Perhaps it was inevitable. Ever since her address at the Republican National Convention two years ago, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has been popular among many Orthodox Jews. A month after the convention, a “Sarah Palin Wig” went on sale on Sheitel.com. Now, as worry increases in the Jewish community over President Obama’s Middle East policies, a group of Jews have banded together to create Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin (JewsforSarah.com).
Headed by Benyamin Korn – former national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America and editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent – Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin bills itself as “an independent group of academic, religious and political leaders, dedicated to promoting consideration of Gov. Sarah Palin’s political positions in the wider American Jewish community.”
The Jewish Press: What about Sarah Palin inspired you to found this organization?
Korn: Sarah Palin is a tremendous – perhaps once in a generation – political figure. Despite what her detractors and enemies keep repeating endlessly, she is brilliant, charismatic, on top of the issues, and a leader fully capable of taking her place on the world stage. She is an authentic American and the kind of popular and populist politician who can reach the hearts and minds of the average American voter.
Why, though, start a specifically Jewish organization in support of Sarah Palin?
We wanted to break down barriers to the serious consideration of her ideas within the Jewish community. There is intellectual snobbery reagrading Palin since she’s not Princeton- or Harvard-educated. Some people are also worried about her reputed association with right-wing figures from beyond the pale. These kinds of issues have been raised in order to try alienating Jewish voters from her. We aim to change that.
Also, many Jewish voters are concerned about Obama’s treatment of Israel. One of the key factors in the upcoming elections will be swing and independent voters, and Jews are very heavily swing voters and independent voters. In 1980, 60 percent of Jimmy Carter’s [Jewish supporters from 1976] abandoned him to vote for the most conservative candidate of our era, Ronald Reagan.
So we want to get the message out in the Jewish community that it is time to take the gavel back from [Senate Majority Leader] Harry [Reid] and [House Speaker] Nancy [Pelosi], as Sarah Palin put it recently in a speech in Chicago, and time to ensure that the present occupant of the White House is a one-term president.
Finally, it is time that the Orthodox community be given a voice in national politics by being able to show that we not only support [Palin’s political agenda], but we especially connect with her family-values agenda. That part of her social conservatism that may make other Jews skittish is a kind of religious and family outlook on life that we, as Orthodox Jews, share.
But considering the whole saga with Palin’s daughter during the 2008 presidential campaign, can you really say that Orthodox Jews share her family values?
She supported her daughter having the baby even though she conceived the child before she was married. There was the expectation that the daughter was going to marry this guy. It didn’t turn out that way – I’m sure to Governor Palin’s sorrow. I’m not saying she’s perfect. I’m saying that her values are basically our values.
Earlier you referred to Palin as “brilliant.” Is that really a fair description considering her reputation as someone who is out of her league when it comes to national politics?
It’s completely ridiculous. Spend ten minutes listening to the woman give a speech and all of those epithets about her are just demolished.
What about her infamous interview with Katie Couric?
I think it’s true that she’s better as a public speaker than in an interview format. Every politician has things they can improve upon. Obama, who’s a fantastic speaker, is terrible once you get him off the teleprompter.
If Palin is truly brilliant, as you say, why is it that so many think of her as mediocre, at best?
It’s politically motivated. Look, I spent my whole life among highly-educated Jews, and I don’t hear anyone speaking more truth or sense than this woman. Now, there are people who have more academic backgrounds than she does. She’s not Harvard Law School. But you don’t need to be to run a country. You could be Harvard Law School and not understand who this country’s enemies are, or you could be the governor of the great state of Alaska and understand who this country’s enemies are. Who would you rather have leading the country?
Your father, Bertram Korn, was a prominent Reform rabbi and a noted author. And yet, you are Orthodox and a conservative activist. How did that come about?
I wasn’t always right wing. I was raised in the heart of the liberal Jewish community. I went to Quaker school for 12 years. In college I was a left-wing campus activist, and I voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. But in the 1980s, I had a Jewish and political awakening and became involved with Zionist politics and began to publicly identify as an Orthodox Jew.
What caused the awakening?
I was studying for the State Department examinations to be a Foreign Service officer. And, if you really take it seriously, that kind of studying forces you to ask yourself a different set of questions than you typically ask in college. In college you look at any situation and say, “Okay, what’s wrong with this picture?” But if you take the job of representing this country seriously, then you start thinking about policies that are going to affect the lives of thousands, or even millions, of people.
Instead of asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” you ask a deeper question, which is, “Given the limited number of ways in this real world to do things right, what should I do?” It’s a more mature kind of question. Once I started asking that kind of question, I began to see the hollowness of the left because a lot of what goes on in the left is fashionable political posturing without having any real responsibility to anybody.
And the religious awakening?
I was one of the Jews for whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, created a Jewish revolution. I met a Lubavitcher in the film department at Temple University where I was a graduate student in 1985 and [matters developed from there].
Back to Palin: How can you be sure that she won’t modify her views once in office? President George W. Bush, for example, promised to move the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before he was elected. Once in office, though, he changed his mind.
That’s a good question, and you can never say for sure how a politician will respond to the pressures once they achieve a very high office. But what you can say is that Sarah Palin’s heart and soul are wrapped up in love of Israel and the Jewish people.
Earlier this month, Palin went to the Time 100 gala of the most influential people with her husband and three of her kids. It was like a frum family. This is the glittery of the world at Lincoln Center, and Palin shows up with her husband and three kids. You got to love it. But on top of that, she also wore a pin of the American and Israeli flags. Why did she need to do that? The answer, of course, is she did not. But this woman clearly loves Israel, and that’s what’s important.