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Jewish Journal

Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman delivers mixed review of Obama’s Israel policy

By Dan Gelman, Contributing writer

April 8, 2010 | 10:48 am

“I know why you’re here, and I want to address it, but I think it’s a tempest in a teapot,” Brad Sherman, the Democratic Congressman from Sherman Oaks said Wednesday evening at a town hall at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. The meeting was called to focus on U.S.-Israel relations.

About 500 people, mostly middle-aged and senior citizen Jews, attended the discussion arranged by resident Rabbi Stewart Vogel, a self-proclaimed personal friend of the Jewish congressman.  In his introduction, the rabbi said, “Tonight is not a political endorsement. He is here to speak to the people.”

Those who came expecting Sherman to emphatically denounce the president’s recent behavior with regard to the building of apartments in East Jerusalem, or to warn of Obama’s ill will toward the Jewish State, were likely disappointed.  “It would be much better if we didn’t have this tiff,” Sherman said, stating nevertheless his belief in a unified Jewish Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that the buildings were not “settlements.”

The congressman spent the first half hour of his talk focusing instead on Iran: “Hashem put the oil in all the wrong places. The real threat to America and Israel is the Iran nuclear program. I’ve served three presidents, and they all did a terrible job with this. I’ve been pushing for sanctions against Iran. This administration is proposing ‘smart sanctions,’ that are dumb sanctions,” Sherman said.

He warned the audience about the potential results of an Israeli strike against Iran. These included the death of many Israelis at the hands of Iran-backed Palestinians. “If Israel bombs Iran, gas prices will be $8 per gallon on Ventura Boulevard. If you think it’s hard to convince Gentiles why to be pro-Israel now…,” he added.

Vogel asked Sherman a series of questions submitted in writing by audience members. One asked why the President seems more interested in chastising Israel than the Palestinians, and why anyone should believe that Obama is on Israel’s side.

“It is regrettable that Israel is held to a much higher standard than appropriate,” Sherman responded.

He said the $2.8 billion America gives in aid annually to Israel is a reason to believe in the president.  “There is no stronger statement and the aid is not going to be reduced by any of this,” he assured the audience. When Vogel asked why the president has not visited Israel yet, the audience broke into applause. “I don’t know, he should,” Sherman said.

The question of whether more Jews will vote Republican in the next election received the loudest applause. Vogel asked for a show of hands of how many voted for Obama and how many against. The vote appeared to be split 50-50.

Sherman reminded the group that Israel is not the central issue on the minds of non-Jewish Americans.  “If we had a town hall in Lincoln, Neb., what Obama said to Netanyahu would not come up. You’ve got to remember, this is not the whole country. Omaha, Neb. Exists, and most of you don’t have relatives there,” Sherman said.

Toward the end of the evening, Vogel accused his friend of “skirting the issues.” Sherman responded that he was not doing so and encouraged repeat questions. At one point when asked about the future, Sherman turned toward the rabbi and said, “I think this is in your realm. I think we need divine intervention.”

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