.

By contrast, Obama’s speech earned widespread praise.

“What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other,” Obama said in Tucson. “That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

The Anti-Defamation League said it was inappropriate to blame Palin after the Tucson shooting and said she had every right to defend herself.

But, the organization noted in a statement, “We wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase ‘blood libel’ in reference to the actions of journalists and pundits in placing blame for the shooting in Tucson on others. While the term ‘blood-libel’ has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.”

The question, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, was whether using a charged term like blood libel reinforced Palin’s legitimate argument at the unfair targeting of the right wing in the days after the shooting – or whether using the term undercuts the point.

“It distracts from her argument, which is thoughtful,” Jamieson told JTA. “If you are trying to get an audience to rethink, you don’t inject this particular historic analogy.”

The fallback defense for Palin’s acolytes was that while the use of the phrase might be overwrought, she is hardly the first to commit this sin. Jim Geraghty, a correspondent at the conservative National Review, cited an extensive list of its uses over the past 10 years, though practically no elected officials were on it.

Jamieson, who conducted a similar search, found that invoking the term in political argument is usually the province of bloggers and polemicists, not those who have held high political office or aspire to it.

Voices across the Jewish religious and political spectrums, from the Reform movement to the Orthodox Union, and from liberals to conservatives, echoed the ADL’s statement.

“The term ‘blood libel’ is so unique, and so tinged with the context of anti-Semitism, that its use in this case — even when Ms. Palin has a legitimate gripe — is either cynically calculated to stimulate media interest or historically illiterate,” Noam Neusner, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, wrote on Pundit Wire. “It is therefore distracting to Ms. Palin’s underlying message, which is one of sympathy for the victims and outrage that she and others are being accused of inspiring a mass murderer.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Only moral courage will make rabbis relevant

 

Area leaders join mourning for Tucson victims

Shooting prompts local calls to tone down the political retoric

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NORPAC delegates met with Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last spring during the group’s annual mission to Washington. From left are Shayna Schwarzberg, Giffords, Milton Erdfarb, Nathan Orgel, and Dr. Stanley Zimmerman. Liz Berry

North Jersey political insiders joined people across the nation this week in lamenting Saturday’s deadly shooting in Arizona that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life. Some have added their voices to a widespread plea for a calming of political rhetoric that many have blamed for inflaming the alleged shooter.

“I believe that this tragedy may well cause people in Washington and in the media to take as great care with their choice of language as possible,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) told The Jewish Standard Monday, “without compromising anyone’s right to vigorously dissent or strongly argue against any policy.”

Many, particularly in the media, have put the spotlight on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Tea Party faction for heated political rhetoric that some theorize may have influenced the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner. During last year’s election campaign, Palin created a graphic of targets over districts the Tea Party would try to win, one of which was Giffords’. While many liberal pundits and bloggers have blamed Palin for influencing Loughner, Rothman urged patience while investigations into Loughner’s motives continue.

“Until all evidence comes in,” Rothman said, “it would be premature to come to any conclusions now other than this evil and deranged individual acted simply out of his own madness and personal demons.”

Still, Rothman said, last weekend’s events may cause people in Washington and the media to take greater care with their choice of language, although a balance must be struck to protect freedom of speech.

“We live in the greatest democracy in the history of the world,” he said, “and we cherish our freedom of speech and opportunity to criticize the government and our politicians, as well as debate our friends and family about all the issues of the day. We do so quite often and quite loudly and with great passion, but there is never an excuse for violence.”

Rothman in December ended his service on the House Science and Technology committee, where he had served on Giffords’ subcommittee on space and aeronautics. Rothman and Giffords spoke often about their shared Jewish heritage, their families, and Gifford’s West Orange-bred husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

Giffords is “a fierce fighter,” Rothman said, for her constituents and for her principles. “Members of both sides of the aisle have great affection for her simply because of the kind of wonderful person she is,” he said.

Others outside of the Beltway took more critical stands against political mudslinging.

The rhetoric has “got to be toned down,” said Milton Edfarb, a resident of Highland Park and member of the Englewood-based pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC. Edfarb was one of several NORPAC members who met with Giffords during the group’s annual mission to Washington last spring.

“There seems to be too much vitriol being added to discussions,” he said. “We have to practice openness to people’s ideas and agree to disagree and do it in a polite manner.”

