Republicans living in Israel plan push to win Jewish votes for Romney

 

McClatchy Newspapers

A group of Americans who live in Israel are hoping that they can give the Republican Party in the United States a boost this week and influence the vote in key swing states.

Led by the Republicans Abroad Israel group, Americans in Israel hope they can use phone lines to persuade at least some American Jews to forsake their usual Democratic leanings by arguing that Israel prefers Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to Democratic President Barack Obama.

“We have organized fundraisers in the U.S. and held mock debates and released pamphlets outlining our position,” said Sarah Freuss, a 37-year-old American immigrant to Israel. “We get on the phone and make the phone calls and campaign. A voice speaking from Jerusalem is more persuasive, we’ve found.”

The more than 100,000 American citizens who vote from Israel overwhelmingly cast ballots for Republican candidates, according to exit surveys. This year, a variety of pro-Republican advocacy groups have taken on various projects – including calling voters in swing states and hosting online debates – to try to sway Jewish American voters in the U.S.

“The typical American Jewish voter is confronted with myriad issues on every different side,” said Kory Bardash, the co-chairman of the Republicans Abroad Israel group. “We have a more focused perspective on this issue.”

He boasted about one longtime Democratic voter who used to lead the Democrats in Israel group. This year, she’s led efforts to call Jews in Florida, attempting to convince them to switch their vote, as she did.

Whether that will matter to the outcome is far from certain, however. A survey by the American Jewish Committee in September showed that 69 percent of Jewish voters in Florida said they planned to vote for Obama, while only 25 percent said they would vote for Romney. Obama won 76 percent of the Florida Jewish vote in 2008.

Recent interviews with Jewish voters in retirement communities in South Florida, for example, found residents expressing few concerns about Israel and Iran and far more worries about Medicare and Republican plans to change it.

But Bardash expresses confidence that the efforts are worth it.

“When we call and say we are an American living currently in Jerusalem we get the sense that that fact turns the calls into conversations and breaks through the noise,” he said. Given the closeness of the race, “just peeling off a few votes could be important,” he said.

On Monday, Obama and Romney held their last debate, focusing specifically on foreign policy. Analysts in Israel noted that their positions on Israel were remarkably similar, with both candidates taking care to state an open admiration and support for Israel.

During Israel’s Army Radio morning news broadcast, commentator Uri Segev said the two candidates “sparred over who was more pro-Israel.”

“If Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel,” Obama said.

Romney went one step further, answering, “If Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.”

Jonathan Schinner, a 27-year-old student who recently moved to Israel from New York, said that these elections were the first he’s seen “through the prism of Israel.”

“I’ve always voted Democrat, but since coming to Israel I definitely feel like there are more Republicans around me all the time,” he said. “There is this feeling that the Republican Party is good for Israel – but I’m not sure I’ve seen enough evidence to back that up.”

He pointed to a website whose link has been circulating among his friends recently, obamaonIsrael.org. The site categorizes Obama’s pro-Israel stance and lists Israeli figures such as President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak who have openly supported Obama’s bid for re-election.

“They seem to make a good argument that Obama has done a lot for Israel, but the mood among Israelis is definitely aggressively pro-Romney,” Schinner said.

Some explain Romney’s popularity to the editorial line taken in the Israeli press, nearly all of whom have run pieces favorable to Romney.

Earlier this week, U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who’s donated millions of dollars to pro-Romney political action committees, wrote a column promoting Romney in Israel Hayom, a Hebrew-language daily newspaper that he funds in Israel. The paper is also known for its support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo contributed to this story.

Sheera Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email: sfrenkel@mcclatchydc.com

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