Voters should feel confident in Sarah Palin support of Israel, Republican Jewish leaders and other GOP figures argued on Tuesday. Not because of the Alaska Governor's policy statements, a proclaimed understanding of the Middle East, or relationships with regional leaders. But because she keeps a small Israeli flag in the corner of her office window.
In back to back sessions in Minneapolis, GOP officials came to the embattled Palin's aid, saying that - scant record aside - Jews should feel confident in John McCain's VP choice. A flag was their defense.
"I think it is extremely telling," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, "that if you are looking to get some insights into how people think, we came across a video of an interview that was done in Alaska, some sort of outdoors program. Some guy interviewing her as she was climbing up glaciers or something like that. Part of the interview took place in the governor's office in Juneau. What was really telling is that in one point in the interview there was a close up of her and you can see over her shoulder there was a flag of Israel in her window. I can assure all of you that is not done to appease the extraordinarily large Jewish community in Juneau. The fact that she has chosen to keep a flag of Israel on her wall tells her she has Israel in her heart."
This, even fellow Republicans admit, is the extent of their argument on Palin's Israel record. In interviews with several attendees of a later event, none could name a single position that the Alaska Governor has made on the Middle East conflict. As the Nation's Ari Berman pointed out
"[Palin's] issues page lists nothing on foreign policy, nor Israel. Even Brooks himself acknowledged that there was not much of a paper record. But he and other GOP officials took solace in the mini-flag that rested in her Juneau headquarters.
"A number of people have told me that by sheer accident that in an interview in her office you know what flag she had in addition to the flags of Alaska and the United States of America?" said Dennis Prager, a syndicated conservative talk show host, during an event with Republican governors. "It was the flag of Israel. And then Congressman Wexler has the chutzpa, the chutzpa to call her an enemy of the state of Israel."
Off at the buffet table - a spread of Wolfgang Puck lamb chops, duck, white rice, and sautéed string beans - an attendee screamed out in horror: "Oh my God."
If there was concern over Palin's rocky roll out and the general mystery that still surrounds her selection, the crowd and the speakers did their best to hide it. Loud cheers came whenever her name was mentioned. But Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman did offer something of an admission to the controversies that have erupted around the presumptive Republican nominee. "She is going through a little challenge right now."
In the end, the best defense seemed to be to deflect attention. Sonny Purdue, the conservative governor of Georgia reminded attendees that: "ladies and gentleman, it won't be the vice president sitting across from these leaders."
Indeed, he added, "there is a clear choice between a leader who has served his nation and who will continue to protect the United States and the nation of Israel. And that leader is John McCain."
Then, in an odd moment, he rallied the predominantly Jewish crowd: "Get evangelic about that."
UPDATE: MSNBC reports that Palin, accompanied by Sen. Joe Lieberman, met with the board of directors of AIPAC today. "We had a good productive discussion on the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship," said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block, "and we were pleased that Gov. Palin expressed her deep, personal, and lifelong commitment to the safety and well-being of Israel."