CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL: Is That a Prayer Shawl?, Lieberman Draws Fire, Huckabee’s Plan

Published December 19, 2007, issue of December 21, 2007.
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Is That a Prayer Shawl?

It turns out that Mitt Romney wasn’t the only one wearing his faith on his sleeve in Texas earlier this month: One of the former governor’s top Jewish donors has raised eyebrows for showing up at the GOP contender’s speech on faith in religious garb.

David Nierenberg, an investor from Washington State who serves as a national finance chair of the Romney campaign, wore a yarmulke and tallit, or prayer shawl, to the event. Photographs of him turned up in newspapers across the country, and some Jewish readers have jeered his choice of attire.

“Staged? You bet,” wrote one commenter, with the screen name ShakerSquare, on the Web site of The Cleveland Plain Dealer after seeing the Nierenberg’s photo, which accompanied an article produced by The Associated Press. “A prayer shawl is just that — a shawl worn only when praying. Completely inappropriate to wear it to a political event.”

Alan Bernstein, who attended the speech as a reporter for the Houston Jewish Chronicle, said he noticed Nierenberg and thought that his outfit looked like a publicity stunt.

“I didn’t see an imam with flowing robes, [and] I didn’t see anyone waving a miter or waving a crucifix,” Bernstein said. “It’s wacky.” Nierenberg could not be reached for comment.

— Jennifer Siegel

Lieberman Draws Fire

Senator Joseph Lieberman’s surprise endorsement of Republican presidential contender John McCain this week brought a wave of personal attacks on Lieberman in the blogosphere, many with sharply anti-Israel and even antisemitic overtones.

The posters’ politics appeared to range from left-wing Democrat to isolationist Republican to unidentifiable, but they shared a common theme of linking Lieberman’s Jewish background with disloyalty.

“This Neocon Zionist is a Right-Wing Jew’s Jew,” one reader wrote on the CNN politicker blog. On The Huffington Post, a popular liberal Web site, one commenter wrote, “All these pro-Israel types should move to Israel. We have enough problems in the US without having to bend over for Israel every time some AIPAC funded politician tells us to.”

Roy Sekoff, editor of The Huffington Post, said the site prescreens readers’ comments on blogs but not the responses to news stories such as the Lieberman report. Sekoff said the site had dismissed one blog moderator for letting through extreme comments about Lieberman. The editor said that he found the comments “disappointing but not surprising,” and emphasized that they represented a very small percentage of the site’s 4.5 million monthly visitors.

Lieberman, a longtime Democrat from Connecticut, was targeted for defeat by liberals before the 2006 elections over his support of the Iraq War. He lost the Democratic primary but ran successfully as an Independent. He now caucuses with Senate Democrats, giving them the 51st vote needed for a majority.

Democratic officials interviewed by the Forward tried to downplay the anti-Lieberman outburst, arguing that Web site comments represent only marginal individuals.

Suzanne Kurtz, spokeswoman for the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Lieberman’s endorsements remind Jewish voters that “issues of national security and the fight against radical Islam are of vital importance and can’t be overlooked.”

— Nathan Guttman

Huckabee’s Plan

If presidential contender Mike Huckabee has his way, it could soon be a crime for American-Israeli dual citizens to use their Israeli passports to enter Israel or to vote in Israeli elections.

The former Arkansas governor’s new immigration platform calls for penalizing dual citizenship through “civil and/or criminal penalties on American citizens who illegitimately use their dual status.” For Americans of many ethnic backgrounds — including American Jews who are also citizens of Israel — any move to punish dual citizens may cause resentment.

“This would create a huge problem,” said Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress. “Some nations assume that citizenship is by birth. Some states won’t even allow you to renounce your citizenship. This could leave a lot of people out in the cold.”

In recent weeks, Huckabee has surged ahead of his Republican rivals in Iowa and South Carolina but found himself defending his past record on immigration, including his support as governor for scholarships to the children of illegal immigrants. The effort to clamp down on dual citizenship is part of a broader “Secure America Plan” that Huckabee proposed December 7.

In the 1967 case Afroyim v. Rusk, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans citizens did not lose their citizenship by voting in an Israeli election. But Mark Krikorian, the author of the proposal that served as the basis for Huckabee’s plan, argued that in an increasingly globalized world, holding multiple citizenships creates “supercitizens” with uncomfortably split loyalties.

“It’s the political equivalent of bigamy,” said Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies.

— Jennifer Siegel

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