Rabbis for Romney

Many political organizers talk about themselves as reluctant activists, but when Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg said it wasn’t his intention, initially, to establish the group Rabbis for Romney, it’s hard not to believe him.

“I don’t hate Obama, and I don’t glorify Romney,” said Rosenberg, a 64-year-old Orthodox-ordained rabbi who leads Congregation Beth-El, a conservative synagogue in Edison, N.J. “I just know what I have, and I’m not happy with what I have, so I’m willing to throw the dice with someone new.”

Rosenberg, who said he is a registered Democrat who voted twice for President Bill Clinton, launched Rabbis for Romney in September with little more than an organization name and a solicitation e-mail. Even today, aside from a list that he won’t share of what he says are 100 rabbis’ names, the group doesn’t have much of a presence on the Web or on the campaign trail.

Its entire reason for being, Rosenberg said, is not so much to oppose the re-election of President Barack Obama as to oppose the members of Rabbis for Obama who have endorsed him.

“I don’t think there should be rabbis for anybody,” Rosenberg said. “But then 613 rabbis decided they were going to make a whole to-do in the press, and that’s wrong.”

Those 613 Rabbis for Obama helped reignite a long-running debate about whether Jewish clerics should take positions on political issues.

But unlike those rabbis, who all have made their names public, and who include some pulpit rabbis, next to nothing is known about the majority of the Rabbis for Romney group.

Rosenberg, who said he received hate mail in response to organizing Rabbis for Romney, would not release the names of the rabbis who have contacted him to join the group, but he did disclose that every rabbi on his list of about 100 is male. Eighty percent of the Rabbis for Romney are Orthodox-ordained; the rest are Conservative, he said. Some work for synagogues, others as educators, and still others are retired. None lives on the West Coast, but some live in Israel, Rosenberg said. 

Although the group is called Rabbis for Romney, at least some of its members appear to be inspired more by antipathy for Obama than by love for the Republican nominee.

Rabbi David Algaze of Havurat Yisrael, an Orthodox synagogue in Queens, N.Y., is co-chairman of Rabbis for Romney. Speaking to The Jewish Star of Long Island, N.Y., Algaze reportedly said the “main purpose [of Rabbis for Romney] is to counter the impression of Rabbis for Obama.”

Calling Obama “one of the most hostile” presidents toward Israel and the Jews, Algaze told The Jewish Star that “Romney will do even better for Israel. We saw his presentation of [God] and values rather than the atheistic and other values of Obama.”

Rosenberg was less sanguine than was Algaze about Romney — “I don’t know the guy, I never went out to dinner with him” — but was no less opposed to Obama’s re-election.

“I don’t trust Obama,” Rosenberg said. “I’m not saying he’s been bad to Israel; I’m not one of those guys. I just don’t like his apologizing to the Arab world. I don’t like him dealing with extremist Muslims. He’s not my cup of tea.”

And though Rosenberg said he hoped Romney, if elected, would take a different tone in his interactions with Israel than Obama has, the rabbi acknowledged that such talk is, at this point, purely speculative. Nevertheless, Rosenberg said the Republican could count on his vote. 

“With me, Romney is going to be a better president because, economically, he knows something about business,” he said. 

Israel features prominently in final debate

The U.S.-Israel alliance and the need to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon were major themes in the final presidential debate.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney said Monday during their foreign policy debate that they would stand with Israel in an attack by Iran.

“Israel is a true friend,” Obama said when debate moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News asked the candidates whether they would see an attack on Israel as an attack on the United States. “It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel.”

Romney, the Republican hopeful, concurred.

“I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I'm president of the United States, when I'm president of the United States, we will stand with Israel,” Romney said at the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. “And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.”

Along with Iran, China, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan, Israel was among the most mentioned countries at the debate.

Obama, who has faced attacks from Romney on his approach to Israel, was the first to mention the Jewish state when he outlined at the beginning of the debate how he was dealing with the unrest roiling the Middle East.

“It is absolutely true that we cannot just beat these challenges militarily,” Obama said, “and so what I've done throughout my presidency and will continue to do is, No. 1, make sure that these countries are supporting our counterterrorism efforts; No. 2, make sure that they are standing by our interests in Israel's security, because it is a true friend and our greatest ally in the region.”

Romney later accused Obama of distancing the United States from Israel.

“I think the tension that existed between Israel and the United States was very unfortunate,” Romney said in arguing that he would better stand by U.S. allies. 

Obama countered that during his presidency, military and intelligence cooperation with Israel was “unprecedented.”

Israel returned as a topic in one of the debate's most heated exchanges when Romney reminded Obama that he had not visited the country during a 2009 Middle East tour.

