Monday night marked the final presidential debate of 2012. For those voters sad to wait another four years to hear their favorite talking points, we’ve captured the best reactions from the Twitter-verse on the action from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Foreign policy was the issue of the night, expected to draw many comments on Iran, Afghanistan and Libya. However, there was a surprise name-drop early on and cheers to anyone who had Mali in their country office pool.
President Barack Obama had the first good zinger of the night, telling Mitt Romney that the “1980s are calling for their foreign policy back.” However, not everyone was amused, including Commentary magazine’s Seth Mandel
The final debate is over — the last one ever for Obama and for us this election cycle — and it’s time for some flash judgment.
Israel, Israel, Israel: As anyone could have predicted, Israel was mentioned a lot. As “true friend.” As “greatest ally.” I think I counted 6 mentions by the president to 3 from Romney. My favorite was Obama pointing out that “the largest military exercise with Israel in history happened this very week.” But what I could not have predicted was Obama’s extended riff aimed at the Jewish gut, or more precisely the cheek of your nana living in a retirement community in Boca Raton. He had Yad Vashem in there. He mentioned the children of Sderot. And he made sure to not give Romney any, er, daylight, to make his usual “Israel under the bus” argument. When he was done, all Romney could offer to distinguish himself was that he would try and indict Ahmadinejad for genocide incitement.
It’s good to be the chief: Obama seemed to dominate this one, and he was helped largely by the fact that, as he reminded Romney at one point, he has “actually executed foreign policy.” All of the references to real decisions he has made, to conversations with secretaries of defense, to being the commander-in-chief, were calculated to making Romney look small (aside from also happening to be true). It gave Obama an upper hand that he did not squander.
Agreed: Remarkably, Romney spent much of the debate agreeing with Obama’s foreign policy approach. Another a few minutes and he might have endorsed him! From Egypt to drones, again and again, Romney said he supported Obama’s policies. The difference he proposed to bring to the office was to have a stronger, more forceful tone in the execution. To my ears, this distinction sounded hollow. What does it mean practically to just project more toughness? Do you used more superlatives in your speeches? How does it help get things done? Obama seemed to hit a nerve when he said that it sounded like Romney wanted to follow the president’s policies, but just speak more loudly.
Etch-a-sketch a-shak’n: Another clear objective of the president tonight was to use the foreign policy conversation as another opportunity to define Romney as inconsistent. Obama did this again and again, pointing to the zig zagging policy prescriptions voiced by Romney over the course of the last year. And Romney seemed to oblige by presenting tonight yet another face. Anticipating that Obama had a claim on toughness locked down through the killing of Osama bin Laden, Romney attacked the president from…the left. At times, he sounded like John Kerry. He argued that the president hadn’t used enough soft power – improving civil society, working on girl’s education, speaking to the peaceful nature of the Muslim world. “We can’t kill ourselves out of this mess,” was Romney’s practiced line. It sounded like just another shake of the etch-a-sketch. Though it’s possible that others didn’t hear it that way.
Europe? The environment? China?: While we’re thrilled at the Forward that the Middle East and Israel got so much attention, it was disappointing to see such a limited range of subjects discussed. The environment was not seriously brought up once in all these debates and it’s quite a global issue. Or what about any part of the world that is south of the equator? Even those issues that were touched on were done so in a very perfunctory way. The moral and legal dimension of using drones was never explored, for example, once it was established that both candidates agree that they are good policy. The predictability of the questions helped contribute to the staleness of all the debates, I thought, whether the moderator was forceeful or not. The heat instead came from the two men pushing each other and their seeming visceral dislike for one another. Thankfully the debate format gave the space for these fisticuffs to occur.
Thanks for indulging my quick take. If you’d like, participate in our own snap poll on the question of Israel and Iran.
And that’s where I draw my red line, folks!
This late in the campaign, everything is about swing states – and the foreign policy debate was largely about Florida, where moderate Jews could well decide who gets the state’s 29 electoral votes.
On those grounds, on the basis of issues important to Florida Jews, President Obama won this debate, but in a bizarre, looking-glass sort of way in which the candidates seemingly exchanged personalities. Mitt Romney sounded like Obama: reasonable, measured, and knowledgeable about foreign policy. Barack Obama sounded like Romney: making strong rhetorical points with little attention to detail.
