Election 2008

Absentee voters Israel, Jews Israel voting, Florida absentee votes
Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP
U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, left, stands by Preidential nominee Sen. John McCain as he touches
the stones of the Western Wall,
Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem's Old City, Wednesday,
March 19, 2008. (AP)

Absentee Voters in Israel Drawing American Campaigners

October 20, 2008 08:00 AM
by Josh Katz
Americans residing in Israel could be a major factor in November—especially in Florida, a state with a large Jewish population and 27 electoral votes.

The Impact of Israel and Florida in the Election

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Israel could become a major factor in the American presidential election, and not simply because the candidates are debating their policies for the Middle East. Israel boasts a substantial population of American citizens, and Republicans and Democrats are fighting for their absentee votes. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado are important battleground states with large Jewish populations in Israel, but Florida is unquestionably the most important, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Other than New York and California, more Jews live in Florida than any other U.S. state. Jews make up about 650,000 of the 18 million residents in Florida, and they live mostly in South Florida, an article in The Jewish Journal asserts. These voters, many of whom are older, also have a high turnout at the polls. In addition to that number, about 12,000 Israelis who come from Florida are eligible to vote in the election, according to the Palm Beach Post.

“I’m amazed at how much participation has grown in Israel,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president of the nonpartisan Overseas Vote Foundation, which advocates absentee voting, Bloomberg reports. “They really seem to care about this election.”

Roughly 250,000 Americans live in Israel and about 120,000 of them can vote in the upcoming election. When it comes to absentee ballot numbers, Israel follows only the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany.

Both parties have been working to get out the vote in Israel. The Israel chapter of Republicans Abroad is providing bumper stickers with McCain’s name written in Hebrew, and members of a similar organization called Democrats Abroad are lobbying for Obama at Israeli college campuses.

American students in Israel are a substantial constituency. Many Orthodox Jews travel to Israel during their college years to study. The political parties “have targeted the 10,000 American students studying abroad in Israel,” according to The Palm Beach Post. 

Activists for both parties suggest that most people with dual American-Israeli citizenship are Democrats. Most American Jews tend to vote Democratic as well; exit polls show that in 2004, 74 percent of Jewish voters supported John Kerry, according to Bloomberg.

Israelis as a whole appear to support McCain, however, The Palm Beach Post claims, primarily because of he has taken such a hard line on Iran. Mitchell Barak, an American who founded an Israeli research group, says that Israel is “a Republican stronghold.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson recently caused a stir
because of an interview he had with New York Post columnist Amer Taheri. Jackson was quoted as saying that, although “Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades” remain powerful, the “decades of putting Israel’s interests first” would cease with an Obama presidency, The Washington Post blog “The Trail” reports. Although Jackson said his words were taken out of context, Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser, played off of Jackson’s interview: “Barack Obama claims to be a strong supporter of Israel but his supporters—here and abroad—know better.” The Democratic candidate’s campaign fired back by saying that Obama has an “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.”

Many observers believed that Obama’s association to his former Pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright damaged his status with Jewish voters as well, according to Bloomberg. Sen. Hilary Clinton, who was popular among Jewish voters, stressed his relationship to Wright during the primaries. Wright had praised Louis Farrakhan, a public figure often criticized for espousing anti-Semitic beliefs.

Background: The importance of Florida

The numbers compiled by RealClearPolitics indicate that Barack Obama leads John McCain in the national polls 286 electoral votes to 158, with the remaining 94 votes considered “toss ups.” Florida is one of the toss-up states, though Obama appears to hold a slight lead in the Sunshine State.

Its 27 electoral points are vital for McCain if he is to reach the White House, though RealClearPolitics says that Obama now leads McCain there, 49.8 percent to 45.0 percent. McCain had led the state for most of the campaign, but that lead began to change hands in late September as the economic crisis became a more paramount issue.

Comedians have noted the importance of Florida as well. In a video clip called the “Great Schlep” that has garnered about seven million views online, Sarah Silverman urges young Jews to encourage their grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama, and says “visiting your grandparents could change the world.” But, according to The New York Times, despite the video’s popularity, only 100 people joined the “Great Schlep” and visited Florida last weekend.

The Times describes the efforts of a “schlepper” from Los Angeles who spoke to about 100 people at a retirement community near Fort Lauderdale: “A photo of the gathering on the Great Schlep’s Facebook page shows a young man with curly hair addressing a roomful of white-haired, enraptured listeners. Only one balding man in the front row seems to be asleep.”

Jackie Mason appeared in a video clip in opposition to Sarah Silverman’s efforts. He derides Obama for being inexperienced and criticizes Silverman. “I know she means well, but she’s … confined by the thinking of all the actors in America,” he says.

Reference: Silverman vs. Mason

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