A group of leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel is preparing to release a statement that urges the country’s American expatriates to exercise their voting rights in November by casting absentee ballots…
[Director of government affairs at Agudath Israel of America and Haredi lobbyist Rabbi Yehiel] Kalish said that the campaign, the first of its kind, is a nonpartisan effort to maximize the voting rate among American Israelis in order to strengthen the Jewish community’s bargaining power in Washington. The hope, he said, is that a high turnout will encourage the winning candidate — and other decision makers — to pay attention to the Jewish community’s priorities when formulating policy.
So the first obvious difference between this movement and the one for Obama is that these rabbis are garnering support for the Republican nominee in Israel, where some 200,000 American citizens live. And, secondly, they are not officially endorsing anybody.
But experts that spoke to the Forward were unconvinced that the movement to get Haredi American citizens in Israel to vote is completely nonpartisan.
“You would have trouble convincing me that this is not done in support for McCain by people who favor McCain,” said Gershon Baskin, founder and CEO of the dovish Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
If Baskin and others are correct, though, why wouldn’t Rabbi Kalish and others simply say, like the Rabbis for Obama, that they are building support for John McCain? At this point, it is no secret that their views on everything from foreign policy to social issues align with McCain more than Barack Obama.
Not necessarily, says Aaron Spetner, an Agudath Israel activist who is leading the campaign.
“Who we vote for is not as important as letting candidates know that there are all these people who will be voting largely on Israel-related issues. Knowing priorities of voters is what shapes the agenda in politics, so we have come to the realization that we should be part of that. If we vote, and are known to vote, it will cause them to think about us before anything they do.”
In which case, their campaign is as much an exercise in building Agudath Israel’s reputation as it is about placing McCain in the White House.
It also makes sense that a group of rabbis would not want to publicly express their politics, as our current issue’s Ask The Rabbis (“Does Politics Belong on the Bima”) recently discovered.
Anyhow, it is only logical that a politically conservative sect of Judaism would support McCain. His hawkish position on Middle East foreign policy has gained many Israelis’ favor. Which leaves us wondering: When will we see Rabbis for McCain?