For the first third of the 20th century the Jews of Germany were a comfortable, prosperous people, proud to be citizens of a powerful and modern European state. Even more than their German forebears, American Jews have made a secure and integrated place for themselves in this country, and have gathered significant political influence to protect their community and perceived interests. Nevertheless, as with the German Jews in the 1920s, wealth and comfort breed complacency. Complacency can produce a failure to recognize threats until it is too late.
In the following paragraphs, I will make the case that Sarah Palin may be the most dangerous figure to step onto the national political stage since Joseph McCarthy, and the political undercurrents upon which she rides are saturated with a deep and abiding strain of American anti-Semitism. This is not a simplistic slogan that "Palin is a Nazi" and we are on the verge of 1933. That was a unique time and every historical era unfolds in its own way. But Jews, who have worked and fought so hard to establish safe havens in the U.S.A. and in Israel, cannot afford to vote, out of ignorance, for politicians who will pave the way for the destruction of what they have built.
Until she was plucked from obscurity by John McCain and the Republican hierarchy Sarah Palin was the unknown governor of a remote state. By any measure, her qualifications to assume the presidency at a time of economic crisis and intractable war are questionable. But she was selected to "rally the base," which for the Republicans means the evangelical and fundamentalist right wing of the party.
Since her nomination, and despite her refusal to answer direct questions from the media, we have learned a good deal about her. Only weeks before joining McCain’s team, Palin sat in her church, the Wasilla Bible Church, and listened to a sermon by David Brickner, the executive director of Jews for Jesus, "a figure viewed with deep hostility by many Jewish organizations."
Brickner’s sermon described the conflict in the Middle East as the judgment of God for the "unbelief" of the Jews: "When Jesus was standing in that temple, He spoke that that judgment was coming, that there’s a reality to the judgment of unbelief. He said ‘I long to gather you, but...’ what? ‘You were unwilling.’ God never forces His way on human beings. And so because Jerusalem was unwilling to receive His grace, judgment was coming." Brickner specifically points to acts of terrorism against Jews as examples of God’s judgment; referring to his son’s recent trip to Israel he says, "When Isaac was in Jerusalem he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgmentyou can’t miss it."
Perhaps more offensive is Brickner’s assertion that because of Jews’ unbelief in Jesus, on Yom Kippur they have no confidence that their prayers will be heard and their sins forgiven (in contrast to born-again Christians, who are absolutely certain): "there has been, and there is today, no confidence of atonement, no confidence of forgiveness. If you were to stand outside of a synagogue on the Day of Atonement and ask those leaving the service, ‘Did God hear your prayers? Were your sins forgiven on this most holy of all days?’ the answer would be, ‘I hope. I hope, but who can know ?’ Who indeed, but those of us who have come under the wings of the Almighty, who’ve entered into that place of grace where forgiveness is assured for the dilemma of human life?"
Some may say that pointing out the fact that Palin sat happily through this sermon would be guilt by association, the very tactic that the McCain campaign has been resorting to by pounding on Obama’s negligible contact with William Ayers and his more substantial connection to Rev. Jeremiah Wright (more on that below.) But Palin’s attentiveness to Jew-disdain in her church is of a piece with the recently revealed news that she was a supporter of Pat Buchanan in the 2000 presidential primaries. From an AP report in 1999:
"Pat Buchanan brought his conservative message of a smaller government and an America First foreign policy to Fairbanks and Wasilla on Friday as he continued a campaign swing through Alaska. Buchanan's strong message championing states rights resonated with the roughly 85 people gathered for an Interior Republican luncheon in Fairbanks.
Among those sporti ng Buchanan buttons were Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin and state Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage."
Buchanan himself told Chris Matthews on Hardball that Palin and her husband were pro-Buchanan "brigaders" in 1996. Buchanan, who once said that "Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory," has been crusading for many years for a U.S. foreign policy less influenced by Israeli interests and for a Republican party less attentive to the ideas of Jewish neoconservatives. Though he claims he is not anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, readers can judge for themselves on a page of his quotes that the ADL has compiled. Regardless of the depth of Sarah Palin’s commitment to Pat Buchanan in 1996 and 2000, her affinity for his rhetoric and his ideas is a clear indication of where her sympathies lie.
Gov. Palin has no foreign policy experience whatsoever. She has no record on Israel, and she didn't even have a passport in 2007 when she was preparing to take a trip abroad to visit troops from Alaska's National Guard. Is this a person who is prepared to take on the challenges of the Middle East?
She has shown her attraction to fringe causes in her support (and her husband’s membership in) the Alaska Independence Party, which advocates Alaska’s secession from the United States, and was founded by Joe Vogler, who said that "The fires of hell are a frozen glacier compared to my hatred for the American government."
Sarah Palin is a clever and appealing politician with a good sense of humor and a natural ability to connect with common people. But if she becomes vice-president she will be one heartbeat behind a man who is 72 years old and has a history of melanoma. Even if John McCain does not die in office, Palin will immediately become the front runner for the next Republican nomination.
The question that every American Jew must ask before they vote is, "Who are my true friends?" Based on the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" some have found it tactically useful to ally themselves with evangelical Christian organizations that support Israel because of the role they believe it is destined to play in the New Testament prophecy of end-times. But this is a very dangerous game, as we have seen in the case of Rev. John Hagee, leader of Christians United for Israel and a favorite of AIPAC. Hagee was one of the first evangelicals to endorse John McCain, but McCain had to distance himself from the Reverend when it came to light that Hagee proposed the theory that "anti-Semitism, and thus the Holocaust, was the fault of Jews themselvesthe result of an age old divine curse incurred by the ancient Hebrews through worshiping idols and pas sed, down the ages, to all Jews now alive."
