One of Mitt Romney’s most faithful American Jewish constituencies may just be across the ocean from Washington, D.C.
Judging from the more than 100 Romney supporters — or President Obama opponents — that showed up at a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, Israel’s American expatriate community may provide a small bump to the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate come Election Day on Nov. 6.
That’s what RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks is hoping. He appeared at the event with Ari Fleischer, the second President Bush’s press secretary, after landing that morning in Tel Aviv. They’re in Israel this week less to persuade American Jews here to vote for Romney, and more to convince already bonafide Romney supporters to register for their absentee ballots and vote.
“Imagine it’s Nov. 6, you wake up, you don’t vote, you hear we have another razor-thin election,” Fleischer told the crowd. He noted that Israel’s 150,000 Jews are “the size of Dayton, you’re the size of Ft. Lauderdale. You’re a longer plane trip but you’re equally important.”
The audience of mostly middle-aged religious expatriates contrasted sharply with the 23 college students sitting in the front rows, wearing gray t-shirts bearing the words “Return of the right” below a picture of a blue and white eagle flying into a red star. They were on a two-week Israel trip with the organization Young Jewish Conservatives, with the expectation that they’d return to their campuses and help defeat Obama.
The room stayed silent as Brooks outlined the issues that touched the audience most closely (“existential threat from a nuclear Iran, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, civil war in Syria”) and those that received the most coverage in the U.S. (“People are hurting, the economy is in precarious shape.”).
But when Fleischer’s turn came, the crowd got going. After he talked about “how proud I was” to represent Bush on live TV, someone yelled “We’re proud of you, too!” and drew some applause. Then he launched into the president, saying that “the choice is between pushing Israel around as President Obama has done, and Governor Romney, who will stand strong by Israel’s side.”
The event, and the entire Brooks-Fleischer trip, was organized by iVoteIsrael, an American nonprofit dedicated to registering Americans to vote in Israel. Under each seat lay an absentee ballot registration form and a pen. Elie Pieprz, who runs iVoteIsrael, stressed that the group is nonpartisan and promoted upcoming visits from “high-profile Democratic personalities.”
But Pieprz, who used to work with the group Republicans Abroad Israel, seemed at home sitting next to Fleischer and Brooks. He said he didn’t “think anyone will be able to speak as eloquently and directly as Ari Fleischer” and nodded in agreement as Fleischer criticized Obama for the West Bank settlement freeze he asked Israel to enact in 2010.
A nonpartisan get-out-the-vote drive in Israel would still help Romney. Although about three quarters of American Jews voted for Obama in 2008, about that proportion of Americans in Israel voted for Senator John McCain, according to the L.A. Times.
But even as Brooks and Fleischer sought to make the audience more engaged in America, they seemed to have already acclimated a bit to Israel. Neither man wore a tie in the hot summer weather, and Brooks did not appear to be wearing socks.