Debate rages over Palin’s Israel credentials

By Nathan Guttman, September 4, 2008

John McCain's controversial choice for vice president, Sarah Palin, made her first steps toward strengthening ties with the American Jewish community amid criticism from Democrats and praise from Republicans.

Ms Palin, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska, took time the day before formally receiving the Party's nomination to meet with leaders of the pro-Israel lobby and thus highlight her credentials with the Jewish community.

Her previous political posts in Alaska provided Ms Palin with only a few chances to meet local Jews and deal with foreign-policy issues. This backdrop provided political rivals of the new Republican candidate with an opportunity to dig for remarks and actions in her past that might put her at odds with Jewish voters.
Florida Democrat Robert Wexler, a supporter of presidential candidate Barack Obama, was quick to condemn Ms Palin's nomination because in the 2000 elections she allegedly backed presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, known for his harsh anti-Israel rhetoric and branded by many Jewish leaders as holding antisemitic views.

"Her nomination is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans," Mr Wexler said.

In response, the McCain campaign explained that Ms Palin only served as host when Mr Buchanan visited her town in Alaska on his election tour and was never a supporter.

The National Jewish Democratic Council blasted Ms Palin because of her conservative views on abortions, stem-cell research and gay rights, issues about which Jewish voters tend to feel strongly. Others took issue with the decision of her church to give over the pulpit during one weekend to a representative of Jews for Jesus.

The Republican Jewish coalition quickly jumped to Ms Palin's defence, circulating a picture taken in her office during an interview in which an Israeli flag is seen hanging on her office wall, apparent proof of her strong feelings toward the Jewish state.

On Tuesday, on the sidelines of the convention, Ms Palin and Senator Joe Lieberman met lay leaders of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). The 45-minute meeting was devoted to stressing the candidate's strong support for Israel and according to both sides was a success.

Last updated: 12:58pm, September 19 2010