On Israel, for example, it was Obama who struck first, citing his support of the Iron Dome defense system, and using the phrase “stand with Israel” numerous times. Romney, meanwhile, sounded like a Democrat: arguing for peace talks with the Palestinians, and a measured approach to Iran.
So too on the emotional issues likely to resonate with the bubbes and zaydes of Palm Beach County. Could anyone have predicted that President Obama would invoke the holocaust in his discussion of the State of Israel? And yet that’s what he did, noting that on his trip to Israel, he visited Yad Vashem (the holocaust memorial, he explained to the non-Jewish voters who happened to be watching the debate too), whereas Romney went to fundraisers.
What do you think about the presidential election? For the next three days, we want to hear your opinions on a number of topics. First up, the latest presidential debate. Answer these two questions now, then check back Tuesday evening for the results. We’ll have a new question waiting for you each night this week and a final roundup blog post on Friday.
Politico’s Steve Friess has a fascinating story online today about the longstanding personal feud between two of Nevada’s “most prominent Jewish figures,” hotelier Sheldon Adelson and Rep. Shelley Berkley, who’s running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican family-values guy John Ensign. It’s a gripping look at how Adelson operates — the intensity and relentlessness of his personal grudges, his obsessive hatred of unions and Democrats and the lengths to which he’s willing to go to get his way.
One twist that’s particularly intriguing: Berkley, one of the most hawkish pro-Israel Democrats in the House, would bring a rare across-the-aisle voice into the Senate for Adelson’s hard-line Middle East views. But that doesn’t seem to matter — Sheldon’s got it in for Shelley, and nothing else matters, including the causes he claims to hold dear. Here’s Friess:
On the morning of October 18 last year, like the rest of Israel I anxiously awaited the return of Gilad Shalit. The deal had been made and the arrangements were set, but we didn’t know what kind of a young man would return. What his health would be like, his psychological state, his social abilities after half a decade in captivity.
I remember thinking while watching him re-enter his house in Mitzpe Hila in the Galilee: What kind of a future awaits him back in his childhood home? I had spent a lot of time talking to Israeli prisoners of war from the past, and judging from their experiences I feared that Shalit’s future could look more than a little bleak. I penned this piece on the subject.
But Shalit has surprised us all. In an indicator of a level of independence few expected to see, he wasn’t with his family to celebrate the anniversary yesterday — he was in the US travelling with friends. He hasn’t exactly got a normal life, but as close as could possibly be expected — his reintegration in to his community and society has been remarkably smooth. He has found a dignified way of being in the public eye — writing on sports for Yedioth Aharonoth — without marketing or taking advantage of his experience. I spoke to his father about the process a few months ago.
So what has made for this smooth return for Shalit’s smooth return? Part of it is just a matter of indescribable personality traits. But there are some clear external factors.
On Thursday night, Israel Prize Winner Rabbi Daniel Sperber gave a lecture at the Jewish Center in New York City on “Why Modern Orthodoxy is True Orthodoxy.”
Sperber, a Talmud scholar at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, provided a thorough history of Orthodox Judaism before noting the differences between modern Orthodoxy and ultra-Orthodoxy, emphasizing that modern Orthodoxy is willing to view Halacha as a “constantly developing entity and it is willing to face challenges.”
Sperber, devoted a large portion of his lecture on the evolving role of women in Orthodox Judaism, saying that only the modern Orthodox establishment accepts and supports these changes “that are taking place now in our society,” which are “completely rejected by our more ultra-Orthodox brethren.”
Sperber closed his speech by saying true orthodoxy regards Halacha as something “which is constantly growing, constantly reevaluating the situation, constantly readapting itself to changes in society.”
Annette Schabes, who travelled from Englewood, NJ to listen to the speech, empathized with Sperber’s views on the changing role of women. “I think that as long things are done within the framework of Jewish law, there’s no reason why one cannot take a more active role within ritual practice.”
The event was part of an annual lecture series sponsored by The Yavne-Shapiro Program in Torah and Jewish Ethics in cooperation with Bar-Ilan University. Thursday’s lecture was the first in the series given outside of Israel.
