A presidential candidates' forum, held at Temple Sinai in Dresher — a gathering that featured sharply worded questions from the audience regarding some of Barack Obama's previous associations and John McCain's choice for vice president — went on more or less as originally scheduled, despite a decision by the Obama campaign not to participate in any programs that included representatives from the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Obama officials have argued that the RJC has engaged in a beyond-the-pale smear campaign through advertising and robocalls. The RJC countered that the Democrats are seeking to stifle debate within the Jewish community.
Obama staffers had asked event organizers to replace Scott Feigelstein, executive director of the RJC's regional chapter, with a surrogate sent by the McCain campaign. At the Oct. 26 Temple Sinai breakfast program, Feigelstein was slated to speak on behalf of McCain, and State Rep. Josh Shapiro was scheduled to speak for Obama.
But, as it turned out, Shapiro was the one who bowed out, while Feigelstein remained on the bill. Organizers said that Shapiro cited a conflicting family obligation. Instead, Obama was represented by State. Rep. Daylin Leach (D-District 149), who is running for a state Senate seat against Republican Lance Rogers.
Obama Policy Not Violated
Leach — who claimed that he'd been told Feigelstein would not be on the bill — said he was not violating the Obama campaign's policy by taking part in the program, because he and Feigelstein delivered separate speeches.
In fact, Feigelstein was asked to leave the chapel when Leach spoke; however, when Feigelstein took to the podium, Mike Masserman, an Obama Jewish outreach coordinator, stood in the back of the room.
It wasn't clear if the back-and-forth resulted in any substantive changes to the program since it was always slated to be a separate candidates' forum, and not a debate.
During his talk, Leach argued that Obama has impeccable credentials on Israel, and that the difference between the two candidates on domestic and social issues should not be minimized.
"The [high] court is at a tipping point right now," said Leach. "Thirty to 40 years of an extremist Supreme Court is at stake in this election."
But the audience didn't ask anything about court appointments but pressed — some downright heckled — Leach on Obama's associations with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; former Weather Underground member William Ayers; and pro-Palestinian academic Rasheed Khalidi. Leach said that dragging in these individuals was engaging in "guilt by association," and that Obama's public statements and pro-Israel voting record speak for themselves.
Feigelstein — who also engaged in some verbal sparing with synagogue members — went on the offensive, asserting that Obama is not ready to lead and that McCain is far more prepared to be commander in chief. One woman asked him how he could tell "nothing but lies." Another asked how McCain could have selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Who Has the Experience?
"Gov. Palin has more executive experience than Sen. Obama," said Feigelstein. "Obama has picked someone who doesn't know his history."
Feigelstein pointed to an inaccurate statement made by U.S. Sen. Joe Biden during the vice presidential debate that the United States and France had kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon.
Sporting an Obama pin written in Hebrew lettering, 77-year-old Sheila Newman remained unconvinced by Feigelstein's arguments. She said that McCain was no longer a maverick, had moved too far to the right and hadn't stuck to his core beliefs.
But 81-year-old Clifford Lipkin didn't like what Leach had to say about Obama. "I am afraid of [Obama]," Lipkin said, "and I don't trust him."