By Michael Sawan and Joshua Mizrachi
For anyone who has become tired of the endless rhetoric, attack ads, and good guy/bad guy politics of the 2012 presidential election, the JCRC’s Presidential Candidates Forum last Thursday was a strong move toward facts and accountability. The forum, moderated by Hagit Limor of WCPO-TV, featured Robert Wexler, a former Representative from Florida, defending President Barack Obama, and Noah Pollak the Executive Director of the Emergency Committee for Israel since 2010, defending Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The evening also included a local candidates meet and greet, though for the purposes of this article there will be a focus on the information presented by the presidential representatives.
First and foremost, the evening was designed to be an “information session,” not a debate. Both representatives were there to explain the stances of their candidates. This would have entailed little or no argument between the two representatives, but rather an opportunity for each man to speak and better inform his audience.
This format was maintained through most of the evening, though often times debate-style arguments took place between the two representatives. The format was broken further when audience members would shout from the crowd, as they did several times while former Representative Wexler spoke.
Wexler spoke first, spending 10 minutes defending President Obama’s record on Israel. Wexler made repeated references to “certain facts that are not debatable,” though upon turning to Romney’s stance on women’s rights made a misstep into a factually obscured area: “If you believe that women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, President Obama believes very deeply in that position, Governor Romney did not make a commitment, and has not.” This comment elicited the first audience outburst, with several individuals calling out “not true” from the audience. Wexler directly addressed the group: “Not true? We can debate that.” This flare up was brief, but was followed immediately by Wexler talking about the pre-existing illness clause of “Obamacare,” which caused yet more argument from certain members of the audience. At one point moderator Limor had to remind the outspoken audience members that they were at an information session, not a debate.
In Pollak’s opening remarks he initially criticized President Obama’s relationship with Israel, then added additional comments explaining why Romney would make a good alternative. He continually hammered on the idea that Obama maintains a policy of “condemning Israel without explicitly condemning Israel,” i.e., adopting policies that implicitly leave Israel alone in the international community. For example, after the Turkey-Israel flotilla debacle a year ago, Obama did not stop Turkey’s demand for a UN investigation into the event.
Pollak also addressed what he described as Obama’s unfair pressure against Israel, an “unprecedented” antipathy that Pollak at one point described as “beating the dog in public.” In relation to the dispute over settlements in Jerusalem, Pollak explained that “[the Obama Administration] organized a quartet statement condemning Israel, Hillary Clinton gave that famous 45 minute phone call where she cursed out and harangued the Prime Minister, various senior administration officials went on TV for two straight weeks questioning whether Israel was committed to peace, questioning whether Israel was really a U.S. ally and was committed to the relationship.”
This remained the tenure of the evening, with both representatives supplying anecdotes and figures to assess Obama’s time in office. Often times the representatives would both talk about the same issue, but from different perspectives. For instance, Wexler praised the Obama administration for requesting that congress supply $205 million in aid for the further development of Israel’s Iron Dome system. Pollak took another angle, claiming that what Israel really needed was an unwavering ally against Iran’s potentially nuclear threat, which the Iron Dome would be incapable of suppressing.
This complexity, the grayness that can come with complicated issues, was heavily emphasized throughout the night. Rabbi Eric Slaton, an audience member at the event, made clear just how involving the night had been: “It provided a lot of information. Both of them were very well informed on a lot of issues that I hadn’t heard. I need to sit down and think through what I heard to kind of come up with a balanced view.”