Jewish Journal

Israeli Expats Solidly Back Bush

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Oct. 21, 2004 at 8:00 pm

If it were up to the Israeli expatriate community in Los Angeles, President Bush 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 humus at the Pita Kitchen in Sherman Oaks. 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 U.S. elections will cast their ballots for Bush.

"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.

The main exception to the pro-Bush bandwagon, it seems, are Israelis who intermarried with U.S. Jews and have bought into their spouses' Democratic leanings, Shor said.

Carmella Pardo, who works the Israeli, Russian and ultra-Orthodox communities for the 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.

The Russians are similar to Israelis in their political outlook, while the ultra-Orthodox don't vote at all, Pardo added.

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 Aharanot, is puzzled and somewhat dismayed by his local countrymen's 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," he argued. "But in the long run, by Bush telling [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon that he'll back him up whatever he does and Bush's simplistic outlook and policy in general, [it] will weaken and isolate America in the long run, 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."

From his perspective as the acting Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, Zvi Vapni believes that putting all the area's estimated 150,000 Israelis into Bush's basket is an over-simplification. While many Israeli expats may strike a more militant posture abroad than do the folks at home, "one can't say that we have a right-wing Israeli community here," Vapni said.

He drew a distinction between those who live in "Israeli clusters," read Israeli papers, tune in to Israeli channels, eat in Israeli restaurants and tend to lean to the right.

"But 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."


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