Two distinguished and knowledgeable speakers, Dan Fleshler, a media and public affairs strategist in New York City, and Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, trustee of the City University of New York and former FBI foreign counter-intelligence agent, represented the 2012 presidential candidates at the October 14 Israeli Affairs Breakfast at the Reform Temple of Forest Hills. In order to maintain civility the event was billed as a “panel discussion,” not a debate, on the current hot-button issue that is dividing Jewish communities across America.
Lois Silverman, past president of the congregation introduced the speakers and the topic, “Obama or Romney – who is better for Israel,” saying that the U.S. and Israel have an unshakable relationship and that we are looking forward to hearing the speakers clarify the rather puzzling foreign policy positions of both Governor Romney and President Obama. They did the job, as they presented two diametrically opposed political views on the outcome of the election on Israel. The room was packed with an equally balanced audience from the political left to the right.
Dan Flesher started off lambasting Romney’s lack of foreign affairs experience and his dozens of foreign policy advisors vying for his heart and mind, many of whom are the neoconservatives and hawks who got us into the Iraq War. The far better bet for the State of Israel, he argued is Obama’s “bridge building” approach to broker a secure peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors.
Fleshler has been a longtime American Jewish activist struggling to counteract the powerful influence of AIPAC, America’s leading pro-Israel lobby, and other hawkish groups that he maintains, have a stranglehold on America’s Middle East policies. He authored “Transforming America’s Israel Lobby – The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change” (Potomac Books, May 2009) where he makes the case for a domestic pro-peace political bloc that is both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, seeking an end to the Israeli “occupation” and envisions a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is a member of J Street’s national Advisory Council and a board member of Americans for Peace Now (APN), groups that share the same vision that the only path to peace is to secure a viable Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, based on the 1967 borders. It should be noted that J Street, partially funded by George Soros, Arab and Muslim Americans and Iranian advocacy organizations, endorsed the Arab and Palestinian sponsored UN resolution to condemn Israel in the UN Security Council which spurred Democratic representatives to cut their ties with J Street.
Although Mitt Romney has pledged to eliminate “daylight” between the United States and Israeli governments, the accusations that Obama is anti-Israel because he has differences with Israeli policies are unfounded, according to Fleshler. Even as Obama seeks to put “daylight” between U.S. and Israel, we need to look at his record in the historical context of his predecessors rebuffing Israel. Past presidents such as Ronald Reagan suspended strategic cooperation with Israel and Gerald Ford sought a reassessment of US-Israeli relations, as did other presidents. However President Obama has delivered more military aid to Israel than any administration including the bunker-busting bombs, which were originally denied by the George W. Bush administration.
Obama has four years of experience in US-Israel relations, to Romney’s zero Fleshler stressed. His Middle East policy informed by notable advisors, maintains that the Israeli-Arab conflict as well as the existential threat involving Iran, cannot be solved without US engagement, in order to breach the differences between both sides. Both Israel and the Arab states will have to make concessions and tone down anti-Semitic rhetoric. Obama continues to pursue this bridge-building approach, the path laid out by Bill Clinton, the best template to resolve the Middle East conflicts without resorting to war. The Right has no answers and Fleshler stated that we can only hope and guess as to what Romney will do for Israel.
He compared the presidential candidates’ Middle East policies to two different treatment options of cancer specialists. One way is to cut out the cancer by drastic surgery, hoping the patient lives. The other option is the more diligent, painstaking approach, a step by step process treating the cancer by all therapeutic treatments available until the cancer goes into remission. Fleshler indicated that the former is Romney’s radical approach, while the later is Obama’s conscientious approach, which is best for Israel. The cancer specialist who doesn’t give up is the best way to save the patient.
The next speaker, Jeff Wiesenfeld delivered a clarion call to all American Jews to learn the lessons of our 2000 year history in the diaspora, from persecution and pogroms to the Holocaust, and apply it to the present when the State of Israel faces the prospect of extinction, in order to cast an informed vote for the presidential candidate who will be best prepared to protect Israel. Wiesenfled’s parents as well as his in-laws were Holocaust survivors, so when he speaks out in defense of Israel, it’s from the depths of his soul. On countless occasions he has stood up courageously as a Jewish warrior, the Maccabee of our age to defend the State of Israel and confront rabid anti-Semitism head-on regardless of the fear of repercussions or the straightjacket of political correctness, which renders more timid souls to perpetual silence.
Wiesenfeld delved in the history of the Jewish people discussing the plight of Gypsies, stateless wanderers, in order to help visualize the importance of our historic connection to Israel. Before we had a Jewish national homeland we were defenseless wanderers, like Gypsies who had no home, no state and no respect, and who are irrelevant today. We were powerless and vulnerable, but who could believe the prospect of the extermination of six million Jews? Wiesenfeld lamented in righteous indignation that the world did not “set a red line.”
Today the president of Iran threatens to “wipe Israel off the map.” But the difference today, Wiesenfeld admonished, is that there will be no “retail” Holocaust. One bomb is all that is necessary for instantaneous annihilation, all dead, rather than the Nazi’s systematic extermination process of 10,000 per day.
