The non-partisan “I Vote Israel” organization is facilitating the process for Israeli citizens and residents with American citizenship to receive their absentee ballots and participate in the U.S. election in November. Their goal is to sign up at least 100,000 of the 163,395 eligible voters in order to create a strong voting block. The surpisngly high number of potential voters is because 22 of the 50 states allow American citizens to vote in any election even if they never lived in the U.S.
According to polls conducted by I Vote Israel over 40% of the potential voters are from New York. The results showed that California and New Jersey come in with under 10% each, followed by Illinois and Pennsylvania, both over the 5% mark. Maryland, Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Massachusetts all represent less than 5% of the Israeli vote.
45% of potential Israeli voters feel they have the same right and responsibility as any American to vote, and 66% feel Israel is the most important issue for them when they vote. When it comes to voting for President of the United States, Israelis vote Republican 2 to 1. Interestingly 37% of Israelis who voted for Obama in 2008 are expected not to vote for him in 2012.
On Tuesday, July 10, I had the privilege of being invited to I Vote Israel’s first event, held at the Mishkenot Sha’ananim center near the walls of the old city of Jerusalem, featuring two high profile Republicans: Ari Fleischer, former press secretary of President George W. Bush; and Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. I Vote Israel plan on bringing a delegation from the Democratic Party in the near future.
Many questions during the two-hour event centered around Romney’s policies. When asked how Israelis could be sure that Romney would support Israel and what policies Romney wanted to implement with Israel, Fleischer discussed Romney’s plan to visit Israel as his first international trip rather than the traditional visit to Canada or Mexico. A question on Romney’s position on Jerusalem was met with a response that there is “no daylight” between Netanyahu and Romney on Israel or Jerusalem, implying they are in sync. Those hoping to hear concrete policy positions were disappointed.
Fleischer answered or chimed in on every question asked by a room of over 50 bloggers and tweeters. Fleischer answered every question except for my three part question:
A) What is Mitt Romney’s position on the creation of a Palestinian State?
B) What is Mitt Romney’s position on settlements?
C) How deep in the close personal relationship between Mitt Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu, dating back to their business days together?
Fleischer stared at me for a moment and asked Brooks to take this one. I did not get an answer from Brooks on the Palestinian issue. Fleischer expressed his personal opinion during a later question that the two state solution is not practical today and that a democratic Palestine would not be a peaceful neighbor to Israel.
Brooks refused to touch the topic of settlements. When Fleischer was hit with a few more question on settlements, he stressed that the American policy on settlements has always been known to everyone. Fleischer did attack Obama for condemning building settlements, pointing out that “condemning” is a special diplomatic word that is used for certain situations like murdering thousands in Syria, not for Israelis building houses. It was apparent throughout the event that Fleischer has more nationalistic views on Israel than Romney. On a related issue, Fleischer charged that it was the Israeli government that told President Bush that Israel has bigger fish to fry than moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, hinting that it is relatively low on their list.
I did get an answer from Brooks on the Romney-Netanyahu relationship. He told me: “I have seen them together and there is a close personal bond between Netanyahu and Romney from their business days on.” He recalled many private events where he saw Romney and Netanyahu share exchanges like two people who have a long friendship would. Brooks recalled many Mitt-Bibi meetings that he was present in, especially in 2007 when Romney was challenging John McCain for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination. Romney and Netanyahu’s time together in the Boston Consulting Group back in the 1970s has been a well debated topic in Israeli circles, and many Israelis feel their decision on how to vote this November will be based on the depth of the Romney-Netanyahu friendship.
My impression from the evening is that I Vote Israel is a serious organization that is working very hard to ensure as many Israelis as possible have a voice in America’s next government. Brooks seemed pleased that Romney is the Republican nominee, and the general feeling is that overall the Israeli vote will likely help Romney over Obama.