“By the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations,” Romney said. “And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel.”

Obama responded by first noting that he had visited Israel and U.S. troops abroad as a candidate — a reference to criticism of Romney for not visiting troops during his campaign travels abroad. He also attacked Romney for organizing a fundraiser during his own Israel trip in July.

“And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors, I didn't attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the — the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable,” Obama said.

“And then I went down to the border towns of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children's bedrooms, and I was reminded of — of what that would mean if those were my kids, which is why, as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.”

‘Israelis on Obama’ video: President ‘a mensch’ on Israel [UPDATE]

“President Obama is doing, in regards to our security, more than anything I can remember, ” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says at the start of a new video created by The Jewish Council for Education & Research (JCER), a pro-Obama Super PAC. Barak’s comment is taken from a July 2012 CNN interview, and is just one of many interviews with Israelis in JCER’s new two-minute Web video aimed at garnering the pro-Israel vote (“Israelis on Obama“).

Promoting Obama as “a mensch” on Israel, the message is directed at “a small subset” of undecided Jewish voters for whom Israel policy might make a difference, according to Mik Moore, co-founder of JCER.

“I have never seen such measures of economic pressure taken against Iran as I see under President Obama’s Administration,” says Avinoam Armoni, CEO of Tel Aviv’s Bet Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, says in the video. “I have faith that the United States and President Obama are true to their word.”

JCER is best known to date for producing expletive-filled web videos featuring actors Sarah Silverman and Samuel L. Jackson, but this new straight-faced video and Web Site, ObamaonIsrael.org, feature earnest testimonies from Israeli citizens praising Obama’s policies.

Israelis in the video also hail Obama’s funding of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, his administration’s sharing military intelligence with the Israeli intelligence services and the two countries’ staging of joint military exercises.

JCER, whose entire base of support adds up to less than $300,000, typically promotes its videos virally on the Web, but in this case, the message will also be delivered as a 30-second TV advertisement set to air in Florida on cable news channels next week.

The hope, Moore said, is to challenge the barrage of Web videos and advertisements on multiple platforms created by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) claiming Obama is unfriendly to Israel.

“The Jewish vote is not going to turn on this issue,” Moore said in an interview on Oct. 18, noting that most Jews vote Democratic and will likely vote for Obama again in 2012.

“We want [the undecided voters] to make that decision with the facts about the President’s record on Israel,” Moore said.

The idea for the video came from Susan Silverman, a reform Rabbi who lives in Jerusalem and is the sister of comedian-activist Sarah Silverman. “I was sick and tired of the lies and misrepresentations spread by Republicans about Barack Obama’s record on Israel,” Silverman told the Journal in a telephone interview from Israel on Oct. 18.  

Silverman said she finds that the Israelis and American Jews who are fearful of Obama don’t have any particular evidence to back up their claims.

“One right-wing guy said to me, ‘Sure, he hasn’t’ done anything yet, but that’s because he’s saving it for his second term,’” Silverman said. “I feel like it’s the same stuff that fuels the ‘birther’ movement.”

Silverman spent last August filming many hours of interviews with Israelis in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Herzliya, but found one of the most compelling testimonies from a woman named Ruthie in Ofakim, a town near the Gaza border.

Ruthie, a childcare worker with three children and a fourth on the way, took issue with Romney’s assertion that, when it comes to Israe,l he would “do the opposite” of what Obama has done in his first term.

“‘Does he think that’s funny? Does he think it’s OK to be flippant?’” Silverman said, recalling Ruthie’s reaction. “‘Barack Obama has made us safer. I would like [Romney] to come with me to the bomb shelter with my children and see how terrified they are. Let him come with us, and then see how he flippant he can be.’”

The video arrives at a moment when Silverman’s sister, Sarah Silverman, has come under fire from some Jewish observers for her provocative and often off-color commentary in earlier JCER videos. In one, Silverman crudely propositions Republican Jewish mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to give $100 million in support of the Romney campaign this year, and has already given tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates during this election cycle. Adelson is also a significant supporter of the RJC’s $6.5 million effort to attack Obama and his policies.

Story continues after the jump.

In an open letter to Silverman published in the Brooklyn-based Jewish Press this week, Orthodox Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt assailed Silverman for “making public that which is private,” urging her to marry and raise children. Writing in Tablet, Liel Leibovitz echoed part of Rosenblatt’s message, saying that Obama “could have asked for no worse endorsement than Silverman’s.”

Moore called the criticism of Silverman “a manufactured controversy, a media stunt by an obscure rabbi to elevate his own status on the back of a very successful entertainer and activist.” In the comments section of the online version of the paper, Silverman’s father also jumped into the fray, strongly defending his daughter.