Today we need to set a “red line” for Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran is just as deadly fanatical as Nazi Germany. Before World War II, Russian Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky warned the Polish Jews to believe Hitler; the volcano is erupting and the time is short for them to be spared. Ahmadinejad, like Hitler, means what he says. He means to destroy the Jewish State. Iran has determined to develop nuclear weapons and deploy them against Israel, a threat even worse than the Holocaust. Germany had at least 70 million sympathetic to the Nazis, while 150 million Muslims are sympathetic to the jihadist terrorists. This time there will be no repeat of the diaspora. If Israel is destroyed, the Jewish people are finished. Israel is a haven where Jews can go to be safe, a homeland where we’re not vulnerable, and a safe haven to prevent a recurrence of the Holocaust. Without Israel, Jews would have nowhere to turn and would be unwelcome and vulnerable in every country. This means the end of the Jewish people and Judaism.
But as Jews, we are the only people who act against our own interests, Wiesenfeld admonished. He elaborated on the Jews’ historic love affair with the Democratic Party. Early in the last century, there were no answers for the downtrodden Jews of Eastern Europe who faced violent anti-Semitism on a daily basis. Marxism delivered a message of hope for the Jews. Here was an answer to save the Jews from their destiny of continuous persecution as they found a ticket to assimilation and acceptance in hostile societies embracing this new universal faith in the “Brotherhood of Man.” However the communists were no better for the Jews than any other tyrant. When they came to America, Jews all flocked to the Democratic Party, the Party of the downtrodden, taking the tenets of Marxism with them. They voted for Roosevelt and embraced the labor union movement, the socialist platform, and the New Deal social reforms. Since then Jews have traditionally voted Democratic.
Tradition is the lifeblood of the Jewish people. Tradition held us together as a people through the 2000 year history of persecution in diaspora. But in America, this is one false tradition that should be discarded. In a free market capitalist society where Jewish immigrants have enjoyed equal opportunities and have prospered, there’s no need to hang on to socialist traditions or the Democrat Party. This point was emphasized by Wiesenfeld’s reminder of the recent Democratic National Convention floor vote, which after three tries followed by boos and jeers, the majority of delegates resolved to reject Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital. “Those boos were for you! They don’t want your Israel,” he said.
Wiesenfeld blasted Obama’s cheerleading for the “Arab Spring” which turned into a nightmare for Israel. Today’s escalating chaos in the Middle East is the direct outcome of Obama’s foreign policy beginning with his Cairo speech of apologies for America, a show of appeasement to adversaries and weakness to the world. Obama worked against Mubarak, one of our allies, the same way in which Carter worked against the Shah of Iran and ushered in the Iranian Revolution and the tyrannical reign of the ayatollahs. We can’t have four more years of this nightmare for Israel.
During a heated question and answer period which reiterated many of the above points, Wiesenfeld called it “nourishkeit” responding to a question about whether Obama or Romney would be better for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said that the Mideast is in flames and Islamism is on the rise and we are giving the Palestinians money and weapons to fight Israel. It is an irrelevant discussion now since we have no partner for peace. We can only work with partners who really want peace and Israel will never go back to the “Auschwitz borders,” of 1967 as a condition for negotiations. These remarks were greeted with rousing applause.
Fleshler summed up his arguments saying that Obama, while not perfect, is better for Israel’s security, grading him six out of ten points on his foreign policy. Like the cancer specialist who wouldn’t give up, Obama too will never give up trying to bring about negotiations for peaceful solutions, not just sit back like Romney saying it’s impossible. Fleshler claimed that Iran hasn’t made the determination to get nukes and America doesn’t want another war in the Middle East, which would be an all out conflagration worse than anything we’ve seen in Afghanistan or Iraq. Obama is now doing everything to prevent us from getting to that point. Obama’s policies will eventually solve the problem and save Israel. The moderate approach of the middle ground is the answer, not the extremist approach of the right wing settlers who burned down Palestinian olive groves. Fleshler cautioned that we should not trust Romney with his George W. Bush-like policies and his ties to Evangelical Christians. At this point, members of an outraged audience hissed and booed as one person called out “that is a lie” in reference to his remark about the burning of the olive groves, while another said “what about the Fogel family murdered in their sleep?” It has been documented that the destruction of olive groves belonging to Arab farmers have been planned actions executed by Arabs and anarchists seeking to blame Jews.
In his closing remarks, Wiesenfeld affirmed that Israel, America’s greatest ally, is a legitimate issue in this election. He said that giving Obama a grade of six out of ten in foreign policy is a failure in his book. He gives Romney a higher grade for offering superior executive credentials, a different approach to foreign affairs and leadership grounded in reality. Romney’s policies are guided by the fact that there can be no peace talks without true partners for peace. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat, do not want peace with Israel. There can be no compromises with no one to talk to. The Jewish State faces an unprecedented opportunity for extinction. Romney would not fail to draw the “red line” on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The president has done nothing for the State of Israel. He did nothing for the Iranian people when they rose up against Ahmadinejad. Wiesenfeld’s concluded that Jewish voters had to affirm their inviolable connection with Israel and select the man best prepared to deal with the threats to her survival at a critical time when the Middle East is in flames and America’s greatest ally, Israel is in peril.
Phil Orenstein is the Machine Shop Manager at Orics Industries Inc., NY., formerly an adjunct lecturer on Computer Aided Manufacturing at Queensborough Community College. He is a Republican County Committeeman who blogs at Democracy-Project.com and a member of the National Conference on Jewish Affairs. Email: [email protected]