On a visit to Israel, Ben Smith makes note of an interesting trend. He reports that while most Israelis don’t seem to have any preference for which Republican they want to win the presidential nomination, Israeli settlers are huge fans of Sarah Palin. Smith surmises that this is because they relate on a personal level to the former Alaska governor and also appreciate her vocal support for settlements:
Aside from a sort of general sympathy between settlers — who see themselves as frontiersmen of sorts — and the former Alaska governor, they’ve also gotten specific — if somewhat hazy — encouragement from Palin.
She said in 2009 that “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”
She also wrote this month to new members of Congress that Jerusalem is “not a settlement,” which is also the Obama administration’s formal line.
Palin’s first argument about an increasing number of Jews making aliyah is slightly off-target. There hasn’t been a recent major surge in American Jews moving to Israel, and most of the Jews who do move there don’t reside in the settlements. Also, many Israelis would argue that legal ownership of the land gives them the right to expand the settlements regardless of population growth.
While I agree with Smith’s point that Palin’s popularity is partially due to her opinions on the settlements, I think a more significant trend is that she’s viewed as a sort of antagonist to President Obama. Many of the other potential Republicans presidential nominees are strong supporters of Israel. The difference is that few have gotten as much attention as Palin for publicly challenging Obama, and none of them have run on a presidential ticket against him.
Obama’s approval rating has hovered in the single digits in Israel, and it’s certainly lower than that among settlers. The president has been criticized for demanding a freeze in settlement construction as a precondition for peace talks, and his relationship with President Benjamin Netanyahu has been notoriously icy.
Palin represents the anti-Obama — she is the loudest opposition voice that the GOP has at the moment. Given that, it makes sense that the settlers approve.