Democrats Abroad-Israel, the official Israeli branch of the US Democratic Party, held the first in a series of voter registration meetings on Wednesday night in Jerusalem, ahead of November’s midterm elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The meeting took place during a new low in American-Israeli relations, amid Vice President Joe Biden’s visit and the Interior Ministry’s startling announcement it had approved the construction of 1,600 homes in east Jerusalem.

Becky Rowe, a member of the Executive Board of Democrats Abroad-Israel, described the situation as highly unfortunate, and squarely blamed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government.

“There seems to be no rapport between the Israeli government and the United States. It’s horrifying that right now Israel thinks it can destroy relations with any nation in the world, particularly the US,” she charged. “The present government is not interested in peace. They’re throwing mud in the face of the most important nation on earth. Who do they think they are?”

The meeting, a “kick-off event” held in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood and geared toward increasing voter turnout for the November 2010 elections in the US, included an on-the-spot voter registration booth and an address by a leading expert on US history.

Future events will follow a similar format, featuring on-the-spot voter registration and a diverse array of speakers who share a similar goal: boosting President Barack Obama’s profile in Israel and encouraging American-Israeli dual citizens to cast votes for the Democratic Party in US elections.

Joanne Yaron, chair of Democrats Abroad-Israel and a dual citizen, believes in energetic canvassing of the American-Jewish community here, because in recent years, she said, Israel has become Republican territory.

“Israelis seem hostile to the Obama regime. Also, a lot of Americans see a connection between a pro-war Republican government and the safety of Israel,” she said. “There’s a growth of Republican awareness in Israel, and especially an increase in Republican interest within religious communities. However, 78 percent of American Jews voted for Obama.”

In a question-and-answer session at the meeting, discussion focused on the reverberations of Obama’s Cairo speech to the Muslim world in June and the Ramat Shlomo building dispute that had cast a pall over the Biden visit.

Rowe said that, far from aggravating relations with Israel, Obama’s Cairo speech was entirely positive. “Israel needs to open her eyes: America needs to have good relations with the Muslim world,” she said, adding that it was never an “either-or” situation, but rather America “can have many friends [in the Middle East] and America has to do that. Obama did it brilliantly.”

She said the speech had positive ramifications, linking it to beneficial election results in Lebanon and popular uprisings in Iran.

“People reacted well to his speech,” she said. “If we don’t have strong pro-Western regimes in the Arab world, we’re not going to get very far.”

Hefzibah Kornblum, the Jerusalem coordinator for Democrats Abroad-Israel, said there had been a noticeable swing to the right among American-Israelis, particularly from the modern Orthodox community, but attributed the trend to Republican tax cuts to wealthier businesses, “which happens to include a lot of Jewish business owners. Republicans are seen to be more pro-family, although Obama seems to be a great example of family, too.”

Nonetheless, all participants agreed that come what may, America would always be committed to Israel.

“America is never going to abandon Israel,” said Yaron. “They’re like lovers – the United States is always there for Israel, even when it gets angry.”

The next meetings of the Democrats Abroad-Israel will take place on March 14 and 15 at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

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