For her part, Susan Silverman is fully supportive of her sister’s brand of political speech. “She’s a modern-day prophet,” Susan Silverman said.  “I couldn’t disagree more with that rabbi from Texas. Some people will choose to focus on the F-word when she uses it, and some choose to hear the message.”

Despite the Jewish reference in its name,  JCER isn’t exclusively focused on reaching Jewish voters, Moore said. One of its Web videos, featuring Latina actress Rosie Perez, skewers Romney’s statement “it’d be helpful to be Latino,” made at a Florida fundraiser secretly filmed and then publicized by Mother Jones.

Another video, titled “Wake the F**k Up,” features Samuel L. Jackson, and has been viewed over 1 million times on YouTube.

“Our videos are designed to appeal to Jews but aren’t narrowly tailored towards Jews,” Moore said. “They are largely meant for the Democratic base.”

Letters to the Editor: Ayn Rand, Romney, Obama, Rachel Corrie

Dissecting Ayn Rand 

In “Rand … Rosenbaum?” (Aug. 17), Rob Eshman tries to convince us (or himself) that Ayn Rand’s support of Israel confirms her Jewishness and contradicts her philosophy. Neither is true. 

Eshman seems to think that her Jewishness is proved by her ignoring her Jewish background (of which there was precious little; although her Russian family celebrated some Jewish holidays, it also celebrated Christmas), and being an atheist. Interesting “reasoning.” All you have to do to prove your “Jewishness” is to ignore the cultural aspects and reject the philosophic aspects. Hard to think of a stronger case.

Rand’s support of Israel no more establishes her Jewishness than it contradicts her philosophy. Of course, she urged people to support Israel, but so have many non-Jews. She held that Israel (despite being semi-socialist and having a state religion) deserved support because it’s a bastion of Western Civilization, and Western Civilization is the embodiment of Rand’s philosophy of reason, rational self-interest and individual rights. “[The culture of the Arabs] is primitive,” she said, “and they resent Israel because it’s the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent.” 

Her “Jewishness” is ignored by Ayn Rand Web sites because of its insignificance in her life. 

Michael S. Berliner
The Ayn Rand Archives

Rob Eshman  responds: Mr. Berliner is almost exactly correct. I do indeed think Ayn Rand’s Jewishness is proved by her willful excising of her Jewish past and identity from her biography. The list of successful Jews who have done or do the same — yet whose world views and thoughts are nonetheless shaped by the force they strive to suppress — is as long as Jewish history. 

He’s also correct that Ayn Rand fansites ignore her Jewishness. But in her masterful biography “Ayn Rand and the World She Made,” Anne Heller, who is a nonacolyte and a critical thinker, goes into the Jewish impact on Rand’s life in fascinating — and honest — detail.

Election 2012 

Mary Kaplan shines a blistering light on the sad shortcomings of the contemporary media when it comes to their failure to form a persistent and enduring counterbalance to the mega-money machine of lies and propaganda that constitutes the Republican campaign effort (“Romney/Ryan and the Lullaby of Lying,” Aug. 31). 

The Republicans have nominated an even richer cipher than they did in 2000, and (who thought it possible?) a vice presidential candidate to the right of Dick Cheney; yet the one-and-done mainstream media have demonstrated collective amnesia on what this pairing wrought last time around, while essentially allowing a billionaire-fueled campaign of falsehoods, innuendo and race-baiting to pass for ideas. Kudos to Kaplan for pointing it out. 

Mitch Paradise
Los Angeles

It seems like there’s been some tough love in The Jewish Journal, too (“Where’s the Tough Love for Obama,” Aug. 24). For the first time in years, I am unexpectedly yet delightedly reading a “centrist-liberal” take on the hypocritical double standard of a president who claimed to be the change that everyone was hoping for  but has turned out to be just more of the same.

If self-criticism is such a virtue, then the president would have engaged in enough of it by now to realize that he has been advancing the same spend-and-spend, go-and-fight foreign wars statecraft of the previous administration. This is one nasty trend in American politics that must not be “sanitized.”

I commend Suissa for his open call for real scrutiny of this president, and I think more people in the Jewish community would be better served by concentrating their criticism on a president who has done much harm to this country’s relationship with our one ally in the Middle East — Israel. From pressuring Netanyahu for land swaps to open appeasement with hostile Arab countries, one can only ponder: “With friends like Obama, Israel needs no enemies.”

Thanks again, David. Keep up the good work.

