Many who vote in Israel's parliamentary election today will cast a ballot next week in another contest: George Bush vs. Michael Dukakis. Organizations that encourage Israeli-Americans to vote in the United States hope that up to 25,000 will do so this time. In the last US presidential election, 20,000 did, out of more than 85,000 dual citizens living in Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories.
``More voters are likely to send in their ballots this year, because, unlike the 1984 Reagan-Mondale race, which seemed safely decided, this campaign looks closer, and people feel that this time their vote could make a difference,'' says Marc Leventhal, the president of the Israeli chapter of Democrats Abroad.
``There is also interest in very tight senatorial races involving pro-Israeli candidates,'' he adds. Israeli-Americans vote according to their last state of residence in the US.
Menachem Swirsky, president of the Israeli chapter of Republicans Abroad, says ``We feel that by getting out the vote here, the political parties in the US will pay more attention to our local needs. We try to sensitize the American-Israeli public to the fact that by voting they have the ability to influence the American government later.''
He says that US voting statistics show that over 80 percent of the absentee vote from Israel, as well as from other countries, has been Republican, regardless of the voters' affiliation. Mr. Swirsky attributes this to what he says is a traditional Republican commitment to strong support of US allies and business firms abroad (with which many voters are affiliated), and its more liberal policies on citizenship and immigration.
Israeli-Americans who plan to participate in this year's US election say they will do so out of a sense of civic responsibility, emotional and cultural attachment, and to confirm their status as US citizens.
Edwin Freedman, a lawyer who has lived in Israel for 11 years, says he will vote because ``as an American citizen, I am under the same obligation as other Americans to express my opinion, to exercise my right to vote, just as I file income tax.''
He sees the outcome of the election as directly affecting him. ``A great deal of Israel's future depends on the direction of the future American administration,'' he says. ``As strongly as I feel about the implications of US policy for Israel, I am just as concerned about what it could do to America. And a policy which weakens America, weakens Israel. In addition, my family still lives in the US, and if the American economy suddenly goes into a tailspin, I'll feel the repercussions directly.''
Mr. Freedman says that while the candidates' positions toward Israel are a major consideration in his vote, they are not the crucial factor, which remains whether the candidate's policies are good for US. ``I will not use an AIPAC scale to determine who to vote for,'' he says, referring to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying organization in Washington.
Participation in the US election doesn't begin and end with voting. Mr. Leventhal of Democrats Abroad, is a member of the Democratic National Committee.