10:39 pm Oct. 15, 2012
At a synagogue in Park Slope on Monday night, Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, tried his best to avoid talking about the American presidential election.
"I am so much not going to answer that question," Oren replied, when Rabbi Andy Bachman first asked about the differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
The crowd of about 200, who had trudged through a rainy night to Congregation Beth Elohim on Garfield Place, laughed along.
But a few minutes later, when Bachman was informed there was time for one more question, he tried again.
"Obama, Romney; Romney, Obama; Obama, Romney;" he said, thumbing through the stack of note cards that represented questions from the audience, and asked why the Israeli government had seemingly inserted itself into the presidential election.
"Israel, a, has the highest respect and deep reverence to the American political system," Oren said. "We don't interfere in American elections. What has been perceived that way here is because everything in this country is glimpsed through the prism of elections. Everything.
"Where in Israel we glimpse everything through the prism of an existential threat."
Oren said that even when Israel comments about the "international community's relationship to the Iranian issue, that immediately gets interpreted here in some partisan political way because of the elections.
"It's the furthest thing from the truth. Listen, I am the voice of this government in this country, you never heard a partisan word out of my mouth."
Security was tight for the event, with attendees required to show a photo ID and check their bags at the door. Next to the line were a handful of protesters, holding signs and handing out literature arguing the Israeli presence in Palestine is illegal.
"What you're doing is illegal!" insisted one woman in line, leading a protester to wonder calmly what was illegal about it.
"Read the history," muttered one man in the direction of the protesters.
Inside, the crowd was well-behaved, with no interjections or disruptions, and loud applause when Bachman thanked two attendees for "successfully, and in a very profound way for this whole neighborhood, confronted the challenge of the resolution to the boycott of Israel at the Park Slope Food Co-op."
Oren's own remarks were a sales pitch for all things Israeli.
He said Israel protects more than 3,000 species of wildlife and plants, has the most educated populace in the world--after Canada, and had a number of films nominated for the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Film feature.
"You like 'Homeland'?" he asked at one pont. "You'd love the Hebrew original."
He also bragged that the Israel Defense Forces "never had a don't ask don't tell policy," and spoke at length about the country's commitment to protecting human rights and welcoming refugees.
Bachman's first act had been to present Oren with a BROOKLYN sweatshirt, and, for his very last question, he asked the ambassador, who was raised in New Jersey, why he had chosen to go live in Israel.
Oren said he had always known he wanted to live in Israel.
"Brooklyn, when I grew up, was the place all the Jews were trying to get out of," he joked.
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