September 27th, 2012
01:46 PM ET
By Dana Garrett, CNN
(CNN) – As Jews gathered together at sundown Wednesday to break the Yom Kippur fast, in some homes it wasn’t just food that was being shared, but also opinion on the rising tension between the leaders of the United States and Israel over the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke Thursday before the U.N. General Assembly in New York, has been pressing the U.S. administration to establish a clear “red line” that, if crossed by Iran, would signal military intervention.
President Barack Obama has rejected that idea, saying there’s still time for sanctions to work while insisting that the United States will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
The two leaders were in New York this week for the annual gathering of world leaders, but Obama declined to meet with his Israeli counterpart.
For Carol Barash, an educator and an Obama supporter who hosted a break fast at her South Orange, New Jersey home, the president was justified in not meeting Netanyahu. She said the Israeli prime minister is acting like a bully and that “the United States can’t be pushed around by anyone.”
The tough talk comes amid and, some have argued, because of a close presidential race in which Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney want to appeal to Jewish voters.
Jews make up about 2% of the U.S. population. In some years, because of their high voter turnout, they have made up more than 2% of the electorate. Their votes could be critical in a key state like Florida, where Jews make up 4.6% of the population.
At Barash’s break fast and another such meal in New Jersey on Wednesday night, the opinions about Netanyahu’s red lines fell, not surprisingly, along party lines.
For Arthur Schechner, a Republican Romney supporter in West Orange, New Jersey, Obama is not taking the Iranian threat seriously enough, likening Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a “mad dog” in Israel’s backyard.
"Netanyahu is right. He has a problem on his hands of major, major proportions and he needs some help,” he said at the break fast at his home, which included about 30 guests for a sit-down meal.
Schechner says Obama should have met with the Israeli leader in New York: “I think he should show the world that the two countries are standing toe to toe.”
Schechner’s son Michael agreed, saying the time had passed for diplomacy and sanctions. “I think it’s time for action, for something to be done.”
For Barash, who hosted about 15 guests for a light buffet meal of sandwiches, salad, challah bread and regelach, Obama’s measured approach is the right way to go. “He’s talking to everyone, he’s considering all the positions,” she said. “He certainly is not going to fire first and aim second,” she said.
Her friend Peter Shapiro, a businessman and Obama supporter, says the U.S. cannot be tolerant of Iran, but says Obama has handled the situation properly.
“He has built an international coalition, he’s succeeded in building an embargo against Iran that’s unprecedented,” Shapiro said. “He’s moved the position against Iran way further than it was when he came into office.”
Jewish voters typically vote for Democrats. In 2008, Obama got 78% of the Jewish vote. Mitt Romney has tried to capitalize on tensions between the president and Netanyahu, accusing Obama of not doing enough to help Israel.
But it may be that the increased tension is only serving to solidify the party lines. The Obama supporters at Carol Barash’s home all gave a hearty “yes” when asked if the president had been a good friend of Israel.
“It only makes me a stronger supporter of Obama because there’s so much going on in the Middle East that could explode at any second,” Barash said. “I think the most important thing for the American president right now is just to have a level head in a storm.”
She says Obama has shown that he’s willing to act, when necessary, “but he’s not going to escalate this to a crisis just because Romney and Netanyahu are trying to goad him. And I think that’s good, I think that’s what we need.”
While Israel is not the top priority in who gets his vote, Peter Shapiro said it was a factor and that his support of Israel leads him to support the President. “I think Obama has the right course of action, the right policies for Israel’s long term survival…as a democratic and Jewish state.”
For Schechner, the Romney supporter, the Republican candidate will be a stronger political ally to Israel: “He has pledged to move the embassy to Jerusalem the first day of his presidency. I hope that what he says he will carry out.”
His dad, Arthur, says he’ll vote Republican because his No.1 concern is the economy, but hopes Romney will also be a closer friend to Israel. “Obama has not been a good friend to Israel so I’m anxious to give someone else a chance.”
With that, Schechner offered up a piece of advice perhaps both the Israeli and U.S. leaders could use. “A wise word,” he said, “is no substitute for a good piece of pickled herring.”
–CNN's Poppy Harlow contributed to this report.
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