The decision last week by organizers (the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations) of the anti-Iran rally in New York City to disinvite Governor Sarah Palin after Senator Hillary Clinton backed out in a huff has set off a torrent of negative reaction — which the media, not surprisingly, has chosen largely to ignore. It also may have opened the door for the McCain-Palin ticket to attack Barack Obama for placing partisan politics above national security and support for Israel.
Many prominent American Jews and a number of media outlets are labeling the action disgraceful.
The New York Post, noting that these rallies had taken place for years with the participation of political candidates of different parties, was among those labeling the decision to dump Palin a “disgrace,” explaining:
Rally organizers, trying to salvage the situation, then invited Palin’s counterpart on the Democratic ticket, Sen. Joe Biden. But his campaign turned thumbs down, reportedly citing a “longstanding commitment” to speak at a National Guard convention in Maryland. At which point the organizers, in a not-especially-gracious move, disinvited Palin — along with every other political official who’d been asked to speak, saying that would prevent their message from being “obscured” by the tumult.
Really? Such tumult as there might have been traces directly to the Democrats’ refusal to rise above partisan politics and share the public spotlight with a nationally prominent Republican. As Sen. John McCain rightly noted in a statement, the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose, to Israel and to America, is too great for the issue to be used as a political football. Hillary Clinton and the Obama campaign could have driven that point home by her appearance at Monday’s rally. But they chose instead to play politics.
The Post was not alone in expressing outrage. A local New York news report cited angry local reaction to reports that the organizers had been pressured — perhaps threatened with loss of tax exempt status — to disinvite Palin:
“This is insulting. This is embarrassing, especially to Gov. Palin, to me and I think it should be to every single New Yorker,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn, told CBS 2 HD.
Sources say the axes were out for Palin as soon as Sen. Clinton pulled out because she did not want to attend the same event as the Republican vice-presidential candidate. “I have never seen such raw emotion — on both sides,” said someone close to the situation. The groups sponsoring the rally against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at the UN were reportedly told, “it could jeopardize their tax exempt status” if they had Palin and not Clinton or Democratic VP candidate Joe Biden on hand. … “It’s an absolute shame that this has happened,” Hikind said. “To threaten organizations … to threaten the Conference of Presidents that if you don’t withdraw the invitation to Gov. Palin we’re going to look into your tax exempt status … that’s McCarthyism.”
The same story quoted president of “Hillary Now” Bob Kunst: “I’m absolutely appalled at the behavior of the Democrats. I’m a Democrat and for the first time in my life I’m going to vote Republican. I can’t take it anymore.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council took credit for nixing the invitation. And the leftwing J Street crowed over its victory: “We collected over 20,000 signatures in 24 hours asking Iran Unity rally organizer Malcolm Hoenlein to take Sarah Palin off the schedule for Monday’s rally, and he caved to our pressure on Thursday afternoon citing the fact that the rally had become too partisan.” They made clear that they viewed this as a victory for precisely the policy which Barack Obama favors: “smart diplomacy.” (MoveOn.org’s financier and godfather George Soros was an initial backer of J Street. Its board of advisors contains notable leftwing activists such as Matt Stoller, who previously blogged for Ned Lamont’s senatorial campaign and the netroot MyDD website, and Eric Alterman of the netroot attack group Media Matters, who recently was exposed for suggesting that a column on ABC News’ website was influenced by its Jewish reporter’s affiliations with other Jewish journalists. It also contains individuals such as Robert Malley, who served as an informal advisor to the Obama camp but was dismissed after his negotiations with Hamas were revealed.)
The reaction of a number of member groups of the Conference contacted by Pajamas Media ranged from frostiness to outrage. Those who responded to our inquiries indicated they had not even been consulted about the cancellation.
A spokesperson for the ADL responded bluntly — “We were not involved in the decision” — and did not respond to a request for further comment. Rabbi Robert Golub replied, “No, MERCAZ USA, the Zionist organization of the Conservative Movement, was not involved in the decision either to invite Governor Palin or now to disinvite her.”
