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Florida debate: ‘Should Jews Vote for Obama or Romney’

Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach, Florida

If you are already bored with the US presidential campaign rhetoric, do we have a debate for you!

Tonight’s debate in the swing state of Florida will not be the standard snooze, and you can watch it on your very own computer screen.  Among the players are one vegetarian, animal rights, nuke-the-terrorists rabbi; a Christian Zionist whose opposition to Islamic terrorism has placed his group on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups; a dyed in the wool Democratic Party leader; and a former high school teacher who debates as if his life depends on it.  He thinks it does.

Florida is one of the key swing states in play in this year’s US presidential campaign.   President Obama made a personal visit to  Century Village in Boca Raton, Florida last month, and newly-annointed Republican vice presidential candidate Cong. Paul Ryan (R-WI ) made one of his first official campaign visits there.  Ryan appeared with his Wisconsin-based mom, who lives part of the year in Florida.

Within the swing Sunshine State,  Florida’s 639,000 Jews are attracting a lot of the campaign attention.  According to a Boston Globe article this week, President Obama is losing some support amongst Jewish Floridians.   Although Jews constitute only 3 percent of Florida voters, their high voter turnout means they may account for as much as 7 or 8 percent of the vote.

Which brings us to tonight’s debate.

Rabbi Barry Silver is the religious leader of the 200-family Reform congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Lake Worth, Florida.  His shul has been holding the Rabbi Sam Silver Controversial Issues Series for years.  Topics they have addressed include: “Which branch of Judaism is the most authentic?” and “Is vegetarianism consistent with Jewish law?”

On May 15, 2012, the Controversial Issues Series held the first debate in this year’s election series.  The question debated then was: “Is President Obama Good or Bad for Israel?”

Tonight’s question is a slightly broader one: “Should Jews Vote for Obama or Romney?”

The same quartet from May is back for tonight’s rematch.  In the blue corner, representing the pro-Obama vote, is Mark Alan Siegel, chair of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, and Rabbi Barry Silver.  In the red corner, speaking for the pro-Romney vote, will be Alan Bergstein, a transplanted Brooklynite, currently a South Florida pro-Israel activist and Tom Trento, president of The United West.  The United West describes itself as a counter-jihad organization.  It is adamantly supportive of Israel, which Trento describes as America’s beacon of light in the Middle East.  Siegel, however, described Trento and Bergstein as anti-Islamic extremists.

In the earlier debate, Trento seized on Siegel’s statement, that “there is more to this election than merely Israel.” To which Trento responded: “no, there isn’t, there’s one issue – it’s Israel.  It isn’t abortion, it isn’t healthcare, it’s Israel.”

This afternoon, speaking by phone to The Jewish Press, the Palm Beach County Democratic Chair said that in tonight’s debate he “will be presenting a drash, based on traditional Jewish sources, which make clear that Jews should vote for Democrats, because that party is more consistent with traditional Jewish values.”  Siegel especially focused on “the Democratic party being more representative of the Jewish belief in communal responsibilities, such as for education, than is the Republican party,” which he said “focuses on individual responsibility, in other words, everybody for himself.”

In contrast to Siegel, who is a party line supporter of President Obama, Rabbi Silver is less enthusiastic.  Silver told The Jewish Press that the president “speaks well, but what he does doesn’t match up with the rhetoric.”  The Republican challenger, however, fares even worse.  In Silver’s estimation, “Romney doesn’t even say the right things, and unlike Obama’s baby steps in the right direction, Romney is taking huge leaps in the wrong direction.”

But just when you start to chalk up the Reform Rabbi’s positions as predictable of a solid left-leaning Democrat, he shatters that stereotype.

“Israel and the US and the rest of the western world should declare war on terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and also Ahmadinejad,” Silver explains.

“How does the world expect Israel to achieve peace with those terrorists?” asked Silver.   “Just as during World War II we didn’t try to find a way to live with the Nazis, we defeated them militarily, and then we found friends with whom we could make peace.”  According to Silver, “the same has to happen with the Islamic fundamentalists.”

In Silver’s view, however, it is patently clear that Obama is better for the Jews.  Why?  In large part because Silver sees the Republicans as rejecting alternative fuel sources, whereas independence from fossil fuels is what will make Israel immeasurably safer.  He also believes Obama’s social values are more consistent with Jewish ones.

Tom Trento intends to punch holes again tonight in what he told The Jewish Press is the “major error of his opponents.” That is, that they “truly believe Obama has Israel’s best interests at heart.”  To give just a few examples of why that’s wrong, Trento ticked off: “Obama’s pro-Palestinian pressure on Israel with respect to the settlements and the borders of the Jewish State, and his administration’s leaking of Israeli military secrets, such as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s predictions as to when Israel would attack Iran, and the public airing of Israel’s plan to refuel in Azerbaijan, in case of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear weapons sites.”

Although it is not yet Labor Day, you may already be tiring of the partisan talking points.  But if you tune in for tonight’s debate, be prepared for a bit of a shake-up.  For one thing, few speakers are as fiesty as Trento.  For another, and you heard it here first – Rabbi Silver who is not only a clergy member and a civil rights attorney, is also an accomplished parodist.  And tonight he will be performing, for the first time, the parody he wrote about Mitt Romney.  It is is sung to the tune of “Proud Mary.”

Here is an excerpt:

He wants a big job down in the White House, So he can work for the rich every night and day Runnin’ helter skelter to find a tax shelter So fat cats like him won’t have to pay. Their fair share of taxes So in the Caymans he relaxes.

Romney is rollin’, rollin in big money, Romney is rollin’, rollin’ in big money.

