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Palin’s Israel Visit May be Political But it is not a Pure Pander

Sarah Palin has said and done a lot of the wrong things in the last several months. But today she made no missteps. The former Alaska governor is in Israel today, wondering why Israelis (and American Jews) are so defensive about asserting their rights (especially in Jerusalem) and taking on their critics.

Palin’s right about that, though one imagines that the discussion about her comments will center solely on her presidential ambitions. Her trip to the Jewish state does have some of the flavor of the traditional New York mayoral candidate tour that used to include mandatory visits to the three “I’s” — Ireland, Italy ,and Israel. As I’ve written before, showing respect for the sensibilities of the voters may be put down as pandering but it is also a manifestation of how democracy works in that it forces some politicians to at least pay lip service if not more to issues that they don’t actually care about. Those seeking examples of such a trip would do well to cite Haley Barbour’s visit to Israel, not to mention Barack Obama’s mandatory excursion during the 2008 presidential race intended to convince Jewish Democrats that, in spite of everything he had previously said and done, the candidate actually harbored positive feelings about Israel.

But to put down Palin’s Israel sojourn exclusively in that context would be unfair to her. Palin’s concern for Israel seems to have predated her parachuting into national politics in 2008 and is based as much if not more in her evangelical faith than in any delusion that she will attract many Jewish votes should she actually run for president. Indeed, that is part, though by no means all, of the reason why so many Jews distrust and dislike Palin. She has always worn her faith on her sleeve and her strong conservative Christian views have made her anathema to liberals even as those views have also been at the core of her down-the-line backing for the Jewish state. While it is not clear that she would be in Israel (after a stop in India) were she not a potential presidential candidate, she has enough of a record of pro-Israel statements that she is entitled to be taken at her word when she speaks of her affection for that nation.



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