Will Israelis cast the key votes determining who becomes the next U.S. president?
The campaign, ‘I Vote Israel,’ is trying to persuade as many American Israelis as possible to cast a vote for Israel in the 2012 elections:
“I’m an Israeli now,” you might be thinking… “Voting should be left to real Americans.” But actually, the next president and Congress will have a huge impact on your future and the security of Israel.
Indeed, the campaign asserts that the outcome of the election matters more to Israeli-Americans than it does to the average American.
The Times of Israel reports:
According to I Vote Israel national campaign director Elie Pieprz, 30,000 US-Israelis voted during the 2008 elections. His goal for the current campaign is to have up to 100,000 dual citizens cast absentee ballots before the November 6 vote that will decide whether Barack Obama will remain in the White House or be replaced by his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
“The biggest reason why people don’t vote is because it’s cumbersome. People don’t know how to do it,” Pieprz said. He and his team of paid staffers and volunteers attend events in Israel with heavy American participation to sign them up for absentee ballots. They also go “door to door” to convince people to vote and help them with the paperwork, he said.
“Each week, we’re bringing hundreds if not thousands [of voter registration forms] over to the American Embassy,” according to Pieprz. Currently, the organization running the campaign — a nonprofit called “Americans for Jerusalem,” which was incorporated in Delaware in August of 2000 — employs eight paid full-time staffers and at least one paid political strategist.
In addition to hosting the website, which features professionally produced YouTube clips, the organization also pays for office space in central Jerusalem, advertising, events, printing, travel, communication and other day-to-day expenses.
However, the group is determinedly mum on the subject of who specifically stands behind I Vote Israel and where the money for its activities comes from. Key staffers refused to reveal any names even when it was suggested that a lack of transparency might raise questions as to the campaign’s stated nonpartisan nature.
By US law, I Vote Israel does not have to divulge donor rolls because of the tax bracket it is registered under.
“We’re fundraising in Jewish communities and pro-Israel groups across the US,” said Aron Shaviv, I Vote Israel’s campaign strategist. “There are literally hundreds of donors, perhaps even more. They are quite diverse. They are giving in small increments. There is no one who stands out.”
Asked whether this wide donor community could be considered more on the left or the right end of the political spectrum, the British-born Shaviv replied that it was “quite balanced between the two groups.”
Pieprz, on the other hand, said he believes most donors usually give to more politically conservative causes, both in the United States and in Israel. “Is it more right-of-center? I would say yes,” he told The Times of Israel in an interview. Yet he, too, declined to offer more information about who was behind the initiative.
“These are many pro-Israel people, Republicans and Democrats, who all want to have an impact on the election. They want Israel to have more of a voice,” Pieprz said. “The issue is not who’s behind it. Let’s just say they are Republicans and Democrats. Some people feel passionate about it but for their personal reasons don’t want to be associated with something that’s so pro-Israel.”
I Vote Israel is about giving Israel higher visibility in the American political discourse, and any discussion of its founders or funders would distract from its core mission, Pieprz added. “Some people perceive this is as somewhat more of a right-wing thing and as a result many Democrats, people who are very politically active in DC, may not want to be associated as it may hurt them professionally,” he said.
An article in +972 Magazine suggested that right-wing philanthropists could be behind I Vote Israel. Shaviv is quoted in the piece saying that much of the donated money comes from the “[Sheldon] Adelsons of the world.” One of the wealthiest Jews in the world, Adelson has given hundreds of millions to Jewish and Israeli causes over the years. He has also given tens of millions to Republican politicians, most recently $10 million to a political action committee linked to Romney’s presidential campaign.
Shaviv, who is CEO of Shaviv Strategy and Campaigns, says Adelson has no connection to “Americans for Jerusalem.” “I never met him and have no connection to him,” he said, adding that he had merely meant to say that the group’s donations come from Jewish philanthropists and that Adelson would be a good example of a Jewish philanthropist.
Both Shaviv and Pieprz have a history of working with right-wing parties. Shaviv kicked off his career as a staffer on Yisrael Beytenu’s campaign for the 2006 elections and later won Campaigns and Elections magazine’s “Rising Star 2011″ award for his work running “research-driven campaigns for center-right candidates in Central and Eastern Europe.”
The Jerusalem Post reports:
The lack of support for US President Barack Obama from Jews in Israel acted as a harbinger for their counterparts in the United States, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks and GOP strategist Ari Fleischer told The Jerusalem Post on a visit to Israel Tuesday.
Brooks and Fleischer came to Jerusalem to support the IVoteIsrael campaign, which aims to register as many as possible of the 150,000 American citizens in Israel who are eligible to vote in the November 6 election.
They cited polls in the Post going back to June 2009, which found that only a small percentage of Israelis considered the Obama administration more pro- Israel than pro-Palestinian.
“The polls in The Jerusalem Post reverberated around the Jewish community in America,” Fleischer said. “They were an early warning signal in the US that there were cracks in Obama’s armor. In 2009 American Jews were so pro-Obama. Israelis saw the cracks first, and now the American Jewish community is going through a significant case of buyer’s remorse.”
Brooks said they came to Israel because the number of eligible voters in the Jewish state was similar to key battleground cities like Fort Lauderdale, Florida or Dayton, Ohio. He noted that thousands of votes from American-Israelis would be counted in those states.
“I am a survivor of the 2000 election in the US [that George W. Bush won thanks to 537 votes in Florida],” Fleischer said. “If this race will be equally close, there is a possibility that a large number of absentee ballots coming into Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio can make the difference. It is also important to plant a flag on Israeli soil. Politicians notice a massive boost in voting like there could be here.”