This Much We Know: Alaskans Love Israel

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published September 04, 2008, issue of September 12, 2008.
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But where does she stand on Israel?

The question, of course, is directed at John McCain’s choice for vice president of the United States. Please note well: This is neither an endorsement of Sarah Palin nor a refutation of the Alaskan governor’s candidacy. The readers of this paper are perfectly competent to make their own decisions without urging or even recommendation by a scribbler from Boston.

No, my concern here is with noting how fatuous it is to begin an inquiry into a candidate’s readiness for such high office with the Israel question. It is also a reflection on political anorexia.

Political anorexia? The Web site OnTheIssues.org is as comprehensive a compendium of the views of candidates as we have, and if you want to know what Palin really thinks about the great issues facing our nation, it’s a terrific place to browse. And here is what you will learn:

On foreign policy: “No issue stance yet recorded by OnTheIssues.org.” On homeland security: “No issue stance yet recorded.” On free trade, on government reform, on immigration, on drugs: “No issue stance yet recorded.” On jobs, on families and children, on principles and values, on technology: “No issue stance yet recorded.” On war and peace, on welfare and poverty: “No issue stance yet recorded.” (These may no longer be entirely accurate; in the days since her selection, Palin’s Web site has begun to be fleshed out.)

Now I do not want to exaggerate here. The governor is not a blank slate, not at all. She has positions on a number of issues.

For example, as quoted in both the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Daily News, she is opposed to all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. On teaching creationism and intelligent design, her position is “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And, you know, I say this, too, as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution. It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.”

No to stem cell research, no to civil rights for gay couples, no to gun control — including praise for the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to overturn Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns — yes to the death penalty. She believes “that health care must be market-and business-driven, rather than restricted by government.”

A year ago, soon after visiting Alaska National Guard troops in Kuwait, her press office released the following statement: “Governor Sarah Palin today informed Alaska National Guardsmen and women serving in combat that big game hunting opportunities will be available when they return from combat zones this fall.”

And so forth.

Still, she’s a woman, and that counts for something. Think of Margaret Thatcher, of Golda Meir, of Indira Gandhi, of Angela Merkel, of Aun Sung Suu Kyi, of Mary Robinson. Can’t you see Sarah Palin joining that august sorority after four years of on-the-job training — or sooner, if, heaven forbid, need be?

We all know about that hypothetical 3 a.m. call that Hillary Clinton used to such good effect during the primary season. Surely it’s fair to ask the less melodramatic question, not at all hypothetical: How comfortable will you be knowing it’s Palin sitting at the side of the president at 3 p.m. when disaster strikes, crisis erupts, tragedy befalls us? And who would you prefer take the awesome call when the president himself is indisposed?

Enough of that. I know what you’re waiting for. You’re waiting to learn where she does stand on Israel. Even if it isn’t the first question that comes to mind, it’s not entirely trivial.

So let me be perfectly clear: I do not for a second accept the rumors of Palin’s association with Islamic terrorism. The slender fact that if you spell “Alaska” half-backwards you come up with Al Aksa, the name of Islam’s third most holy shrine, right there on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, is surely inadequate as evidence of such an association. So scotch the rumors; do not pass them on.

Instead, pay attention to what Jewish sources and friends of Israel in the United States told Israel’s YNet.com just the other day: “the Alaska governor has maintained very warm relations with the small Jewish community in the state, which comprises roughly 4,000 people.”

Moreover, and this one’s the killer, “Palin [has] met with Israeli Foreign Ministry official David Akov, who served as Israel’s consul general for the Pacific Northwest Region. During the meeting, the two discussed cooperation between Israel and Alaska on various issues, such as counterterrorism efforts. Akov invited Palin to visit Israel and the governor expressed her desire to do so. She also reportedly told Akov that “‘Alaska’s residents love Israel.’”

Awesome.

And one more thing, almost delicious: “The winter sky of Alaska is a Talmud of gray, an inexhaustible commentary on a Torah of rain clouds and dying light,” Michael Chabon writes in his “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” so brilliantly set in Alaska, so idiosyncratic. Oh to know what, if anything, Sarah Palin took away from Chabon’s book.

What can a devout Christian understand of the chaos of Chabon’s imagined universe? Or, perhaps, what does an Alaskan get that remains alien to those of us so decisively non-Alaskan?


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