Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is in Israel right now, which for some reason is perplexing to some in the chattering class back home. Taking the most cynical approach, Newsweek Jerusalem bureau chief Dan Ephron takes to the Daily Beast to explore what Palin might stand to gain politically from the visit:
For the former Alaska governor, the trip offers a chance to distinguish herself as more pro-Israel than other American politicians and, perhaps, to make amends for her “blood libel” gaffe in January that angered many Jews. Palin has already pointed out that President Obama has yet to visit Israel during more than two years in office. At a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she was expected to distance herself from the position of some fellow Tea Partiers—chiefly Congressman Rand Paul—in favor of cutting aid to Israel.
Leftists and left-wing groups which claim to speak for Jews complained about the “blood libel” nonsense at the time, but a.) that doesn’t necessarily translate to “many Jews,” and b.) I doubt Palin took that line of attack too seriously, considering the frequency with which both sides have used the term in the past. Attempting to compare favorably to Obama’s inattentiveness (and worse) to Israel is more likely, as is the idea that she’s distancing herself from Paul’s stances on that front, especially considering that she supported him.
After pointing out that left-wing tendencies among American Jews make Palin’s trip unlikely to win over many Jewish voters, Ephron suggests that Palin is really targeting a different constituency:
The evangelical community in America numbers tens of millions and votes overwhelmingly Republican. One of its arms, a John Hagee group called Christians United for Israel (also known by its acronym CUFI), now claims to be the biggest pro-Israel organization in America, larger even than AIPAC.
Ephron also speculates that Palin may be attempting to “burnish her famously weak foreign policy credentials,” or to attract donations from wealthy Jewish conservatives. None of this can be discounted, of course—all politicians are self-interested actors to some degree, of course. But allow me to suggest that a less cynical alternative.
Palin has reportedly told her guides that Israel tends to be too apologetic in the face of international criticism, and will dine tonight with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Supporters have previously noted that signs of her pro-Israel sentiments, such as a small Israeli flag in her gubernatorial office, predate her entry into national politics.
It may be that the primary message of Palin’s trip isn’t for anyone in this country at all, and that its goal is something more than political gain—that she wants to reassure the people of Israel that, in a world which has largely abandoned their nation to the wolves, there remain Americans who still value the friendship between our nations and understand that we must stand together against our common foe. That may not change “her 2012 game,” but doing the right thing does do wonders for the conscience.