Friday, September 5, 2008

The Veepstakes: Biden, Palin, Golda and the Jews

‘Tis time to vet the Veeps. And Golda.

Some have expressed concern over Sen. Biden’s occasional independent streak in Israel-related votes. See this week’s JTA article, “Biden on the line: Israel needs to decide on Iran, AIPAC does not represent the entire Jewish community.” Note that after that piece came out, an AIPAC spokesperson immediately issued this comment: “Joe Biden is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship; he has been a staunch supporter of U.S. aid to Israel; he is a leader in the fight against Palestinian terrorism, and is a vocal advocate of the special relationship between the two democracies. We look forward to continuing to work with him in the Senate or in the White House.”

Gov. Palin is another matter. Since her views on foreign policy are virtually unknown, bloggers and news organizations have been working overtime to fill the information gap. Some articles that have appeared this week:

ANALYSIS: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews The Jewish Journal of greater L.A;
Palin Nomination Stirs, Worries Jewish Delegates New York Jewish Week

She met with AIPAC leaders on Tuesday, after which an AIPAC spokesperson commented: "Gov. Palin expressed her deep, personal and lifelong commitment to the safety and well-being of Israel.”

It is not surprising that AIPAC would say that (they are not idiots - the woman may be the next vice president...and she packs heat - did you see that bearskin on her office couch?) and there are reasons to believe that her voting or veto record would be very pro-Israel, to the degree that Israel ever comes up in the Alaskan legislature. The Christian right is perhaps more solidly pro-Israel than even the Jews.

But there are lots of questions that will need to be answered over time, including whether she really did support Pat Buchanan, and whether, in JTA’s words she has a looming pastor problem because she listened without objection to a Jew-for-Jesus pastor about how terrorism was used against the Jewish people as divine sanction for their not accepting Jesus. (see also Palin And The Jews from The Atlantic Online)

I am skeptical about these rumors just as I was about all the Obama stuff that is still circulating. And I’ve never held people culpable for what they happen to hear a pastor say, even when it is their pastor. We clergy have been known to go out on limbs from time to time, but I certainly don’t assume blind acceptance, much less obedience, on the part of every congregant. (It would be nice though…)

I like Brad Hirschfield’s comments on Beliefnet. “There are real questions to be asked of the nominee, about many topics, but clouding that process with the fear and resentment that are evoked in so many Jews whenever anyone pushes the "Jesus button", is not going to help any of us get the answers we need.”

So we won’t push the Jesus panic button – yet – but she is clearly miles from the Jewish mainstream on social issues. One glance at that stuffed bear on her office couch pretty much told me that I would not be serving bean sprouts to her in my Sukkah. Creationism, gun control, environmentalism and choice are among the areas of greatest concern (along with McCain’s willingness to pander to a constituency that he had built a reputation for standing up to).

I think discussion of her parenting decisions is absolutely fair game. That's part of being in the public eye. I know full well that the decisions I make regarding my children have a public impact, which doesn't mean that I will seek to choose the path that "looks good" for me professionally. There are often uncomfortable compromises to make (I was once criticized for letting my kids celebrate Halloween), and I've always felt that family should come first and whenever possible, public people should protect their families rather than parade them. That applies by the way, to Hockey Dads as well as Hockey Moms. While I don't think the media should be digging for dirt on the Palin kids, their mom has put them in a position where that will inevitably happen, and at the worst possible time for one of them. The kids were front and center all week long, and that was by design.

Just as a presidential candidate can be judged on how he decides to select a VP, so can any public figure, male or female, be evaluated on big parenting decisions. Golda Meir was a horrible grandparent, who completely disowned her special needs grandchild (a cousin of mine - ask me about it some time, or read a new biography, "Wall of Iron, Heart of Stone.") It didn't disqualify her from being Prime Minister, but it is relevant information that, for the most part, Israeli voters didn't have. You'll be shocked when you read about why she did what she did: pure, selfish vengeance. When you are choosing someone who could send your child into harms way, you want to know all about that person, and if that person puts her own career ambitions over family, I don't want that person to be my President, Vice President, Rabbi, Mayor or Dog Catcher.

Sometimes, "putting country first" can be a surprisingly selfish thing to do - especially if it means subjecting one's family to a scrutiny that they might not be able bear. (Why do I keep coming back to bears??)

It’s nice to know that she has cordial relations with the Alaskan Jewish community. I was in Alaska last summer and wanted to meet the Jewish community, but he was busy that day.

The Jerusalem Post summarized the situation succinctly: "Picking through the trivia and smears for substance, there's this: Palin, 44, has genuinely warm relations with her Jewish constituents - 6,000 or so - and appears to have a fondness for Israel. She also comes down on the strongly conservative side on social issues where Jews tend to trend liberal."

Where this all shakes out will be, of course, in the most sacred shrine of all Jewish democracy: the voting booths of south Florida. If Sarah Palin can convince the Bubbes of Boca that she is Golda Meir on skates, then all power to her! Once you read about the real Golda, you might begin to agree.

You know what they used to say about the difference between Golda and a Pit Bull…. Well, let’s just say that she didn’t wear much lipstick.

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