Divisive rhetoric is a problem in politics, said Harry Feder, another NORPAC member who spoke with Giffords several times during her recent campaign for re-election.

“When you get to Congress, people should be working together,” said the Riverdale, N.Y., resident.

Giffords was an “up and coming” member of Congress, said Feder, who called the shooting a tragedy for the Jewish community and for Tuscon.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) also lashed out against provocative language.

“America must not tolerate violence or inflammatory rhetoric that incites political violence,” Lautenberg said in a statement sent to the Standard.

The senator also announced Monday plans to introduce legislation with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) to end the manufacture and sale of high-capacity ammunition feeding devices, such as the high-capacity 33-round magazine clip Loughner allegedly used in his Glock 19 pistol. The high-capacity magazine allowed him to fire 33 bullets without reloading.

“The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly. These high-capacity clips simply should not be on the market,” Lautenberg said in his statement. “Before 2004, these ammunition clips were banned, and they must be banned again. When the Senate returns to Washington, I will introduce legislation to prohibit this type of high-capacity clip.”

From 1994 to 2004, high-capacity ammunition magazines were illegal under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. When the ban expired in 2004, Republican leaders in Congress pledged not to renew it, and high-capacity clips have been legal to manufacture and sell since then.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) also lamented last weekend’s events.

“I was deeply saddened to hear of the tragic shooting in Arizona,” he said in a statement to the Standard. “I strongly condemn this deplorable act of violence. It has no place in our public discourse and it has no place in our society. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to Rep. Giffords, her family, her staff, and all the other victims and their families….”

Loughner headed to court earlier this week and while the investigation into his background continues, some were hopeful that out of tragedy can come something positive.

“I hope,” Edfarb said, “it gives people a chance to step back and say, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t say this.’”

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Debate rages on over Palin’s ‘blood libel’ claim

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 21 January 2011
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Sarah Palin’s video message after the Tucson shooting, released Jan. 12, 2011, included a reference to herself as a victim of a blood libel.

The post-shooting debate over political civility is cooling down, but passions are still raging over Sarah Palin’s claim that critics were guilty of perpetrating a “blood libel” against her.

Palin’s initial use of the term, in a Jan. 12 video message, drew sharp rebukes from liberal Jewish groups and even some conservatives. Since then, however, several Jewish notables, including Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and former New York Mayor Ed Koch, have defended Palin’s use of the term.

Palin weighed in again Monday during an interview on Fox News — her first since the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) that also left six dead and another 12 wounded. Palin defended her use of the term “blood libel” and said she understands its meaning.

“Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands and in this case that’s exactly what was going on,” Palin told Sean Hannity in the interview.

Palin, a Fox guest contributor, also used the interview to condemn the shooting and other acts of political violence and to offer prayers for the victims.

The most recent Palin-related controversy echoes previous scrums revolving around the potential GOP presidential candidate, with critics arguing that she lacks the judgment, demeanor, and smarts of a commander-in-chief, and her defenders seeing such slams as validation that she is just the right person to put the liberal elites in their place.

Palin shows no signs of ceding the spotlight, but it was liberal politicians and commentators who were quick to put her in the center of the story following the shooting. Critics held Palin up as a prime example of violent political rhetoric that could have contributed to the gunman’s rampage, pointing to a map on her website that used images of gun crosshairs to indicate districts targeted in last year’s midterm elections.

Giffords, who was shot and critically injured in the shooting attack, was the incumbent in one of the marked districts.

During her Jan. 12 video message, Palin defended herself, insisting that “especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.”

Palin seemed to be conflating generic calls to tone down the rhetoric — including one from Clarence Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff who was leading the investigation — with a number of attacks directly accusing her of responsibility. In fact, the debate about rhetoric subsequent to the shooting did not hew to party lines, and liberal pundits were among those vigorously defending Palin’s right to use strong rhetoric, while conservatives were among those who suggested she needed to dial it down.

Palin’s reference to the ancient fiction that Jews killed children to drink their blood as part of a ritual — one that has inspired pogroms, massacres, and attacks on Jews throughout the centuries and even today is referenced as fact in parts of the Arab world and the former Soviet Union — set off alarm bells.

Jewish reaction ranged from outraged to uncomfortable to defensive.