Others were clearly upset or even furious.
Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), today sent a letter to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, strongly opposing the decision by the Conference of Presidents to disinvite Palin. The letter in part stated:
So while we cannot withdraw from the rally, we want to be very clear that we not only dissent from the decision to disinvite Governor Palin, but we condemn in no uncertain terms those within the Conference of Presidents who chose to impose their narrow partisan agenda on a very important undertaking. The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, as a member organization, was not consulted on the decision, as I’m sure was the case with many other members. I call for those who are responsible for this decision to step forward and speak in their own name and not hide behind the skirts of the Conference of Presidents. In disgracing themselves they disgrace us all.
Likewise, Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America issued a blistering letter calling the action a “shame and humiliation” for Jewish Americans:
The ZOA deeply regrets that certain Jewish groups and individuals believed the inadvertent benefit that would accrue to Sarah Palin outweighed the enormous benefit that Israel and the United States would receive when a vice-presidential candidate and others give visibility and power to this life and death issue.
It seems for these people politics and their personal political agenda were more important than Israel and America’s security. This wrong-headed action of canceling the appearance of major political leaders hurt Israel and the United States. Ahmadinejad must be delighted that those who oppose his policies are so divided they can’t even stand on the same stage to condemn him.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of the Israel Project, told Pajamas Media that her organization had pulled out of the Monday rally. By email she explained: “We had nothing to do with inviting or uninviting speakers and are distressed this happened.”
The National Council of Young Israel issued a statement, declaring, in part, that its organization is “deeply disturbed by the decision to rescind the invitation that had been extended to Alaska Governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin to participate in ‘The Rally to Stop Iran Now.’ Despite the fact that the National Council of Young Israel is one of the members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, one of the primary sponsors of the rally, we were not consulted before this decision was made, nor was our opinion ever sought by the rally organizers. We would have never acquiesced to withdrawing Governor Palin’s invitation and we think that doing so was a serious mistake.”
The issue has not, of course, gone unnoticed by the McCain camp. In an appearance in Minnesota on Thursday, Palin lost no time rapping the Obama camp and its allies for wrecking what was supposed to be a united show of support in opposition to the appearance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
She declared, “This should be an issue that unites all Americans. Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period. Unfortunately, some Democrat partisans put politics first and now no elected official can appear. This should not be a matter of partisan politics.” She then went on express the Republicans’ position on Iran’s attempt to acquire nuclear weapons: “John McCain and I are committed to drawing attention to the dangers posed by Iran’s nuclear program and we will not waver in our commitment. I will continue to call for sustained action to prevent Iranian president Ahmadinejad from getting these weapons to launch a second Holocaust.” McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb, in a phone interview on Sunday, said: “We are definitely going to make the point that Sarah Palin would stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone against Ahmadinejad.” He said the McCain campaign is “sympathetic” to the Conference and the position they were put in by liberal activists. Instead Goldfarb decried these groups, which he says “are more committed to playing partisan politics” than standing up to Ahmadinejad.
It remains to be seen whether this issue will plague Obama as he continues to struggle to establish both his foreign policy credentials and his support for Israel. One supporter of the McCain-Palin ticket on Capitol Hill remarked ruefully, “Has it occurred that the reason that neither Obama nor Biden would show up is maybe that they would rather meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions than protest his presence at the UN?”
This week culminating in Friday’s presidential debate will reveal whether the McCain camp intends to pressure Obama directly to explain why his supporters nixed the event and why his VP declined to attend in Clinton’s absence.
Meanwhile, the controversy will continue to ricochet through the Jewish community. There is no shortage of questions: Why were specific groups with a partisan agenda allowed to prevail? Why did presidential politics overtake the larger issue of Iranian nuclear weapon acquisition? And why were the member groups of the Conference not all consulted?
For now, the only point on which most can agree is that those involved — the rally sponsors, those who pressured the cancellation, and the Obama campaign — have brought unwanted scrutiny and provided ammunition for Ahmadinejad to claim that opponents of Iran’s nuclear ambitions are neither serious nor united.