President Barack Obama and his allies have made an unusual number of “official” visits to states that just happen to be critical to his re-election effort. Critics charge that these visits, already the subject of a complaint to the Government Accountability Office by the Republican National Committee, use taxpayer funds for what are essentially campaign purposes. In swing-state Florida, one of the few states in which Jewish voters are numerous enough to make a difference, the Obama administration and its surrogates have attempted to arrange appearances in Jewish congregations–and have been met with vociferous resistance by community activists.
Earlier this month, UN Ambassador Susan Rice–a key mouthpiece for the Obama campaign in 2008–appeared at B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Florida. Several dozen members of the community staged a silent walkout; many more who were suspected of planning a protest were barred from entering. The spectacle of Jews being told they could not enter a synagogue–or threatened with trespassing for having entered one–was recorded and made its way onto YouTube, where activists raised outrage against the synagogue and its rabbi.
Breitbart News contacted B’nai Torah Rabbi David Steinhardt as he prepared to leave for a trip to Israel over the recent Shavuot (Pentecost) holiday. He pointed out that the synagogue had hosted many Republican speakers in the past, and lamented the fact that the event with Ambassador Rice had led to a vicious online campaign–including unfounded personal attacks–against him.
Rabbi Steinhardt insisted that the synagogue had no obligation to admit people whose intention was to disrupt the event, and had an obligation to ensure Ambassador Rice’s security. He said that he suspected the visit could have political implications, in an election year, but added that felt he had been “naïve” to believe it would not trigger so much opposition. It was sad, he added, that tensions in the Jewish community had become so severe that people could no longer have normal dialogue or debate about political issues.
Last week, Temple Israel of Greater Miami cancelled a planned appearance by Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). Though Wasserman Schultz is from south Florida, the event was to be held just outside of her current district–again, as part of a pattern of shoring up Jewish support in a community that is unhappy with President Obama’s record among Israel and which could play a decisive role in the fate of Florida’s 29 electoral votes. Her appearance promised to draw even more vociferous protest–and synagogue leaders backed out, fearing a repeat of what had happened in Boca Raton.
A press release by the synagogue stated: “…we face the reality that the level of discourse within our community and across our great country has often become rancorous and disruptive when involving matters of public policy.” The release cited events in Boca Raton, and while acknowledging that the Boca Raton demonstrators had not been violent, lamented the publication of “a one-sided and unfair accusation” against that congregation. “Going forward, Temple Israel will not invite any candidates for public office or their supporters to speak during this election season.”
An e-mail circulated by an activist group thanked its members “for helping to expose the fraud contemplated by the Obama Administration in crafting its South Florida (and perhaps elsewhere) surrogates’ synagogue tour,” noting that at least one member had severed “a 70-year family relationship” with Temple Israel in protest of its willingness to host Wasserman Schultz.
From the perspective of the Temple’s leadership, the cancellation of election-year appearances marks a low point in the Jewish community’s willingness to “embrace…freedom of thought, expression, and civility.”
From the perspective of congregants angered by a Jewish establishment that has enabled and flattered the Obama administration’s poor record on Israel, it is better to have no politicians in the pulpit than to be forced to welcome a barrage of pro-Obama speakers on “official” election-year visits.