“Instead of dialing down the rhetoric at this difficult moment, Sarah Palin chose to accuse others trying to sort out the meaning of this tragedy of somehow engaging in a ‘blood libel’ against her and others,” National Jewish Democratic Council President David Harris said in a statement condemning her remark. “Perhaps Sarah Palin honestly does not know what a blood libel is, or does not know of their horrific history; that is perhaps the most charitable explanation we can arrive at in explaining her rhetoric today.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League did not endorse the notion that her actions may have contributed to the shooting, but they criticized Palin’s use of the term “blood libel,” saying it was offensive to Jewish sensibilities.

Jews for Sarah, a pro-Palin group, defended Palin, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2012.

“Gov. Palin got it right, and we Jews, of all people, should know a blood libel when we see one,” Jews for Sarah said. “Falsely accusing someone of shedding blood is a blood libel — whether it’s the medieval Church accusing Jews of baking blood in Passover matzohs, or contemporary Muslim extremists accusing Israel of slaughtering Arabs to harvest their organs, or political partisans blaming conservative political figures and talk show hosts for the Tucson massacre.”

Within days, Dershowitz, Boteach, and Koch also defended Palin, supplying her allies with grounds to argue that Jewish opinion was divided on her use of the term.

Whether Palin was justified in using the term, even some conservatives objected to her releasing the video on the same day of the nationally televised service in Tucson to mourn the victims, pray for the wounded, and cheer the bystanders who tackled the gunman and aided the injured.

Palin’s video did call for “common ground,” setting a tone that would have jibed perfectly with the unity message President Obama delivered at the event — if not for the blood libel remark.

Obama’s speech earned widespread praise.

“What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other,” Obama said. “That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

The Anti-Defamation League said it was inappropriate to blame Palin after the Tucson shooting and that she had every right to defend herself.

But, the organization noted in a statement, “We wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase ‘blood libel’ in reference to the actions of journalists and pundits in placing blame for the shooting in Tucson on others. While the term ‘blood-libel’ has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.”

The question, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, was whether using a charged term like blood libel reinforced Palin’s legitimate argument that there was unfair targeting of the right wing in the days after the shooting, or whether using the term undercut the point.

“It distracts from her argument, which is thoughtful,” Jamieson told JTA. “If you are trying to get an audience to rethink, you don’t inject this particular historic analogy.”

The fallback defense for Palin’s acolytes and others who defended her was that while the use of the phrase might be overwrought, she is hardly the first to use it. Jim Geraghty, a correspondent at the conservative National Review, cited an extensive list of its uses over the past 10 years, though practically no elected officials were on it.

Jamieson, who conducted a similar search, found that invoking the term in political argument is usually the province of bloggers and polemicists, not those who have held high political office or aspire to it.

Voices across the Jewish religious and political spectrums, from the Reform movement to the Orthodox Union, and from liberals to conservatives, echoed the ADL’s statement.

“The term ‘blood libel’ is so unique, and so tinged with the context of anti-Semitism, that its use in this case — even when Ms. Palin has a legitimate gripe — is either cynically calculated to stimulate media interest or historically illiterate,” Noam Neusner, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, wrote on Pundit Wire. “It is therefore distracting to Ms. Palin’s underlying message, which is one of sympathy for the victims and outrage that she and others are being accused of inspiring a mass murderer.”

On the other hand, Koch and Dershowitz — two Jewish Democrats — defended her.

In a column this week, Koch declared that Palin had “defeated her harsh and unfair critics,” and argued that these days the “blood libel” term can “be used to describe any monstrous defamation against any person, Jew or non-Jew.”

Koch framed the controversy as part of the wider debate over Palin, writing that “the fools in politics today in both parties are those who think she is dumb,” though he quickly added that she is “not knowledgeable in many areas and politically uninformed.”

“Many women understand what she has done for their cause,” wrote Koch, who has endorsed Republicans for president, but says he is “scared” of Palin.

“She will not be silenced, nor will she leave the heavy lifts to the men in her party. She will not be falsely charged, remain silent, and look for others — men — to defend her. She is plucky and unafraid.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Palin, Trump may be media darlings, but they don’t excite Jewish Republicans

WASHINGTON – Republican Jews to Donald Trump: You’re not hired. That is, not until you at least show up to an interview with a résumé.

And the same goes for Sarah Palin, another media favorite who keeps flirting with a bid for the Republican presidential nomination but never commits.

Leading Jewish Republicans, many speaking off the record, confirm what the rank and file is happy to say on the record: These two GOP “likelys” consuming so much publicity are not likely to last.