There’s a Silverman involved in the latest pro-Obama ad, but it’s not the one you’re thinking (or hoping) it is.
Sarah Silverman’s sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman, who lives in Israel, co-produced “Israelis on Obama.” The piece features a number of Israeli talking heads (mainly defense officials, political scientists, and intellectuals) praising Obama’s financing of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, and his sanctions policy against Iran.
Schlep Labs (also known as the Jewish Council for Education Research, put it out as a quickie response to Mitt Romney’s accusing Obama of not backing Israel strongly enough in Tuesday night’s presidential debate.
We’ll admit we’re a bit disappointed — not necessarily by the video’s message, but by the lack of production values as compared to the PAC’s previous ads. I guess we’ve been spoiled by all that free exposure to Silverman’s raunchy humor and Adam Mansbach’s clever writing.
Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, a top leader of the Israeli Haredi community, in at the center of a massive scandal.
No, he wasn’t seen with a female escort, accused of child abuse, or fingered in some kind of money-laundering operation.
But to the Haredi community, what he did might even be worse: Yitzhak was photographed the other day using an iPhone in his car.
The grainy picture, now roundly circulated on the Internet, comes after months of Haredi denunciation of smart phones.
From public iPhone-smashing ceremonies to posters calling smart phone-users the perpetrators of a “spiritual holocaust,” rabbis across Israel have made it perfectly clear that owning or using a smart phone of any kind is akin to a massacre of your soul.
So how was Yitzhak allowed to have one? On Tuesday, according to JPost, his website posted a notice titled “a clarification to prevent slander.” It conceded that the said the rabbi has an iPhone, but asserts that he received permission to own it from Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, one of the most senior Haredi rabbis in Israel.
“Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman personally permitted the use of an iPhone by the rabbi and his staff for the purposes of bringing people back to Judaism,” the notice read.
“Anyone who doubts his rabbi is as if he doubts the divine presence,” the announcement concluded darkly.
It remains to be seen, however, if the tempest will damage Yitzhak’s reputation. After all one could assume that no proper Haredi Jew knows of this scandal, as they surely do not possess any Internet-capable devices.
Jews aren’t known to be swing voters. Most, in fact, hold strong political convictions and are not easily swayed.
Still, as Gal Beckerman noted, there were a whole lot of folks with Jewish names asking questions at the Tuesday night presidential debate — and all were undecided voters.
Well, not any more.
At least one, Susan Katz, was so convinced with President Obama’s showing at the debate, that she decided to give him her vote on November 6. “I saw in President Obama someone who has ripened with time. He deserves another four years to see his vision through,” Katz told Politico.
Katz asked Mitt Romney how he would be different from former president George W. Bush, a question that could give away at least a little of her political tendencies.
Going down the list of Jewish names, Adelphi University junior Jeremy Epstein, who got to ask the first question in the debate, remains undecided. He told Newsday that he liked Romney’s answer to his question about the chances of a college student like himself to find a job after graduation. He did not, however, like Romney’s style and thought Obama was more “personable.”
In the informal chat with both candidates after the debate was over, Epstein, 20, challenged the president to a pickup basketball game.
And Politico reports that another Jewish sounding name, Kerry Ladke (the name that sounded to many like Latke) is also still undecided after hearing Obama and Romney’s responses to his question about the attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.
Mitt Romney is a skilled debater. Despite his reputation for gaffes, he is usually very effective in structured settings. He makes his points, he makes them clearly and he moves on.
That said, the second presidential debate was a disaster for Romney. Here are four moments where he threw away his latest best chance to take the lead in the race for the White House:
WOMEN AREN’T ONLY ONES IN ‘BINDERS’
Romney thought he was touting his commitment to women by bragging that he demanded a “binder full of women” to fill slots in his cabinet as Massachusetts governor. Trouble is, he sounded like the condescending bean-counting CEO that many voters think he really is.
Women know that “binders” are really a shorthand for keeping women in their place. Leaders in business or politics or any other field who actually care about equality don’t have to come up with a dossier to hire women. They just do it. And what happens when you fill enough slots to make the “binder”? You move back to your white male friends for all the rest of the spots — at least that’s what many suspect.
