September 19, 2008
Ahmadinejad at the UN: Palin, elected officials disinvited from rally amid controversy
NEW YORK (JTA)—Sarah Palin is being disinvited from the Jewish-sponsored Iran rally, sources told JTA.
The move follows two days of controversy for organizers of Monday’s rally to protest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations.
The controversy erupted after JTA reported that Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, had accepted an invitation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to speak at the event. The news of Palin’s participation prompted Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who had pledged several weeks earlier to speak at the rally, to announce she was withdrawing from the event.
Spokespeople for both Palin and Clinton proceeded to trade barbs over who was responsible for tainting the rally with politics.
A Clinton spokesperson said the senator withdrew because the rally had become “a partisan political event.”
Palin spokeswoman Tracy Schmitt took a shot at Clinton, saying the Republican nominee “believes that the danger of a nuclear Iran is greater than party or politics.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council defended Clinton’s decision not to attend and called for Palin to be disinvited so as to preserve the nonpartisan nature of the effort to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
On Thursday, the Conference of Presidents held a conference call for rally organizers in which the decision was made to limit participation in the rally to unelected officials, participants on the call told JTA.
Shortly afterward, organizers put out a statement saying, “In order to keep the focus on Iranian threats and to ensure that this critical message not be obscured, the organizers of the rally have decided not to have any American political personalities appear.”
The statement said Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Israeli Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik would address the demonstration.
The controversy has sparked concern that the issue of stopping Iran has been politicized, undermining efforts to cast opposition to Ahmadinejad’s belligerence and nuclear ambitions as a broad bipartisan issue in the United States. Jewish organizers have labored to present the Iranian regime as a threat not only to Israel but to the United States and the world.
In an effort to avoid the taint of imbalance and partisanship, the Presidents Conference issued a late invitation to the Obama campaign Wednesday morning. The Obama camp agreed to send Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), one of the Democratic nominee’s top Jewish backers.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, told JTA earlier this week that the invitation to speak at the rally was extended to Clinton several weeks ago. He also told The New York Jewish Week that once Clinton accepted, organizers did not want to supersede her by bringing in someone from the Obama campaign.
Fred Zeidman, a leading Jewish backer of Republican presidential nominee John McCain, told JTA he was approached about helping secure a speaker around the time of the Republican National Convention at the beginning of September in Minnesota. Zeidman said he forwarded the request to the campaign last week with a recommendation that it cooperate.
“I remember saying to our guys, Hillary Clinton is representing the other side,” Zeidman said. “We’ve got to really take this seriously.”
In a statement this week, the McCain campaign noted its participation in the rally and derided Obama’s stated willingness to negotiate with the man being protested.
“Instead of pressuring Senator Clinton to withdraw and pressuring the event’s organizers to disinvite Governor Palin, we hope Senator Obama will consider lending his own voice to this cause,” McCain-Palin spokesman Michael Goldfarb said in a statement published on a Washington Post’s campaign blog, The Trail. “And if [the] Senator subsequently wishes to clarify any remarks that might be misconstrued, he will have the opportunity to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions after he speaks at the U.N. the following day.”
Clinton advisers said the senator dropped out of her own accord, not due to any pressure from the Obama campaign, according to the Washington Post.
The rally “is not and will not be a partisan event,” Hoenlein told The Jewish Week before his group decided to cancel the invitation to Palin. “The organizers reached out to a wide spectrum of people. Hillary accepted early in August. We also asked numerous Republicans. Some we approached couldn’t make it, and since Governor Palin was coming to the United Nations to meet world leaders, her staff agreed to have her speak.”
Ira Forman, the National Jewish Democratic Council’s executive director, said it is the McCain campaign that was guilty of politicizing the rally with its partisan statements.
Along with other Jews involved in organizing the event, Forman also laid blame with the Presidents Conference, saying it bungled matters either by inviting Palin at all or by failing to notify the Clinton camp promptly that it had secured Palin’s participation. Forman praised the decision Thursday to cancel Palin’s appearance.
“It was a wise decision to make,” he said. “It depoliticizes an event that fundamentally needs support from everybody and shouldn’t be part of the political circus this year.”
Jewish Republicans agreed that the organizers blundered—but said the mistake was withdrawing the invitation to Palin.
“This is one of the biggest black marks on our community that I can remember in more than 20 years of working in the Jewish community,” Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told JTA.
“I think it is absolutely outrageous that we allow people with a partisan political agenda to hijack an event that is designed to send a message to Iran and the rest of the world of the U.S.‘s commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. The fact that we can’t put partisan differences aside to come together on something like this, it’s sad and it’s disappointing.”
As the campaigns sparred over who was guilty of placing partisanship above principle, some Jewish leaders worried that an event intended to display unity in the face of the Iranian threat was crumbling.
“I do think that’s unfortunate,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “The point here obviously is to show broad bipartisan support for the need to stop a nuclear Iran. We don’t want the message to be diverted by internal political considerations.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me as an American Jewish policy matter, and as an American matter, to let one party or the other off the hook over what is going to be, objectively in our view, the most serious foreign policy issue of the next administration,” said David Twersky, a senior advisor on policy, international affairs and communications at the American Jewish Congress. “It’s not a good policy for the Jews.”