Palin, Other Pols Won’t Speak at ‘Stop Iran’ Rally

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin won’t be speaking at Monday’s big “stop Iran” rally in New York after all.

On Thursday leaders of the National Coalition to Stop Iran decided that no elected officials or political candidates will appear at the event. The decision came after co-sponsors reacted angrily to Palin’s invitation, which they said would taint a rally meant to cut across political and ideological lines with partisan politics, and as Jewish Democrats  cried foul.

Several leaders of organizations listed as co-sponsors said they did not learn of Palin’s invitation until they read in the press that she had accepted it; by having the GOP nominee speak at the rally and not a comparable figure from the Barack Obama campaign, they warned, the gathering would be interpreted by many as partisan in nature, not a community-wide effort to keep up the pressure on Iran.

Adding to those fears was the expectation by some that Palin would use the occasion to attack the Democratic presidential nominee for advocating negotiations with Iran. Most participating Jewish groups have not taken positions on whether negotiations, as well as economic sanctions, should be used in the effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

Furious officials at the Obama campaign told the Jewish Week that they had not been invited to send a high official to the rally in New York until Wednesday morning – after the furor over Palin broke in the press.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who had been scheduled to speak, dropped out on Tuesday night after her staff was contacted by the Obama campaign.

After 24 hours of intense pressure, the decision was made to bar all political figures in an effort to restore the non-partisan nature of the event.

“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,” participating groups said in a statement.

J Street, the new pro-peace process lobby and political action committee, collected more than 20,000 signatures on a petition calling on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the lead group in the stop Iran coalition, to reconsider the Palin invitation.

After Thursdays’ announcement, J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami said “Though we welcome the decision, we continue to question how such decisions are made and who claiming to speak for our community when constructing the agenda and speakers program for such events.”

The Republicans quickly blamed the Democrats for the change in the rally lineup.

“Governor Palin was pleased to accept an invitation to address this rally and show her resolve on this grave national security issue,” said Sen. John McCain in a statement.  ”Regrettably that invitation has since been withdrawn under pressure from Democratic partisans.”

But insiders say the strongest pressure may have come from participating groups worried that the rally’s goals were being undermined by the way the invitation was handled and the resulting communal squabble — and worried that their own nonpartisan status could be compromised.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.