Having used the Forward’s patented debate drinking game tonight, I’m sitting here quite dry. Which means I’ve got a few quick takeaways from the slugfest in Lon Giland.
1) Jewiest debate ever: Let’s just get this out of the way. Carol Greenberg? Jeremy Epstein? Barry Green? Cary Latke? Latke?! Thankfully the next debate is in Boca Raton, which is a relief, because I was worried only middle aged Jews would get a chance to make their voices heard this election cycle.
2) Maybe there was an altitude problem in Denver: Obama was so much more present, energetic and effective right out of the gate that at first I even thought the extreme contrast with his Denver performance could be a liability. It would highlight just how bad he had been. But then he just kept striking the contrasts he needed to strike — most notably on tax policy and social issues — and it became obvious that whatever happened, whether the altitude or anything else, Obama had clearly learned from his mistakes and had shown up. It made for a much, much more lively debate all around and put the lie to the conventional wisdom that somehow this town hall debate would not lend itself to sharp exchanges and attacks. It was actually the least congenial debate I can remember in any recent election cycle, for better or worse.
3) Patronizing Mitt: Since Republicans spent a lot of time picking apart every one of Joe Biden’s eye rolls and giggles, it seems safe to take a look at Romney’s style tonight. From basically telling the president to shut up and wait his turn to having to be told by Candy Crowley to sit back down in his chair, Romney came off as less empathetic and human than he did in the first debate. He seemed angry. While the president seemed — amazingly — to be enjoying himself. Romney also seemed to have a harder time with issues like gender inequality and gun control. While he kept trying to move to the center, Obama kept pushing him back to the right. This was brilliantly done by the president in the exchange over George W. Bush. Romney made what looked at first like a bold decision to throw Bush under the bus (where at least he’ll have Israel for company!) for not dealing with the ballooning deficit. Obama then took the opportunity to compare Romney with Bush and further cemented his image of the governor as the “severe conservative” he once claimed himself to be, to the right of Dubya on issues like immigration and social security.
4) Triumph of the fact check: So much of this campaign has revolved around competing claims of truth and falsehood. Each side repeatedly calls the other a liar and a whole industry of fact checkers has emerged over the last few cycles to act as referees. Because of this, the moment that will probably have the most resonance from this evening is when Candy Crowley fact checked in real time (a feat in itself) a claim by Romney, calling it in Obama’s favor, to the applause of the audience. Put aside that the Obama administration has not come up with a good answer for the way the attack on the Benghazi embassy was spun in the hours after it occurred, the president did in fact call it an act of terror in the Rose Garden the following day. Romney was caught looking silly and like a prevaricator for saying otherwise. And I’m willing to predict that the enduring moment, bound to be replayed tomorrow a few times, is Obama asking, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”
Ynet reports that Atef Salem, the newly appointed ambassador of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government, has formally presented his credentials to Israel’s President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. In the words of V.P. Joe Biden, this is a big f*!@&! deal.
Worth recalling the little-noticed passage in Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, in which he reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative promising full recognition and end of conflict with Israel in return for a mutually agreed peace pact with the Palestinians.
The Berman-Sherman congressional race in California’s 30th district has been nothing but pure drama.
With millions of dollars pouring into the race, attack ads, and with the two Jewish Democrats, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman’s latest debate making headlines thanks to an unprecedented physical altercation, the entire nation is tuning in to see who will rule San Fernando Valley after November 6.
The Democratic establishment threw its support firmly behind Howard Berman, who has served in Congress since 1983 and in his latest position is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs committee. Berman has the backing of both California Senators and most of the Democrats on the states congressional delegation. He even got to ride with the President when Obama came to town for a fundraiser.
But polls are beginning to show that support of top Dems might not be enough. Brad Sherman, sans party support but with an elaborate ground operation, is leading in all the latest polls. Last month, a local poll put Sheman way ahead with 45%, compared to 32% of the voters saying they will support Berman and 23% remaining undecided.
At the Forward, we’re always looking for ways to help our readers stay in touch with current events from a Jewish perspective.
