Mairav Zonszein reports: in In mid-July, two prominent Republicans were enjoying the goods at a boutique winery in the Israeli settlement Psagot in the West Bank. Former George W. Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Republican Jewish Coalition director Matt Brooks weren’t on vacation, but touring Israel in an effort to lobby American citizens to vote for Mitt Romney in November. Their hosts? “iVoteIsrael,” a group aiming to get Americans in Israel to cast ballots in the upcoming presidential election.
Launched by a group of American immigrants, iVoteIsrael believes Israelis “need a president in the White House who will stand by Israel in absolute commitment to its safety, security and right to defend itself.” The campaign facilitates online registration and collects absentee ballots at its many drop-box locations — including in settlements like Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion — which will then be mailed to the U.S. on voters’ behalf. But iVoteIsrael’s close ties to Republican officials, demagogic messaging and pro-settlement proclivities all point to a partisan bent — and their handling of absentee ballots may be in violation of U.S elections law.
The campaign comes at a fraught moment in the U.S.-Israel relationship, with Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at loggerheads over Iran policy, just as they clashed over settlements two years ago. Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, on the other hand, said he would never criticize Israel publicly or take any policy decisions without consulting with Netanyahu. Romney’s contention that Obama “threw Israel under the bus” because of public opposition to settlements and insufficient bellicosity toward Iran aligns him with positions held by Netanyahu and the Israeli right, including Israel’s decidedly Republican Jewish-American population.
With 163,000 eligible American voters living throughout Israel and the West Bank — as many as 10,000 registered just in the crucial battleground state of Florida — a strong showing of absentee voters from the Holy Land could swing the election. And iVoteIsrael knows it, spotlighting slim electoral margins in its messaging and citing the controversial 2000 Gore-Bush standoff decided by a few hundred absentee ballots in Florida. [Continue reading…]