Two of the most influential and partisan Jewish Americans sparred over President Barack Obama’s Israel record, the war in Afghanistan, immigration, deficit spending, and other issues at the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) annual “Great Debate” on Friday in Washington, DC.

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, a liberal Democratic stalwart on Capitol Hill and openly gay lawmaker, challenged The Weekly Standard Editor and neoconservative icon Bill Kristol to explain how the Republican party could appeal to American Jewish voters when they head to the polls in November.

“Unfortunately, the Republican party has moved further to the right of Ronald Reagan,” said Frank. “The meshugenahs who now control the party are opposed to raising the debt ceiling, as Reagan did, and support military spending and involvement overseas without paying for it by raising taxes. Instead, they take money from programs like Medicare and Medicaid.”

The Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol. (Courtesy: American Jewish Committee)

Kristol said Jewish American voters need to “shed the old-fashioned views about the Republican party as the party of [George H.W.] Bush and James Baker” and recognize that today’s party leaders, especially presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, are more supportive of Israel than Democrats.

“Barney’s problem is that the Republicans are too pro-Israel,” he said. “His problem is that they don’t complain when an apartment building is built in Jerusalem, as the Obama administration did. I’m happy to say that Mitt Romney will be a more reliable friend of Israel than Obama.”

Frank disagreed with Kristol’s insistence that Obama’s record on Israel has been “weak.”

US Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). (Courtesy: American Jewish Committee)

“The only time in my 31 years in Congress when Israel was at odds with the Hill was over the issue of loan guarantees with George H.W. Bush and Secretary State James Baker,” said Frank. He added that Obama’s successful thwarting of the Palestinian initiative to declare independence unilaterally at the UN last September was “one of the most successful pro-Israel diplomatic examples I’ve ever seen.”

But Kristol said it was Obama’s criticism of Israel in the first place that emboldened the Palestinians to embark on that diplomatic initiative. On whether Jewish American voters are prepared to deliver more than 22 percent of their vote to Mitt Romney – that’s what Senator John McCain received in 2008 – Kristol was optimistic.

Mitt Romney will be a more reliable friend of Israel – Kristol

He pointed to a recent AJC poll showing that Jewish American voters who cite national security as their most important issue favor Romney over Obama by 44 to 42 percent.

Overall, however, the same poll indicated that Americans prefer President Obama to Governor Romney by a margin of 61 to 28 percent, with 11 percent undecided. In 2008, Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote.

The only time in my thirty one years in Congress when Israel was at odds with the Hill was over the issue of loan guarantees with George H.W. Bush and Secretary State James Baker – Frank

Frank and Kristol also wrestled over domestic issues such as entitlement reforms, Obama’s healthcare law, and deficit spending, but were at pains to stress that they hope the election campaign focuses on substantial policy disagreements, “not silly other things,” as Kristol said.

At one point, Frank said Kristol’s characterization of Democratic immigration policy as “irrational” is “kind of like being called silly by the Three Stooges.”

“And I mean no disrespect… to the Stooges,” he joked.