In that spirit, we’ve come up with a Jewish drinker’s guide to tonight’s presidential debate.
After his lackluster performance two weeks ago, it’s President Barack Obama’s shot at debate redemption. Mitt Romney can seal the deal with another commanding performance. Joe Biden won’t be anywhere near your TV screen, so hopefully you don’t have to worry about “malarkey.”
Get some booze, grab your remote and play along.
“The only democracy in the Middle East…”
An anecdote about a Jewish lady in Florida/Ohio/Nevada or some other random swing state
Anyone over-pronouncing Hamas as “Kkkkkhamas”
“My friend Benjamin Netanyahu…”
A properly employed Yiddishism
Recognized for its contribution over the course of six decades “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday. There has been the usual carping from the reliably reactionary elements in the American commentariat – “The once-significant award has become the self-esteem builder for undeserving underachievers, a sort of gold star for grown-ups”, states Jennifer Rubin. But one would be hard pressed to find a supranational institution which has done more to foster “fraternity between nations” than the EU and its predecessors.
The Nobel Committee was explicit in its intent when it awarded the Prize to the EU. With Europe “currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest”, they wished for the continent’s leaders to recommit themselves to “the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights”.
An excellent idea indeed, and to that end, it is necessary to recognise that while the peoples of Europe have never been closer – thanks to the absence of barriers on the movement of goods, services, capital, and people – the dual problems of racism and anti-Semitism which have long plagued Europe have not been entirely vanquished. In fact, in spite of our best efforts, during this period of austerity and turmoil, tensions between classes and communities have only increased, including incitements against European Jewry.
Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is proud to be a 1 billion user man.
After the social network hit the 10-digit mark for users, Zuckerberg said he was “humbled” by the power of connecting poeople.
“Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life,” Zuckerberg, who was raised in a Reform Jewish home, said in a blog post.
On a “Today” show interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer last week, Zuckerberg said he was aiming for an even bigger audience.
“There’s 5 billion people in the world who have phones, so we should be able to serve many more people and grow the user base there,” he said. Facebook also has 600 million mobile users.
Zuckerberg said Facebook is ready to pump more growth from smart phone users.
Stav Shaffir is the first, but perhaps not the last, of the leaders of Israel’s social protest movement to enter politics. Shaffir, a 27-year-old journalist, is vying for a spot on the Labor Party’s list for the upcoming January 22 elections.
In a video that friends helped her produce, Shaffir, recognizable to many by her long, bright red hair, legitimates the frustration of so many Israeli citizens that the summer 2011 protests failed to make an appreciable difference. But she also says that the next step is to effect change through the political process.
“Many of us have given up on politics,” she said. “But to give up on politics is to give up on our future.” She goes on to say, “This is our time. This is the time for work” — making a catchy pun by using avodah, the Hebrew word for work, but also the Hebrew name for the Labor party.
What’s the use of a spin room when we have social media? Last night, the Twitterverse turned its eyes towards the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.
You’ve probably already heard all of the “malarkey” from partisans representing both parties, but here’s a look at the lighter side of last night’s important debate.
Early on, many viewers thought Biden was faring better than President Barack Obama’s widely-criticized performance last week. Andy Borowitz, author of The Borowitz Report, tweeted:
As discussion turned to Iran, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu became the hot topic of discussion. Commentary magazine’s Alana Goodman observed:
You know what Biden needs? A bomb chart.Alana Goodman (@alanagoodman) October 12, 2012
Michael Koplow, program director at the Israel Institute, noted that:
Picking “Bibi” in #VPDebate bingo was clearly the right move on my part.Michael Koplow (@mkoplow) October 12, 2012
A startling video posted online Thursday night shows California Rep. Brad Sherman violently grabbing his bitter rival Rep. Howard Berman during a debate.
The confrontation between the two Jewish Democrats fighting for their political lives was shot at a Thursday night debate at Pierce College, according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Sherman put his right arm around Berman and shook him slightly as the two argued over a federal immigration bill, the paper wrote. Berman looked to the audience, shocked. Sherman let go, then stuck his face in Berman’s as a sheriff’s deputy approached.
“You want to get in my face?” Sherman shouted.