In an emotionally charged debate between a democratic and republican representative in Israel that seemed to mirror the trajectory of the current US Presidential election campaign, there was a lot of yelling with few facts.
“I know the passions in this audience are deep and intense. I ask all of you, regardless of your political persuasions, to control them because we aren’t going to get anywhere if we cat-call and interrupt each other,” Mark Zell, the representative of Republicans Oversees, told the audience at the beginning of the debate.
Mark Zell and Sheldon Schorer, the representative of Democrats Abroad, battled it out in front of an audience of some 100 elderly Israeli-Americans, who half-listened, slept, interjected, and took phone calls as the two men argued their cases on why each candidate would be best for both America and Israel.
“This is the most extraordinary election that any of us has ever witnessed probably in our lifetimes,” Zell said. “And, I can see around here that you (all) have probably witnessed many elections.”
This debate, which came a day after the first US Presidential election debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, was just as heated as the real one.
“(Last night’s) debate was the appetizer and this is the main course,” Herb Keinon, a senior diplomatic reporter at The Jerusalem Post and the moderator of the debate, told the crowd.
Almost an hour and a half into the debate, an audience member asked a question aimed at Schorer, the Democrat, about Hillary Clinton’s ability to handle the responsibility of being commander in chief given criticism of her use of a private email server for classified documents and the Benghazi attack in 2012, when Islamist gunmen killed four Americans, including US ambassador Chris Stevens. Clinton, then US Secretary of State, was criticized for security lapses at the Embassy.
“Congress has investigated the whole issue of Benghazi and the emails and there have been 11 separate investigations. Congress has spent more money and time on this issue than they did on Watergate and the JFK assassination and at the end of it, what happened? It was a waste of time,” Schorer responded as he was interrupted by an ex- marine who screamed “To hell with Hillary!” What then transpired was an argument between Schorer, Zell, and the ex-marine in the back of the room who was wearing a “Hillary for Prison 2016” pin.
Schorer, an ardent supporter of both President Obama and democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, believes that Clinton would carry on the legacy of change that Obama began after he assumed the presidency in 2008.
“As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton brought back America’s prestige and pride and America is now a leader,” Schorer said. “Hillary Clinton can create consensus, she can bring people together. She is a leader, she is strong, and she has courage,” Schorer added.
When asked about the Iranian nuclear deal and the issue of Israeli communities established in the West Bank which the US criticizes as illegal under international law, Schorer repeated a statement made by Obama: “One does not have to be a Likudnik (a right-wing, Israeli political faction) to be a supporter of Israel.”
On the other side, Zell, who claims to be a Trump supporter after some “serious soul- searching,” believes Trump should become the next president first because he is a Republican. That party has always backed Israel, he said, and would cancel the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted most sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran sharply curtailing its nuclear program.
Zell also said that Trump has promised to stay out of the Israeli / Palestinian conflict until both parties ask for his help or advice.
“If (the Israelis and Palestinians) are not interested, it’s none of Washington’s business,” Zell said.
While Zell and Schorer spent some time arguing in favor of their respective candidates, they also spent much of the debate throwing punches at the other candidate.
“Do we want to go back to the dark, old ages?” Schorer asked. “Donald Trump is divisive. He has already alienated our own allies and he has alienated people in America. He is not a person with vision.”
Similarly, Zell was quick to bash Clinton. “(She has) no achievements in the Senate, no achievements as first lady. And, she’s a liar. A congenital liar. And she and her foundation are corrupt as hell,” Zell charged.
The debate, which was rooted more in emotion than facts, was a classic he-said, she- said. Zell had an easier time swaying the already-convinced Republicans in the room of the need to end the Obama / Clinton legacy in the United States.
“Well, I certainly think that poor Mr. Schorer had a very difficult time defending Hillary Clinton,” Toby Willig, a 91 year-old woman originally from Forest Hills, Queens, told The Media Line. “The debate is whether you want four more years of Obama and Hillary or if you want a new approach, hopefully a much better one.”
Many of the Israeli - Americans in attendance are from swing-states in the US, like Florida and Ohio, and their votes are important in the election. An estimated 200,000 dual American-Israelis are eligible to vote in the US election, and 80,000 voted in 2012.
While some at the debate in Jerusalem are casting ballots, others said are abstaining because of how polarizing this election has become.
“I am probably not going to vote for president, I’m just going to vote for Congress and senators because I have to like the candidate I’m voting for,” Murray, a software developer originally from Brooklyn, NY told The Media Line, refusing to give his last name.
The debate was hosted by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), which is a non-political association for the English speaking community in Israel and has hosted these debates for the American presidential elections at least three or four times, according to Julian Landau, President of AACI.