American Israelis vote with ‘dual sensibilities’

American Israelis vote with ‘dual sensibilities’

New Jerseyans abroad balance local concerns, ‘old country’ values

JERUSALEM — Israelis view the American presidential election in much the same way they tend to view most issues: What does it mean for Israel?

Yet a random survey of former residents of New Jersey now living here reveals a less monolithic and more nuanced approach on how they vote and why, and whether it’s from an American sensibility or an Israeli’s.

“I am absolutely voting with American sensibilities,” said Dr. Lisa Kainan, 44, who made aliya in 1991 from Moorestown. “But I have never found that my Zionist/democratic ideals conflict with my American/democratic ideals.”

Charlie Kalech agrees. “My life is very integrated, so it is not like I vote only on one issue,” said the 45-year-old from Chews Landing. “However, the issues which concern me have a common thread running through them — voting for freedom of religion and against the doctrines of the Christian right — go hand-in-hand with voting to support Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East, and a woman’s right to choose. When I vote, I vote as someone who holds these freedoms dear as an American.”

Chaya Beran Lottner, 45, from Cherry Hill, says when it comes time for her to drop the ballot in the box, “I vote proudly as a dual citizen of both countries. The countries are allies. A strong America is good for Israel, and a strong Israel is good for America.”

Not everyone, however, sees a clear merging of the two perspectives, and the result can lead to an internal clash.

“When there’s a conflict,” said Susan Lazinger, 69, from Camden, “as there is for me this election — my social policy beliefs are more in tune with the Democrats, but I don’t trust Obama on Israel — I vote as an Israeli first.”

For a country that defines itself politically as 55.5 percent right leaning, 31 percent as center and 17 percent as left wing, it came as no surprise that a survey released last week found that Israeli Jews prefer Republican candidate Mitt Romney over U.S. President Barack Obama by an almost 3:1 margin.

The “Peace Index” poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University asked, “In terms of Israeli interests, who would be preferable to win the elections next month in the U.S.?” The results found 57.2 percent of Israeli Jews favored Romney, while only 21.5 percent said Obama.

The survey figures released last week (among Israeli Arabs, the numbers were reversed, with 45 percent opting for Obama, and 15 percent for Romney) stand in stark contrast to surveys taken of American Jews: An American Jewish Committee poll at the end of September showed U.S. Jews favoring Obama over Romney, 63-27 percent. Perhaps that reflects a different set of priorities, and here in Israel, too, opinions vary among Jersey voters on what’s important to them.

Lottner said she voted for Romney “because I feel that he is the better candidate in terms of representing my interests — the safety of my people, the Jewish people, whether they live in our homeland Israel or abroad.”

Not Kalech. “I voted against Romney, who has a poor record in Massachusetts, flip-flops on issues, and seems more concerned with business interests than people’s rights,” he said.

Orah Lipsky, 62, from Cherry Hill, is also voting for Obama, saying she treats Israeli and American elections with different “sensibilities.”

“When I vote in an American election, I vote with American sensibilities, and when I vote in an Israeli election, I vote with Israeli sensibilities. I know that sounds a little hard to do, but I try my best to do what I feel is right as a conscientious citizen.”

So why Obama?

“I feel that he has made important inroads to correct the financial, medical, and political situation that he was handed,” she said. “I tend to give an incumbent another four years to complete his goals — I am skeptical when it comes to believing election promises from candidates who do not have the same experience and vantage point as the incumbent president.”

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