Trying to keep up with the sessions here at TribeFest can make your head spin, and it has proven difficult to pop in and out of the breakaway groups as I planned. The session on Obama and the Jewish vote seemed a pretty good one for extensive coverage, given the intensity of feelings Jews seem to have for or against the president. It would have been great to get some sense of the political orientation of the people in the room and how they viewed the administration’s approach to the peace process.
Unfortunately, this session missed out on TribeFest’s stated goal of interactivity and ended up being a spirited debate between the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council, the likes of which go on all the time on college campuses and at other venues. The Q&A lasted about 10 minutes of the hour, with several people stranded in line waiting for a turn.
It was an interesting give and take, with NJDC’s David Harris, iike his predecessor Ira Forman, insisting Israel was not a partisan issue and both Democrats and Republicans support the Jewish state and the RJC’s Matt Brooks saying there is a "tremendous strain" in relations with Israel under this Democratic administration.
About the only indication of where the crowd stood politically is the applause when Brooks said lefty lobby J Street is "one of the most dangerous, pernicious and offensive organizations in the Jewish community." When rapper Y Love, who is performing as well as participating in TribeFest, asked about the influence of the Tea Party, Brooks called congressmen Rand Paul and Ron Paul "two nutjobs," also garnering applause. Then came a loaded question for Harris: If you’re not concerned about Obama’s policies toward Israel now, what would it take to get you to that point?
Too hypothetical, said the Democrat, though he did point out that the NJDC has taken positions against the White House at some points. It would have been not only interesting but useful to the TribeFest planners to see how many people in the audience shared concern and skepticism about the Obama administration, and how many are for staying the course.
The next TribeFest will be held in an election year. People will have a lot more to say. Hopefully they’ll have a chance to be heard.