Tabernacle Tummel

Fallout over postponed DNC chair speech to South Florida synagogue continues

June 13, 2012

The pro-Obama president of an embattled Miami synagogue that has come under fire for liberal bias disregarded warnings that a scheduled talk by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) could constitute a violation of a federal law prohibiting non-profits from engaging in political advocacy, insiders tell the Free Beacon.

Miami’s Temple Israel sparked a political crisis in the South Florida Jewish community last month when it invited Wasserman Schultz, who also chairs the Democratic National Committee, to a religious event. She was later disinvited as controversy mounted.

The synagogue made headlines last month when it refused to allow prominent Republican congregant Stanley Tate to rebut Wasserman Schultz’s remarks. The move prompted Tate to resign his membership in protest and sparked multiple accusations that the temple was in the tank for the Obama campaign in a tough election year, a concern that persists as Obama officials continue to swarm South Florida.

Longtime Temple Israel member Jack Schillinger told the Free Beacon that, during a board meeting in advance of Wasserman Schultz’s speech, he expressed reservations about giving the divisive political leader an unfiltered forum.

"We don’t have to be only one way or another," Schillinger told synagogue President Ben Kuehne, a Miami defense attorney and Democratic Party donor currently working as an Obama campaign surrogate, according to reports.

Kuehne, however, initially disregarded these concerns and stuck by Wasserman Schultz.

"I would say there was no vote taken [on the matter], and the president said he’d take it under advisement," Schillinger recalled.

The speech was finally postponed after multiple newspapers published articles about the controversy.

Schillinger says that the synagogue was needlessly jeopardizing its tax-exempt status.

"I would not play with it, but other people were willing to play with it. They look aside and don’t see it as a serious issue, but it is a serious issue." he said. "This is the highest political person you can get. She’s more political than the president."

While some maintained that Wasserman Schultz would avoid discussing political issues, Schillinger and others did not buy it.

"I said, ‘No way!’ The second she opens her mouth there’s a politician speaking, but I couldn’t get a compromise" from the synagogue’s leadership, Schillinger explained.

"To have just a one-sided talk on something, especially on Israel, is not right," said Linda Zilber, a Miami resident and former Temple Israel member. "Nothing against Wasserman Schultz, but for Kuehne and the temple to allow a one-sided discussion at a Shabbat service is ridiculous to me."

The IRS states that nonprofit "organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."

Wasserman Schultz has served as Obama’s defender-in-chief on television and in speeches across the country and has touted the president’s pro-Israel bona fides during speeches at other South Florida religious institutions.

"My reaction to seeing [Wasserman Schultz] at our service was, ‘Why is she here, she belongs to a congregation in Weston,’ 30 minutes away," recalled Sandy Wilde, a South Florida Democrat who attends Reform Congregation Kol Ami Emanu-El in Plantation, Fla.

"Whether our rabbi, who thinks Obama can do no wrong, invited her or she asked to speak is not the issue," Wilde told the Free Beacon via email. "They both knew it was wrong. They both said it wasn’t political, however, when someone running for office addresses any group in an election year, it is political."

"Our congregation president, at that time, was a staunch Democrat and I’m sure he and the rabbi assumed that we would all love to hear her," explained Wilde, who voted for Obama in 2008 but has since lost her faith in his administration.

Wasserman Schultz and the Obama campaign are "trying to shore up the Jewish vote," Wilde said. "It’s just that black and white."

While the address at Kol Ami took place before Wasserman Schultz’s election year antics became an issue, Wilde noted that the lawmaker "is still addressing Jewish organizations down here, and unless people complain she will continue to get away with it."

Former Temple Israel member Zilber noted that Wasserman Schultz often bolsters Obama and promotes Democratic politics in her speeches before Jewish crowds.

"I know what she would have presented, and she’s not wrong. She’s just doing her job," said Zilber who, in her capacity as the president of Florida’s Jewish Museum, has hosted Wasserman Schultz. "You don’t do this in a religious institution."

Obama administration Chief of Staff Jack Lew stumped for the president in Florida on June 7, adding fuel to the partisan fire that has engulfed the state’s Jewish community.

"The campaign is going on all angles," said a Florida political insider. "They have such gall and are pushing the envelope every place they can."

Added former Obama diehard Wilde: "The Jewish vote can push this election either way. That is why Wasserman Schultz is trying so hard to get into the synagogues."