“All politicians enjoy the title ‘likely’ — it gives them relevance on the national scene,” said Jay Zeidman, a former White House Jewish liaison and now a Houston businessman who heads the Republican Jewish Coalition’s local chapter. “It allows them to have a pulpit to speak from. But when you look at who’s putting the infrastructure together, who has the money to sustain themselves through the primaries, I don’t see Sarah Palin and Donald Trump putting it together.”

Trump, who has generated much buzz with his personal attacks on President Obama — questioning where he was born and whether he has the smarts or the integrity to do the job — does not resonate as serious, said Alan Joel Steinberg, a conservative New Jersey political analyst.

“A serious candidate does not use the kind of language he used,” he said.

Republican Jews, with a substantial base among the Orthodox, are turned off by the real estate magnate’s grandstanding, Steinberg said — for instance, in attacking the president’s China policy in a recent speech in Las Vegas laced with profanity.

“That’s bathroom language,” he said.

Trump, of course, has a familial tie to the Jewish community: His daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism before marrying fellow real estate empire heir Jared Kushner.

Yet Trump has said little thus far in his presidential flirtation about Israel policy, a key component of any candidate’s appeal to Jewish Republicans, Zeidman said. That’s especially a concern now that the party is dedicated to slashing budgets and with Jewish Republicans wanting assurances from candidates that aid to Israel is sacrosanct, he said.

“We have to call our community and members and say, ‘It’s important we make tough cuts, but not to Israel,’” Zeidman said. “That’s the issue that resonates most with us.”

A number of Jewish Republican leaders who have had dealings with Trump say they don’t think his colorful financial history — peppered with triumphs and bankruptcies — could bear the intense scrutiny that all modern candidates must bear.

Fred Taub, a Jewish radio host in Cleveland who has been active on a number of campaigns, said Trump is never going to want to open up his books to the press.

“He has a lot of issues,” said Taub, who recently wrote “Boycotting Peace,” a book about the Israel divestment movement. “Is he a serious campaigner? Not really. Is he going to disclose his entire finances? I don’t think so.”

Palin, at least, is adding substance to her thin governmental résumé, most recently in a speech on foreign policy, Steinberg said. But she has yet to demonstrate that she is willing to make the commitment to a run, although Steinberg said he has heard from those around her that she is seriously looking at a presidential bid.

“I think if she ran, she would get substantial Orthodox Jewish support and among right-wing Zionists,” he said. “The problem is it’s not clear whether she’s running or not. Her followers tell me she is, but she’s not raising money or having events in Iowa,” the first caucus state. “She has to make a decision.”

The former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate recently stopped in Israel on her way back from giving a speech in India and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But she has also confused Jewish neoconservatives who admired her outspoken embrace of American exceptionalism and a strong U.S. role overseas with her May 2 speech in Colorado advocating a lower international profile for the United States.

“We can’t fight every war, we can’t undo every injustice in the world,” she said in that speech, which was first reported by Politico.

That incensed Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist who had been one of Palin’s earliest champions among Jews. Rubin wrote that Palin’s fecklessness suggested superficiality.

“Her views then and perhaps now don’t spring from a well-grounded understanding of foreign policy but from briefing cards,” Rubin wrote. “Change the cards, and presto, a new foreign policy! To the dismay of many who saw great potential in her, she chose not to immerse herself in issues and put meat on the bones of her intuitive policy positions.”

Her speech also drew expressions of concern from William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, previously a strong backer of Palin.

But policy positions aside, Jewish Republicans question Palin’s seriousness in part because she has not vigorously reached out to Jewish Republican activists and donors. When visiting Israel, Palin snubbed the Republican Jewish Coalition’s well-oiled Israel program for candidates thinking of a run for office.

George W. Bush’s 1998 trip, before running for president, was considered critical to formulating his adamant pro-Israel views while he was in office. In more recent years, the RJC has hosted former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Steinberg said that assessing the seriousness of Republican candidates when it comes to Jews comes down to “Show me the donors.”

By that measure, he said, count Romney as a contender. He has at his side Lewis Eisenberg, a former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a close ally of Netanyahu’s, and Mel Sembler, a leader in the RJC and a major donor to the Bush campaigns.

“The real Jewish impact on the Republican Party is on the fundraising side,” said Steinberg, who noted also that Romney has become deeply conversant with Middle East policy. “And now Romney has recruited the best fund-raisers in the Republican Party.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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