Two main US parties vie for 100,000 votes in Israel

Democrats may recover their traditional Israel-based voters who have recently been backing Bush.

David Froehlich is starting to slow down. The 77-year-old self-described political animal plans to rise only at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning, far later than his usual 3 a.m. wake-up on the night of an American election. But even if he misses the early returns, he predicts the Democrats will retake the US House of Representatives and possibly the Senate this year, and he doesn't want to miss it. "I still get excited," said the retired teacher and Democratic activist who made aliya from New York in 1973. That distance from the scene of the elections didn't dim Froehlich's participation in the American electoral process at all - it enhanced it. A German Holocaust survivor who crusaded for labor rights in the US, upon moving to Israel Froehlich initiated legislation adopted by then president Ronald Reagan providing a federal write-in ballot for those whose official overseas ballot didn't arrive on time. Froehlich began the effort in 1976, when his ballot arrived in Israel one day after the election. "I was disenfranchised and I wasn't going to take that," he explained. Nowadays, Democratic overseas voters can go online to get the necessary forms, as a special Web site has been set up for that purpose. Democrats Abroad-Israel board member Sheldon Shorer said the convenience of that mechanism should increase the numbers of Americans in Israel voting this year, though he noted that turnout is always lower during mid-term elections. Shorer predicted Democrats would recover many of their traditional Israel-based voters who have recently backed the Republicans out of the perception that President George W. Bush was a "very positive friend of Israel." Mark Zell, co-chairman of Israel's Republicans Abroad, acknowledged that his party was likely to lose some of the Israeli-Americans who had voted for Bush in the "superlative turnout" of the 2004 elections. He attributed that change to the "general malaise" about Iraq, the scandals that have plagued the Republican party this fall and the traditional bump given to the opposition party at the end of a president's second term. Zell and Shorer gave different figures for the percentage of the Israeli vote that went to Bush in 2004, and even the number of those here eligible to cast a ballot in this year's election can only be estimated at well over 100,000. Zell argued it was important for Americans in Israel to support the Republicans in this race because "the party that has been the most responsive to Israel's needs in practice and not just in verbiage is the Republican party." But Shorer countered that the Democrats have helped Israel more. "Is Israel better off now than when Bill Clinton turned the keys over to George Bush? The answer is - we're very insecure," he maintained. Either way, Shorer said that it was important the American political players were aware of the Israeli vote. "Politicians know that voters here in Israel have Israel's interests at heart, which can help [encourage] support for Israel," he said. That makes just about the only downside of being an American political activist in Israel having to wake up so early to find out which candidates won. "It's a small disadvantage," Shorer said.