Why Did Sarah Palin Wear a Star of David in Israel?

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Updated 7:06 p.m.-- Over the weekend, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin arrived in Israel, where she was photographed wearing a Star of David around her neck.

The Star of David or Magen David is a symbol associated with Jewish texts far back as the 11th century and has been used by European Jews to symbolize their faith since the 17th century. As Zionism developed as a European philosophy, the Star of David came to represent the movement and later became the defining symbol on the flag of the state of Israel. In contemporary urban America, wearing a Star of David on a chain generally marks the wearer as Jewish.

So what was the most decidedly not-Jewish Palin doing wearing one in Israel? Not appealing to American Jews -- that's for sure. Most American Jews, being Democrats, can't stand her. And one visit to Israel, a nation many American Jews have mixed feelings toward, anyway, isn't going to change that.

Rather, by wearing the Star of David, Palin was reaching out to American evangelical Christians -- and also being one herself.

According to David Brog, the (Jewish) executive director of Christians United for Israel, "it is increasingly common" for evangelical Christian supporters of Israel -- who follow a fairly common Israel-centric strain of American biblical interpretation -- to wear Stars of David as symbols of solidarity with the Jewish state.

"A lot of the folks in my organization, they wear Stars of David," he noted. "Mainly the women."

In CUFI circles, indeed, "it is increasingly common to wear one all the time," Brog noted, and not just while visiting Israel.

To do so is seen as an expression of being "pro-Israel" and "philosemitic," part and parcel with worshiping Jesus as a Jewish carpenter and honoring the Jewish roots of Christianity.

CUFI says it is the biggest pro-Israel organization in America, bigger even than the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, though the groups measure members differently. The Founder and National Chairman of CUFI is Pastor John Hagee, who during campaign 2008 raised the ire of the Catholic League, which condemned him as a "bigot" after Hagee endorsed Palin running-mate John McCain. Hagee and the Catholic League have since reconciled.

CUFI was not involved in Palin's trip to Israel.

Image credit: Reuters

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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