To watch tonight’s debate via livestream, go to: http://theunitedwest.org/  If you miss the debate, you can catch the video at the same site.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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11 Responses to “Florida debate: ‘Should Jews Vote for Obama or Romney’”

  1. Obama has said that if Iran goes nuclear"all options are on the table".

    To Iran these are mere words and are not believed. The sanctions also have not worked to stop Iran's rush towards Atom Bombs. Historically sanctions have almost always failed to change minds, and the Ayotolahs are not rational minds.

    If Obama cannot say the US will have a military response if Iran goes nuclear, he does not ever plan to really stop Iran.

    That is the main reason I will not vote for Obama a second time.

    I think he misunderstands how a peaceful two state solution could occur.

    He has changed the American position on the 67' lines and major settlement blocs.
    He also called for Israel to negotiate borders first then the refugee and Jerusalem issues.

    Israel's only card is Land as in Land for Peace, once Israel's maximum of land is given there is zero incentive to compromise on refugees or Jerusalem for the Palestinians.

    I don't like Romney's policies on many other issues, but Israel really is facing life and death, so unless Obama says the magic words "we will act militarily" its Romney.

  2. Sandy Haas says:

    I agree with you Rabbi Silver – I will vote for those who ONLY support Israel! Romney/Ryan To vote for those who would support extremists/terrorists and turn their back on their allies would only be short of insanity. Worry about the rest when we are at Peace. I pray for the Peace of Jerusalem! Our current administration does not even want to acknowledge Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel! Change is good if it is for the good, but Freedom to Choose is better! Let us choose well! Shalom

  3. Muriel Coudurier-Curveur says:

    Should we vote for someone we know doesn't like us, but did well by his country and is blocked by the Congress from harming us, or should we vote for someone about whom we only know one thing: he changes his tune according to whatever gets him more votes? Romney has changed his position about healthcare, the definition of marriage, contraception and abortion, and the bail out of the automotive industry and the banking system. Tell me what prevents him, once elected, to drop Israel like a hot potato the way he dropped his other tenets? The man called himself an "Etch-a-Sketch" candidate. I say, better a devil we know than one we don't know. At least we know how to defend ourselves from the first.

  4. ALL JEWS MUST VOTE FOR OBAMA – PERIOD, NO QUESTINS OR DISCUSS, VOTE FOR OBAMA.

  5. Edward Lobel says:

    I know it's just an expression, but I do not think Obama is a devil. On the other hand, willard may not be a devil, but he is not too far away from it.
    He has NEVER done anything to help Jews or Israel. He says he will, but when actually confronted, he will do no more than Obama and perhaps less.
    He is a minister in the Mormon religion and when he was a missionary in France, he went around baptizing dead Jews into his religion. Mormons believe Jews (and members of other religions), simply did not have enough time to while they were alive to understand Momonism and needed to be baptized as a Mormon so the could enter heaven, Willard believes this, so he is no friend of the Jews or Israel.
    On the other hand, Obama is a friend of Israel and has good friends who are Jewish and many of his political appointments and advisors are Jewish.

  6. Millie Kashuk says:

    All Jews must Vote for Romney-Ryan 100%………..If Israel has a problem.
    do not count on OBAMA………He does not like us and will never help Israel.
    He visited the Arabs and bowed down but has he ever been to Israel. Obama is a MUSLIM………read some of the books now on News Stands to find out what.
    a deceitvile human being Obama is and a President of the US that has torn our Country apart with his false promises, Please vote for ROMNEY! If you want Medicare to continue vote for ROMNEY……

  7. Muriel Coudurier-Curveur says:

    Yes it is only an expression. While I agree that Obama is no devil, I don't think he is really Israel's friend. Still, he won't harm us much with the Congress on our side and he is working hard at getting the US out of the ditch, so I can live with him in the White House. Romney, on the other hand, is unknown quantity and a real weather vane when it comes to his opinions. He hasn't shown us once that we can trust him and routinely has betrayed those who trusted him in the past. I'll won't vote for him.

  8. Liad Bar-el says:

    Obama supports the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
    The MB wants to destroy Israel.
    A vote for Obama is a vote to destroy Israel.

  9. Anonymous says:

    What we have here is disrespect for your way of life and beliefs. These coward's really are to weak and afraid to say anything while you are a live and might fight back, so they just write your whole life and the lives of your forefathers off. They are like body snatchers but they do it virtually in a book. This is not the American way and for a highly educated person like Mitt Romney to not only not condemn this ritual but as far as I know he even participated in this is, not acceptable. This is the ultimate insult and thus he is DISQUALIFIED to lead the citizens of the United states. The fact that the Morman church claims to have stopped doing this has nothing to do with Mitt Romney not being proactive and stopping this.

  10. Michelle Ann says:

    I do not need a Jewish Organization to tell me who to vote for. Democratic Progressive Socialist Party is wrong for the USA and wrong for Israel. Romney/Ryan2012 Jews believe in Personal Responsibility Charity begins at Home it is not the Federal Govt Job.

  11. The Obama campaign seems to have no clue as to which rabbis would enhance the president’s clout among Jewish voters, and which are political hemlock. It’s newly formed “Rabbis for Obama” group, with rabbis from almost 40 states, includes some of the most enthusiastic supporters of sanctions against the Jewish state, including the Jewish Voice for Peace whose leadership is star-studded with names like Chava Bahle, Suttons Bay, MI, Rachel Evelyne Barenblat, Lanesboro, MA, Haim Beliak, Los Angeles, Lynn Gottlieb, Berkeley, Linda Holtzman, Philadelphia, Rebecca Lillian, Chicago, David Mivasair, State College, PA, and Brant Rosen, Evanston, IL. To date, nothing has helped to better define Obama as the most anti-Israel president since Jimmy Carter.

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