Democrats strike back with Palins church problems

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washington | As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attempts to inject Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor back into the presidential campaign, the Republican vice-presidential candidate is facing increasing questions about her own associations with clergymen.

This week, in an interview with William Kristol for his New York Times column, Palin suggested more attention should be paid to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, arguing Obama had effectively condoned his comments because he didn’t leave the church.

Jewish supporters of Obama are countering with their own guilt-by-association attack, noting that Palin was present in church when speakers praised Jews for Jesus, suggested that terrorism

in Israel was divine retribution for rejecting Christianity and argued that corruption would end if Christians took control of the financial sector.

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, reiterated his objections to such attacks, but said if Republicans are going to engage in them, they should “have to answer for their own problems.”

In recent weeks, the Republican Jewish Coalition has run advertisements playing up controversial Wright comments and Obama’s connection to him. Palin, meanwhile, has taken the lead in injecting the issue into the national political conversation. Obama eventually cut ties with the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Some Democrats say this is a risky maneuver, given the emerging details about clergymen who have appeared in Palin’s churches. Two weeks before being tapped for the GOP ticket, Palin was in attendance at her current congregation, Wasilla Bible Church, when a leader of Jews for Jesus described terrorist attacks against Israel as “judgment” against those who have not accepted Christianity.

While a spokesman for Palin has said that Palin rejects this view, the McCain-Palin campaign has declined to say whether she shares her pastor’s general support for Jews for Jesus, a group that tells people they can embrace Jesus and still remain true to Judaism.

Attention is also on Palin’s involvement in a 2005 service at the Wasilla Assembly of God church. The video of the service shows a Kenyan pastor, Thomas Muthee, blessing Palin, and urging Jesus to protect her from “the spirit of witchcraft.”

Critics are increasingly focusing on the speech that the clergyman gave before he brought Palin to the stage.

Muthee called for “God’s kingdom” to “infiltrate” seven aspects of society, including economics.

“It is high time that we have top Christian businessmen, businesswomen, bankers, you know, who are men and women of integrity, running the economics of our nations,” he said. “That’s part and parcel of transformation. If you look at the Israelites, you know, that’s how they won. And that’s how they are, even today.”

McCain adviser John Beerbower said the clergyman was merely expressing a desire to see the Christians who are in those positions act with integrity. Dewey Wallace, a professor of religion at George Washington University, said Muthee was not targeting Jews with his comments, but all non-born-again Christians.

McCain-Palin campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb noted that Palin had actually left Wasilla Assembly of God as a member in 2002 and was only visiting that day.

On other fronts, Democratic strategists and liberal bloggers have responded to Republican efforts to link Obama to a domestic terrorist-turned-education activist by noting that Sen. John McCain once served on the board of an organization accused of anti-Semitism, the U.S. Council for World Freedom.

Strategist Paul Begala identified the council as an “ultra-conservative, right-wing group” that the Anti-Defamation League said had increasingly become a gathering place for extremists, racists and anti-Semites.

“That’s not John McCain,” Begala said, but warned that the GOP candidate “does not want to play guilt by association or this thing will blow up in his face.”