Nessah Community Center Election Debate Urges Voters to Ask Tough Questions


Bracha Miriam Turner

On Thursday, September 8th, Nessah Synagogue hosted an election debate featuring a panel of public representatives and political commentators to discuss issues of concern to the Jewish community. The event was moderated by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Panelists mulled over domestic issues such as national security and urban violence. Later the debate moved on to the elephant in the room: Which presidential candidate would be better for Jews as a whole and for the state of Israel – Senator Clinton or Donald Trump?

The panel brought to light assumptions that voters make, such as, “Donald Trump’s daughter is Jewish; therefore, he will certainly be pro-Israel,” and, alternatively, “Hillary Clinton may not be good for Israel because she certainly supported her husband’s foreign policy as first lady.” Neither of these contentions can be proven by facts.

“We owe it to ourselves to ask tough questions” said Leeor Alpern, former president of the LA Chapter of Democrats for Israel.

L-R Richard Bloom (California State Assembly Member, 50th district), Leeor Alpern (President Emeritus of Democrats for Israel), George Haroonian (Nessah Board Member), Rabbi Abraham Cooper (Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center) Eitan Arom (staff writer, Jewish Journal), Joel Pollak (Editor-At-Large, Breitbart News Network)

It seemed the only consensus in the room was support for Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s anti-BDS bill, which was tenuously awaiting Governor Brown signature at the time. (It subsequently passed.) The audience was urged to phone and lobby in favor of the Governor passing the bill, as well as to raise awareness about it to those outside of their private circles.

The discussion began by raising local issues of concern, such as the rising cost of housing, an economy that hasn’t picked up speed, gun violence, and fighting poverty and homelessness. The rising cost of housing which limits other spending was a common concern that both sides recognized as troubling. Otherwise, on the local level, domestic priorities had disparate agendas.

Broadening to foreign policy issues, Elan Carr, L.A. County District Attorney, asserted that strong leadership will be necessary to combat Obama’s catastrophic mistakes in rewarding and legitimizing Iran’s illegal nuclear activity, as well as failing to intervene in Iraq and what was once Syria. “When the United States doesn’t lead, people die!” he exclaimed. He later asserted that foreign affairs has become a dangerous playing field which requires strong leadership to “return the U.S. to a position of dominance.”

Alpern proclaimed that the Trump would not be the best supporter for Israel. He commented on an NBC debate on foreign policy where Mr. Trump admitted to aspiring to stay neutral in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Alpern commented that the last thing Israel wants is a leader to be neutral. He firmly stated that we know what Clinton’s relationship is with PM Netanyahu, but as for Trump, that remains to be revealed. Bloom reinforced Alpern’s sentiments, confirming that Clinton works with statesmanship and builds relationship, while Trump very well may not do so.

Contestingly, Joel Pollak, Senior-Editor-At-Large for the conservative website Breitbart News Network, challenged the Democratic assemblymen to name a single pro-Israel measure that Senator Clinton supported, which was met with silence. He noted subtleties in Senator Clinton’s history that might suggest that she is not pro-Israel: in 2000 embracing and kissing Mrs. Arafat after listening to a false account of Israel attacking Palestinians in the West Bank with poison gas, or in 2010 asserting with pride that she strongly lectured Netanyahu for 45 minutes by phone. He asserted, “Neutrality is preferable” in guaranteeing Israel’s security.

In terms of considering third party alternatives, the panelists dismissed the caliber of such candidates as Gary Johnson, who in a television interview did not know what Aleppo when questioned in detail regarding the turmoil in Syria.

Additionally, speakers worried about immigration and border security, whether this is a primarily a public safety issue (“Why have borders if you won’t secure them?”) or a legalization issue (placing legally applying immigrants on hold while accounting for an enormous backlog of illegal immigrants, separating families in the interim). Moreover, with the increasing number of Saudis, Syrian refugees and other Arabs being admitted to the country, Pollak insisted that this may over time result in the subversion of American values. He pointed to college campuses, where socially unintegrated Muslims, who oftentimes bear hatred for Israel, clash with students; and workplaces where latent prejudices may exist (as in the case of the San Bernandino massacre). Pollak suggested changing America’s immigration policy to mimic Canada’s – necessitating skilled immigrants only, adding his opinion that becoming American means accepting gays, different races, as well as Jews. Asserting the importance of elections, he explained that the future security of the U.S. depends on judicious choices of our public representatives.