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Pro-Israel viewers debate last campaign face-off
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Pro-Israel viewers debate last campaign face-off

Republicans, J Street offer divergent takes on Mideast priorities

Among the friends and neighbors in Maplewood watching the Oct. 22 presidential debate at a gathering organized by J Street was Jewish community activist Larry Lerner, second from left. 
Among the friends and neighbors in Maplewood watching the Oct. 22 presidential debate at a gathering organized by J Street was Jewish community activist Larry Lerner, second from left. 

Sometimes less is more, as Larry Lerner suggested after watching the third televised presidential debate on Oct. 22.

Along with a group of 10 people gathered at a home in Maplewood, the Warren resident was struck by how little either President Barack Obama or challenger Gov. Mitt Romney had to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that they talked more about Iran than Israel,” said Lerner, past president of Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA) and a local Jewish federation leader. “When there’s too much talk about Israel, you can get a backlash from middle America.… The important thing is to elect Obama, for a host of reasons — and that will be good for Israel.”

Lerner watched the last face-to-face showdown between Obama and Romney at an event hosted by Marty and Judy Levine and J Street, the left-leaning pro-peace organization of which Lerner was a founding board member.

The guests included J Street members and others. It was one of around 70 such J Street gatherings in homes and on campuses around the country, designed to increase voters’ awareness of the two-state approach to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians favored by the organization, which officially is nonpartisan.

Marty Levine, in comments he shared before the debate, said both candidates are hesitant to voice any position that shows “daylight” between themselves and the Netanyahu government. Still, he insisted, a majority of American Jews would like to see the United States play an active role in helping end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“What the next president does or doesn’t do about the Israeli-Palestinian situation will have a major impact on the world,” he said.

Elsewhere in the area, pro-Israel viewers were judging the candidates on issues other than their commitment to the peace process.

“Romney appeared to be presidential and looked like someone who is in the lead, rather than the challenger,” said Short Hills businessman and Jewish communal leader Steve Klinghoffer, a Republican.

While the candidates discussed Iran and Israel’s security, Klinghoffer saw “more differences in style than specifics. My concern is that the president does not project strength, whereas I think it is more likely that Romney will project strength. That doesn’t mean that either one is a warmonger, but the way to avoid physical conflict is to project strength.”

Vicki Corben of East Brunswick, a founder of the Central NJ chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a local Republican committee woman, said she found the debate difficult to watch.

“I watch C-Span religiously so I can see things in real time and unfiltered, so I am aware of many facts,” she said. “Barack Obama said so many things that are not factual. I knew he wasn’t telling the truth.”

Corben said she appreciated that Romney “didn’t get into tit-for-tat” arguments with the president. “I thought he looked presidential in that way, and at times I thought Obama looked a little bit desperate,” she said. “I think Mitt Romney accomplished what he needed to do last night, and that was to look presidential.”

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