LOS ANGELES (Oct. 21)
If it were up to the Israeli expatriate community in Los Angeles, President Bush apparently would win re-election not just by a landslide, but by an earthquake. Take the middle-aged Israeli, waiting for his order of falafel and hummus at the Pita Kitchen restaurant.
Asked about his political choice, the man, who declined to give his name, burst out, “Bush, only Bush. He is a strong man, a man of his word.”
Did he or his adult children know of any Israelis voting for Sen. John Kerry? The man shook his head, pointed a finger to his forehead and delivered his response: “They would be crazy.”
Not all expats are as ardent as the Pita Kitchen patron, but Gal Shor, editor in chief of the Hebrew weekly Shalom LA, estimates that at least 65 percent of Israelis eligible to vote in American elections will cast their ballots for the president.
“First and last, we’re concerned about Israel and the war on terrorism, and on that Bush scores much higher,” said Shor, who left no doubt about his personal favorite.
“I came here 15 years ago from a kibbutz background as a lefty, but now I’m completely opposed to the Democrats on both foreign and domestic issues,” he said.
Shor’s story bears out the claim of another Israeli across the continent in New York City, who told JTA that “even the liberals” among Israelis in the U.S. — those who would vote for the left-wing Labor Party were they still in Israel — will vote for Bush in November.
“In terms of Israel, he was good,” said Erick, manager of a Manhattan kosher restaurant, who declined to provide his last name. “I don’t see that Kerry is going to come in and make a major difference. At least Bush I already know is OK.”
“Bush is not a guy who is charismatic, who you can admire — like Reagan, or Clinton or Giuliani,” Erick continued, handing a turkey-on-rye sandwich to a customer. “But under the pressure of 9/11 he didn’t collapse. Things got better.”
Some estimates put the number of Israelis living in the United States as high as 500, 000, though it’s unclear how many of them are eligible to vote. Some live in Israeli clusters, read Israeli papers, tune in to Israeli channels, eat in Israeli restaurants and tend to lean to the right.
The main exception to the pro-Bush bandwagon are Israelis who “intermarried” with American Jews and have bought into their spouses’ Democratic leanings, Shor said.
Carmella Pardo, who works the Israeli, Russian and fervently Orthodox communities for Jewish Voters for Bush, puts the pro-Bush vote among Israelis as high as 80 percent.
“Some of the old-timers, who have lived here for decades, are close to the American Jewish community and vote Democratic, but the younger ones and more recent arrivals are solidly for the president,” she said.
Another veteran Israeli observer said that among his friends, “I don’t know a single Israeli who is going to vote for Kerry, and not a single American Jew who is going to vote for Bush.”
Avner Hofstein, who arrived here two years ago as the West Coast correspondent for the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, is puzzled and somewhat dismayed by the expatriates’ pervasive support for the president.
“Apparently it doesn’t bother Israelis here that Bush really hasn’t been involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the last couple of years,” he said.
“Maybe the fact that Bush has stood solidly by Israel is good for the short term and has helped counterbalance the European anti-Israel stand,” Hofstein said.
“But in the long run, Bush telling Sharon that he’ll back him up whatever he does, and Bush’s simplistic outlook and policy in general, will weaken and isolate America, and that’s bad for Israel and the world.”
An unscientific phone poll turned up at least one Israeli advocate for Kerry: Psychologist Yitzhak Berman, a longtime local activist for the left-wing Meretz Party, believes that Bush’s policy runs counter to Israel’s long-term interests.
“While Bush may give Israel a temporary sense of security, he has alienated the entire Muslim world, which will make an eventual peace that much harder to achieve,” Berman said. “Bush is not doing Israel a favor by his uncritical support of the right wing.”
And while Tsipora Razon said that Israel figures into how she votes, she doesn’t believe that a vote for Kerry is a vote against Israel.
“I don’t see a conflict for me on the issue of who is good for Israel in the election,” said Razon, who moved to the United States 14 years ago and lives in suburban Philadelphia.
“I think that Kerry brings some hope. I don’t think that four more years of the same thing will be good for here,” she said.
Razon, who said she voted for Democrat Al Gore in 2000 — the first U.S. presidential election in which she was eligible to vote — said she also is concerned about domestic issues.
“I don’t know how Kerry is going to be as a president,” she said, “But I do know that the Democratic ideals and values” on issues like health care, the environment and education “are more of the things that I would like to see.”
From his perspective as the acting Israeli consul-general in Los Angeles, Zvi Vapni believes it’s an oversimplification to say that all the area’s Israelis support Bush.
While many Israeli expats take a more hardline stance than do the folks at home, “one can’t say that we have a right-wing Israeli community here,” Vapni said.
“There are many Israelis in academic life, those who work in Silicon Valley and high-tech industries, who are not affiliated with the Israeli community,” Vapni said. “They are more likely to reflect the outlook of the American mainstream.” JTA staff writer Chanan Tigay contributed to this story.