Jewish Atlanta Reacts to Presidential Debate

Jewish Atlanta Reacts to Presidential Debate

Biden's appearance rattled some Democrats while Trump's performance more than satisfied Republicans.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

President of the United States Joe Biden and Former President Donald Trump participate in the first Presidential Debate at CNN Studios in Atlanta, June 27, 2024 // Photo Credit: Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images/JTA
President of the United States Joe Biden and Former President Donald Trump participate in the first Presidential Debate at CNN Studios in Atlanta, June 27, 2024 // Photo Credit: Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images/JTA

The presidential debate in Atlanta left Jewish Democrats concerned about President Joe Biden and Jewish Republicans pleased with former President Donald Trump.

The June 27 debate, hosted by CNN at its Midtown campus, came 130 days before the Nov. 5 general election. The moderators were Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, both members of Temple Micah, a Reform congregation in Washington, D.C.

Trump’s backers contrasted the 78-year-old’s relative vigor on stage with the drawn appearance and halting delivery of the 81-year-old Biden, which the White House blamed on his suffering from a cold.

Biden’s performance unnerved some local Jewish supporters.

“We’re in a new world now,” a self-identified Democrat and supporter of Israel said the next morning. “Joe is now a liability. Hate to say it. He’s an excellent president. But he is a poor candidate.”

Biden’s more energetic appearance that afternoon in North Carolina provided a measure of reassurance. “But he can’t spawn another disaster. He set us back and he needs several more good days before he’s back in the saddle,” the Biden supporter, who asked not to be named, said.

Party activists from Atlanta took distinctly different views of the debate.

Chuck Berk, co-chair of the Atlanta chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition

Chuck Berk, co-chair of the Atlanta chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said, “The message from last night’s debate was clear: Joe Biden had a disastrous performance. His shaky voice, inability to make coherent points, and intermittent confusion were shocking. We should all be concerned with a leader who appears befuddled and infirm. Putin, Xi, Kim, and mullahs all watched the debate and now know how bad off the U.S. president really is. I worry what actions we may see as a result from them. Trump’s manner last night was much more reserved than previously. Besides repeatedly calling Biden the worst president ever, he stayed focused on a few key issues that are most concerning to the average American.

“Trump pointed out that Biden’s feckless Iran policy heightened the threat to Israel, believing that Oct. 7 would not have happened if Iran’s economy was close to bankruptcy, which would have denied Hamas the funding and support to attack Israel. As Jews, we should be concerned that Biden is putting pressure on Israel to cease the war before Israel wins it and can effectively wipe out Hamas,” Berk said.

Michael Rosenzweig, an Atlanta-based community activist who serves on the board of the Democratic Majority for Israel, commented from Israel: “Because I watched a recording two days after the debate, I had the benefit of watching it after reading and watching all of the hand-wringing about Biden’s performance and the calls for him to bow out. I therefore watched with trepidation, expecting to see a weak and enfeebled Biden who clearly has to go. That’s not what I saw. What I saw was Trump speaking more forcefully and with greater vitality than Biden, but he spewed nothing but lies — nothing — from start to finish. CNN’s meticulous post-debate fact check of all of Trump’s assertions, one-by-one, confirmed that.”

Democratic state Rep. Esther Panitch

He rejected suggestions that Biden withdraw from the race.

“Biden, to be sure, didn’t speak with the force that Trump did. His voice was raspy and softer, and he was plagued by the stutter we all know he has. But he spoke truth, and facts . . . I think the reactions to Biden were a rush to judgment, a failure to distinguish style from substance, and will ultimately be seen as that. It appears that Biden is going to resist the calls to bow out and instead continue the fight to keep Trump from taking America to the very dark place he has promised so openly. I applaud his decision,” Rosenzweig said.

Democratic state Rep. Esther Panitch was disappointed but unwavering. “I wish Biden’s people would have been honest enough to tell us he had a bad cold to prepare us for what we saw,” Panitch said. “While Trump looked healthier, nothing but lies came out of his mouth, and he, too, failed to meet the moment. He lied about ‘Roe,’ made awful comments about ‘Black jobs,’ negative references to Palestinians, and refused to answer multiple questions of whether he would abide by the results of this coming election. He should never have been the Republican nominee. Biden can recover — and did —from a cold, as everyone could see less than 24 hours after the debate debacle.”

Former Republican convention delegate Dan Israel

The debate prompted a change of thinking for Dan Israel, who has attended multiple Republican conventions as a delegate. “My original plan in November was to write in Gov. Brian Kemp. After watching the disastrous debate, I have no choice but to vote for Trump. The incapacity of Biden leaves me concerned with who will run the White House and make decisions for him? The left wing of Democratic Party represents a clearer danger to the Jewish community than Trump,” Israel said. “Moreover, I now view Trump more like Nixon in the sense that our enemies thought he was crazy and did not know how to manage relations with him. In this environment, that will serve the Jewish community and the world at large an advantage.”

Betsy Kramer, former acting chair of the Fulton County Republican Party

Betsy Kramer, former acting chair of the Fulton County Republican Party, watched with alarm. “The split screen demonstrated to the 50 million-plus viewers which candidate could withstand a 90-minute debate. People saw that our current president is in no way leading our country. Who is actually running our country? The American people are at a loss as to whom. One the left side of the screen there was man that was in control whereas on the right side, there was a man who showed weakness to the world,” said Kramer, who will be an at-large delegate to the Republican National Convention that begins July 15 in Milwaukee.

While the technology employed for the debate prevented the candidates from interrupting each other, they took advantage of opportunities to disparage their rival’s record and character. Biden and Trump sparred over inflation and job creation, immigration and border security, abortion, COVID, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

Their disputes included issues related to Israel, the Oct. 7 terror attacks, the war in Gaza, and Iran.

Trump asserted that, had he been in the White House, Russian President Vladimir Putin “never would have invaded Ukraine . . . Just like Israel would have never been invaded in a million years by Hamas. You know why? Because Iran was broke with me. I wouldn’t let anybody do business with them. They ran out of money. They were broke. They had no money for Hamas. They had no money for anything, no money for terror.

Biden cited support for his ceasefire plan. “The only one who wants the war to continue is Hamas, number one . . . . We’re still pushing hard from – to get them to accept.”

Biden rejected Netanyahu’s accusation that he has withheld U.S.-made weaponry. “The only thing I’ve denied Israel was 2,000-pound bombs. They don’t work very well in populated areas. They kill a lot of innocent people. We’re providing Israel with all the weapons they need and when they need them,” he said. “And by the way, I’m the guy that organized the world against Iran when they had a full blown intercontinental ballistic missile attack on Israel. No one was hurt. No one Israeli was accidentally killed, and it just stopped. We saved Israel.”

In a rebuttal, Trump said, “As far as Israel and Hamas, Israel’s the one that wants to go – he said the only one who wants to keep going is Hamas. Actually, Israel is the one. And you should let them go and let them finish the job. He doesn’t want to do it. He’s become like a Palestinian. But they don’t like him, because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one.”

A second presidential debate, hosted by ABC, is scheduled for Sept. 10. CBS has invited both campaigns to a vice presidential debate on July 23 or Aug. 13. The Biden campaign has accepted, while Trump has yet to name a running mate.

read more: