Round two in a no-holds barred debate on whether Jews should vote for Obama or Romney for US president took place Wednesday night at the Palm Beach South Jewish Community Center in Boynton Beach, Florida. The joint was jumping: hundreds of people were turned away for lack of space, audience members were shouting, speakers were heckled and interrupted and ugliness prevailed. But unless you were able to squeeze into the room, you’ll have to take the word of those who were there.
Everyone agrees the JCC management preventing any filming or even audiotaping of the event, but the reasons for that prohibition, and the timing, vary widely. There was also disagreement about which side’s supporters were more raucous. Without any videotape, we will never know who was most at fault.
Why and when were cameras barred from the room? According to the panelists, the JCC management knew there were going to be cameras. The pro-Obama debaters said they had spent an hour earlier in the week with a JCC building manager, discussing room requirements and placement of the cameras.
However, JCC director Jeff Trynz insisted no arrangements had been made for cameras to be used, and, as a result, no cameras were permitted. Trynz explained to The Jewish Press that in order to protect the privacy of JCC members, filming of any event has to be arranged in advance. However, that does not explain why audiotaping or videotaping of just the debaters was also prohibited. Nor does it explain why there were armed security guards in the room who, according to several participants, repeatedly threatened to confiscate any equipment that was used to record the event.
All four debate participants told The Jewish Press they were disappointed the debate was not filmed. The pro-Romney team, however, was livid.
Tom Trento, a Christian Zionist and president of The United West, paid for the use of the JCC room, and paid to have videographers come to livestream and record the event. Trento and his pro-Romney debate partner, Alan Bergstein, believe they were censored by the JCC.
Trento explained to The Jewish Press: “I made an appointment with the JCC building manager with whom we met for an hour the day before the event. We talked about where the camera would be placed, there is no way the JCC did not know we were going to film the event.” “Besides,” Trento added, “I always videotape my events, that way I can prove exactly what I said and what others said, if there’s an issue later.” In addition, “thousands of people were planning on watching the debate, we publicized it heavily, why would we do that if only two hundred people could see and learn from it?”
(There is no doubt that Treno and his followers had fully expected to videotape the debate. Their home page clearly invites visitors: “Watch this live cast right here on our home page, Tuesday August 21, 7pm, in the viewer below…” The invitation, in large type, appears above an image of the moderator, Jannique Stewart, and an embedded video browser.)
Bergstein believes the barring of recording devices is another example of a pattern of liberal political oppression that has taken place in South Florida this election season. He recounted the following: a Republican synagogue member was forbidden from speaking at Temple Israel of Greater Miami when Democratic National Committee Chair Cong. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was scheduled to speak there; the barring of Bergstein himself from entering B’nai Torah synagogue in Boca Raton when US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice spoke there, and the escorted removal of an audience member for waving a small Israeli flag during Amb. Rice’s speech; and the recent cancellation by the Florida Broward region of Hadassah, of a political debate which included the same debate teams as appeared at the JCC Wednesday night.
“It is because they don’t want liberal Jews to hear the other [Romney] side,” was Bergstein’s explanation, “They panicked, they’re frightened, and they have reason to be.”
Tryntz, the JCC manager, believes he was completely justified in forbidding the recording devices. He felt the debate group – all four of them – acted “nefariously,” by failing to inform him of the plans to record the event. When asked whether, according to Bergstein’s account of the evening, “the day before, a JCC official carefully planned where the best locations for the cameras would be,” Tryntz said, “absolutely not, that’s a lie.”
One witness to the event who asked not to be identified shared with The Jewish Press her view that the JCC probably was worried about what she called “Bergstein and Trento’s reputation for disruptive behavior,” and possibly someone high up “did not want to have the JCC used in a propaganda film for the pro-Romney team.” That witness agreed, however, that the audience members were far more disruptive and rude than were any of the debate participants.
And that was the other aspect of Wednesday’s debate about which the participants disagreed: which side’s audience supporters were more disrespectful. In Bergstein’s words, the pro-Obama audience members were “raucous, rude, disrespectful, [a] well-trained squad [which] heckled, [and] jeered.” The pro-Obama debater Rabbi Barry Silver used many of the same words to describe the audience members who disagreed with him. Silver told The Jewish Press, “I was not able to even complete a sentence without jeering, booing and shouting from those who disagree with what I said. They were especially hostile to any mention of global warming.”
Trento described a group of about fifty women who entered the room together as soon as the doors opened. These were all older women who were holding uniform, professional looking 11″ x 18″ signs that read, “Women will remember in November” and had the Obama logo. He said these women kept yelling out, “he’s lying,” “you don’t know what you are talking about.”
The JCC manager disagreed with the debaters on this point, also. According to Tryntz, both sides were uncivil and equally rude to each other. He described the scene as “ugly,” and “nasty.” Tryntz was joined by his 13-year old son at the event, and he was at a loss to explain, when his son asked, “why is everyone yelling?”
There was one high note for the evening. At one point, when the pro-Romney Trento talked about the need to eliminate the Iranian regime, Rabbi Barry Silver stepped out of role and, acting on his own beliefs, embraced Trento, saying “I’m with you, brother.” The debate moderator, Jannique Stewart, said, “great! We’ve achieved world peace!” It was short-lived.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus