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American-Israelis Select Obama
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American-Israelis Select Obama

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

American ex-pats in Paris since the 1920’s have gone to Harry’s Bar on the Rue Dauno to cast their “vote” in the presidential election. Indeed reports suggest they are doing so again this year as well; but no one takes the straw poll very seriously.  Those Americans who found themselves abroad generally cast their absentee ballots or not, depending if they applied for a ballot in their home state on time, but historically these votes were never critical. The ex-pat community which lived abroad as opposed to those who “found” themselves abroad focused on American elections only a bit more than they followed their home baseball teams.

This year, however, in Israel, there is a level of intensity and focus among all Israelis concerning the U.S. elections beginning with the transparent support of Bibi for Romney. There are believed to be 300,000 U.S. citizens living in Israel (including children). The Republican Party made a serious effort to register as many voters in Israel as possible. According to the exit polls, they were clearly successful in this effort. It is expected that that there will be 75,000 votes cast by Americans compared to 20-30,000 in 2008. Exit polling of those who voted—even if the numbers are exaggerated– suggest that approximately 85% cast of the ex-pats voted for Romney. In contrast, the expectation is that among Jews in the U.S., Obama will receive between 65-75% of the Jewish vote nationally.

All of this GOP effort was geared especially to those American-Israelis who are voting in key swing states such as Florida or Ohio. The problem with these voters, as an Israeli who finds himself now in the U.S. but voted absentee from Israeli, is, as he said, as a Jew living in the U.S. he would have voted for Obama but as a Jew living for almost 40 years in Israel, he voted for Romney. 

All of this intensity of course totally begs the very serious question about Americans living in Israel—as opposed to those studying or visiting or doing business in Israel.  Should they even be participating in American elections? Israeli law, unlike American law does not permit Israelis residing abroad to vote except if they return home to Israel to cast their ballot.

Chemi Shalev, speaking of American-Israelis, wrote in Haaretz:

Their low opinion of Obama, in fact, isn’t all that different from their disdain for fellow Israelis who insist on believing in peace with Palestinians.

For most Americans living in Israel, the issue of religion and state is irrelevant. True, many American-born Israelis are at the forefront of the struggle for religious pluralism and for state recognition of Reform and Conservative movements, but many others are, quite simply, Orthodox: They don’t believe in separation of religion and state and are quite happy, naturally, to live in a country in which the Orthodox rule. Many of them, in fact, see eye to eye with conservative Christians on the corrosive influence of decadent liberal secularism.  Perhaps that is why they are always perplexed by the discomfort expressed by many American Jews toward devout Evangelicals, who, besides professing their undying adoration for Israel, are also the ones pressing the leaders of the Republican Party to formulate policy with Christ in their hearts.

Americans living in Israel, unsurprisingly, couldn’t care less about equal pay for American women, about a woman’s right to choose, about climate change, about the rights of immigrants, about universal health care, about quality public education, about support for the elderly and compassion for the underprivileged, about the host of other social issues that are dear to the hearts of American Jews and that have defined the American Jewish experience for over a century.

There is one final issue which is both implicit and explicit in the Israeli buzz about this election.  Israelis, who are outraged at any American Jew who suggests what policies Israel ought to follow or what is best for the U.S.-Israel relationship, now have—as Shalev says—the chutzpah to tell American Jews what is best for them in the United States election.

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