Sarah Palin's trip to Israel no laughing matter

By Stephen Herbits, March 24, 2011

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's trip to Israel this week was important for her, but it was even more important for Israel and its relationship with the United States.

A trip to Israel is a rite of passage for American politicians seeking higher office, and a parade of potential Republican presidential nominees has already made the trip. Governor Palin's supporters insist the trip improves credibility with evangelical Christians and Republican Jews. Detractors mock as odd the closed nature of the visit - there was very little press availability, and the non-pilgrimage to Bethlehem where her motorcade was turned around at the last minute is being used to highlight her lack of foreign policy credentials.

But this cacophony of political nonsense detracts from the importance of her visit for the relationship between the US and Israel: America remains Israel's strongest and most strategic ally.

However, that relationship cannot be taken for granted. Public opinion and political advantage has changed frequently in the United States since 2006. Given myriad new political challenges in the Middle East, US reliance on Middle Eastern oil, and the moves to dramatically reduce America's federal budget, the potential erosion of US support for Israel is very real and can cost the Jewish state financially, militarily, diplomatically and politically. Israel needs America to remain a proactive, strong and a reliable ally.

Visiting and being an expressive supporter of the Jewish state remains a prerequisite for establishing a foreign policy role in the US.

Whether or not Governor Palin's trip to Israel does more to burnish her foreign policy credentials than her claim that she could see Russia from her house, or her speech in India this week, remains to be seen as the 2012 presidential race begins in earnest. It is doubtful that her visit will be the item to catapult her past other leading contenders. The true test for her will be not what happened on the visit, but what substance she contributes to the Israeli dialogue and to the broader Middle East conversation.

The visit was a success for Israel

Governor Palin is an energetic, vocal and recognised political leader in the US. Whether one supports her or not, having her voice added to those who support the state of Israel is a very good thing. By that measure, her visit was a success for the Jewish people and for Israel.

Stephen Herbits is former secretary general of the WJC and former assistant to several US defence secretaries

Last updated: 12:45pm, March 24 2011