If Sarah Palin were to become president she would be the weakest, most inexperienced person ever to rise to that office. She would, like George W. Bush, follow her instincts and listen to people who think like her; in her case, people like Pat Buchanan, James Hagee, Ralph Reed and James Dobson.
In fact, we have already seen how easy it is to put the words of an anti-Semite into her mouth. In her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention she said, "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity," attributing the words to "a writer." It turns out that writer was Westbrook Pegler, a once widely read columnist whom Marty Peretz in The New Republic has described as a “native American fascist.” Pegler maintained that American Jews of Eastern European descent were “instinctively sympathetic to Communism, however outwardly respectable they appeared.” (New York Times, June 25, 1969, p. 43). In 1945, when New York State outlawed quotas that restricted Jews and other minorities in medical establishments, Pegler attacked the new law as “pernicious heresy against the ancient privilege of human beings to hate.” (R. Kahn, The Era, 1947-1957, p. 44) It is reported that Pegler had a habit of calling Jews “geese” because they, in his words, hiss when they talk, gulp down everything before them, and foul everything in their wake. (Diane McWhorter, “Revisiting the controversial career of Westbrook Pegler,” Slate, March 4, 2004).
You do not have to believe that Sarah Palin shares these sentiments to understand the danger she represents to the Jewish community. The point is that she is a pliable mouthpiece into which a speech writer, working for the McCain campaign, can insert the words and the ideas of a Jew-hating neo-fascist. If Sarah Palin ever rose to the presidency, the implications for American Jews would be shard to foresee.
We do know that the coming years are likely to be hard economic times for many Americans, due to the financial debacle brought on by Republican crony capitalism. It is at times like these that anti-Semitism tends to increase, as people who are suffering look for scapegoats. How would Sarah Palin react if her friends on the “Christian” right begin pointing fingers at "the bankers," those people like Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs?
Finally, a few words on the lies and false rumors about Barack Obama that the McCain campaign has been spreading. We learned in the NY Times this week that the man who invented the lie that Barack Obama is a Muslim is Andy Martin, a sociopathic political operative who called a judge in a bankruptcy case "a crooked, slimy Jew who has a history of lying and thieving common to members of his race."
Yes, Obama attended the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, because that was the church that was most actively working for the welfare of his community. But Barack Obama is of a different generation and a different mindset than Wright or the generation of black leaders like Jessie Jackson. He is a man who literally embodies racial diversity: his skin is black but he was raised by his white mother and grandparents; he spent much of his youth in Hawaii, Indonesia and Kansas. He rose to be President of the Harvard Law Reviewan honor that would make any Jewish mother proud. He is a man who understands w hat Jews and African Americans sharea history of prejudice and p ersecution, and a proud history of working hand in hand during the civil rights era of Martin Luther King, one of finest moments in American history.
As he told the congregation at Rodeph Shalom Synagogue in Philadelphia, "This time - in this election - it's time for fundamental change in Washington. To make that change, we need to draw on a spirit that is deeply embedded in the Jewish traditiona view that says we all have a responsibility to do our part to repair this world; that we can take care of on e another and build strong communities grounded in faith and family; that repairing the world is a task that each of us takes up every day. That is how we are going to meet the challenges we face."
And what about Israel, and the right-wing slanders that Obama, with Joe Biden by his side, is not a true supporter of Israel? Here I offer you the view from the Israeli press. Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz wrote after Obama’s visit to Israel, “Barack Obama's big speech on Israel is now over, and as expected, the candidate made no secret of his support and dedication to the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel
.Today, he sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Giuliani. At least rhetorically, Obama passed any test anyone might have wanted him to pass. So, he is pro-Israel. Period.”
And in the Jerusalem Post, Alon Pinkas concluded, “The point is, an American president is ‘Pro-Israel’ when he profoundly appreciates the basic friendship with Israel, when he respects Israel as a democracy, when he truly believes in Israel as an idea and an enterprise. When his core value system and strategic outlook is similar to that of Israelis. In this respect, if Barack Obama is not ‘pro-Israel,’ then neither are most Israelis.”
I urge you to visit the websites of Jewish Americans for Obama and the Jewish Council for Education and Research to learn how Barack Obama has the potential to be our most transformative president since Franklin Roosevelt.
We are at a crossroads in American history. Since Ronald Reagan--and intensively under George W. Bush the economic, social and political divides in our country have grown deeper and more dangerous. We need to heal the wounds, restore the economic foundations for a stable and prosperous middle class. The status of American Jews rose under the broad-based prosperity that grew out of Roosevelt’s New Deal. The right-wing Republican project of dismantling the programs that created the middle class has pushed us towards a country of haves and have-nots. Though many individual Jews have prospered in recent decades, fundamental Jewish values, and enlightened self-interest, demand that Jews stand up for social justice and the economic well-being of all American working people. America needs health care, good manufacturing jobs, a visionary energy policy to lead us out of the age of oil, and a political system that responds to the needs of the people, not only the powerful corporations. On every one of these critical issues, Barack Obama is the superior candidate. This is the simple truth that every American Jew must consider before they cast their vote.
David Eskolsky Patt
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