Arthur Christopher Schaper

The Death of Rachel Corrie 

If Rachel Corrie deserves to be remembered at all, it is as one who was not interested in the injustices to be found in her own city, her own state, her own country (“Rachel Corrie Suit Hinged on One Small Question,” Aug. 31). She was not one who was motivated to act on behalf of the victims of Russia or China or Iran or Iraq or Syria or Libya or North Korea or of the regime in Gaza. She was, as well, indifferent to the mortal struggles in dozens of other places where the victims have no powerful allies and do not enjoy the slavish, obsessive solicitude of the United Nations. 

No, Corrie wasn’t interested in any of that. The 23-year-old Corrie, who did not know anything but who had all the answers, eagerly traveled halfway around the world to make herself an accomplice of the hateful, jihadist dictatorship in Gaza. In so doing, she made her own contribution to that ancient hatred, that convenient hatred, that most durable hatred, the hatred of the Jews. 

While that is quite enough to make Corrie a hero in many parts of the world, decent people should not be confused about who and what she was.

Chip Bronson
Stephanie London

Beverly Hill

Romney blasts Obama on Iran, Israel

President Obama’s approach to Iran has made Americans “less secure,” Mitt Romney said in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination.

“Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden,” Romney said Thursday evening at the Republican National Convention. “On another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat.”

He criticized Obama’s strategy of diplomatic engagement with Iran. “In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran,” Romney said. “We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”

While the speech was mostly focused on introducing Romney to the nation and to attacking Obama’s economic record, the GOP nominee devoted several paragraphs to foreign policy. He accused Obama of having “thrown allies like Israel under the bus,” echoing language he had previously used in criticizing the president’s approach to the Jewish state.

Romney nodded only briefly toward social issues.

“As president, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage,” Romney said. “And I will guarantee America’s first liberty: the freedom of religion.”

He also disparaged the Obama administration’s emphasis on countering climate change.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” Romney said, pausing amid laughter from the assembled delegates, “and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

White House agrees with Netanyahu on sanctions, calls for patience

White House officials agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment that sanctions have not set back Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, but counseled patience.

“We completely agree with the prime minister’s assessment that Iran has failed to make that choice and that is absolutely a disappointment,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

Netanyahu, meeting Sunday with Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, expressed skepticism about the sanctions.

“We have to be honest and say that all the diplomacy and sanctions so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota,” he told Romney.

The Obama administration has been making the case for months to Netanyahu that he should delay any plans to strike Iran until it exhausts peaceful options.

Asked about Netanyahu’s comments in a call Tuesday with reporters, Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, also agreed with the Israeli leader.

“We continue to be dissatisfied, as Prime Minister Netanyahu is, with Iran’s continued failure to live up to its international obligations,” he said.

Rhodes said, however, that the sanctions were having a dire impact on Iran’s economy and suggested more time was needed to assess whether they would move Iran’s leadership to agree to terms for greater transparency about its nuclear activities.

“What we see today is not just a unified international community, but you see sharp divisions within the Iranian political system, far more so than we have seen in many years,” Rhodes said. “And I think that is a testament to the pressure that they’re under.”

Rhodes said that what the Obama administration has accomplished “is a steady ratcheting up the pressure that is increasing the cost for the Iranians in failing to make the right decisions. And until they do shift course, we will continue to look for ways to increase the impact.”

At least 3 GOP candidates say war with Iran is an option

Three Republican candidates for president said they would go to war if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon.

Mitt Romney, one of the frontrunners and the former Massachusetts governor, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania U.S. senator, each said Saturday night that a “credible threat” of war was necessary to contain Iran.

The policy under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush was to say that “nothing is off the table” without specifying a military option.

“The president should have built a credible threat of military action,” Romney said, referring to Obama.

“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Gingrich and Santorum agreed that there should be a “credible threat” of military action.

Herman Cain, a businessman who is also a front-runner, said he would support insurgents in Iran and deploy anti-missile ships in the region, but stopped short of military action.

“I would not entertain military opposition,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.) also was opposed.

Not asked were Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Bachmann later accused Obama of “not standing with Israel” at a time that “the table is being set for worldwide nuclear war with Israel.”

Perry said he backed sanctions that would cut Iran’s Central Bank off from the U.S. economy—something that is currently under consideration in Congress.

Perry also said he backed cutting foreign assistance altogether and getting nations to make their case for assistance. When asked if that included Israel, he said “absolutely,” although he predicted that Israel would make a strong case and would receive substantial aid.

His campaign emailed a “clarification” to reporters immediately following the debate.

It repeated Perry’s debate remarks that “Israel is a special ally, and my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level” but added: “Gov. Perry recognizes Israel as a unique and vital political and economic partner for the United States in the Middle East.”

The debate, co-sponsored by CBS and National Journal, took place at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state for Republicans.