Republicans in Israel Hail Romney Visit as Pivotal Bid for Jewish Vote

Activists from Republicans Abroad-Israel are gearing up for their candidates upcoming 'historic' visit to the Holy Land.

It is 10 days and counting to Mitt Romney's anticipated visit to Israel, and the brain trust of Republicans Abroad-Israel - a politically savvy and supremely confident trio of activists - are maintaining an uncharacteristically modest profile.

"We're just a small portion of this," says Kory Bardash, RAI-Israel co-chair, discussing the much-talked-about $50,000-a-head post-Tisha B'av Romney fundraiser which the group has been involved in planning for weeks. "This visit is not about what it will do for our organization."

Bardash; his co-chair, Marc Zell; and counsel Abraham Katsman acknowledge that the timing of the governor's visit on the Jewish fast day has made scheduling "tight." But they say the timing couldn't be more symbolic.

"I think it dovetails perfectly with the fact that Israelis live under an existential threat," says Bardash, a native of Parsippany, New Jersey, who works as a financial analyst.

"If there's any day that represents that existential reality, it's Tisha B'av," adds Katsman, an attorney who hails from Seattle, Washington.

The triumvirate told Haaretz in Jerusalem this week that plans for the event were still being finalized and that they were not privy to the final decisions of the Romney campaign. They said the event will be held at an as-of-yet-undisclosed Jerusalem location approximately 90 minutes after the conclusion of the fast of Tisha B'av on July 29. Romney - who is expected to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's residence during the breaking of the nearly 24-hour fast - is expected to mingle for up to an hour with about 20-30 donors and may deliver remarks. Bardash notes that the former Massachusetts governor will also be holding high-level meetings with several key Israeli officials. The governor's precise itinerary for the visit may be released as early as this weekend, according to Andrea Saul, the Romney campaign's press secretary.

"This is unchartered territory for us," says Marc Zell, a 59-year-old international lawyer and RAI-Israel co-chair from Washington, D.C., who traces his involvement as a Republican in Israel back to 1991. "We have never done a fundraiser before for a political candidate, let alone for a presidential candidate. This is truly historic."

The three men stress that their organization - a member of the Washington-based Republicans Abroad International - is not formally sponsoring the Romney fundraiser but is working in tandem with the Romney campaign, the Republican National Committee and the Republican Jewish Coalition.

But clearly, they are savoring the moment - and taking some credit.

"A few months ago, we were in touch with the Romney campaign and proposed having some sort of event with the folks here on the ground," said Bardash. "The governor has many supporters here in Israel, and we helped plant the seeds to make this event possible."

The group, which says its field operation continues to reach out to Israel's estimated pool of 150,000 eligible voters for the November election, says it has encountered many Democrats whom they say will vote for Romney in the fall.

"A lot of our supporters - and some of the people attending the Romney event - are disaffected Obama supporters from 2008 who are crossing party lines to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012," says Bardash, who added that some guests planning to attend the fundraiser maintain residences in Israel and will be arriving from the United States. "The governor's trip to Israel will clearly highlight a major weakness in the Obama administration's handling of the peace process, its relationship with the State of Israel, and its feckless approach to dealing with the nuclear threat posed by Iran."

Bardash predicts the visit will "not only will energize Americans eligible to vote in Israel, but will play significantly well in the important swing states in the United States where there is a large Jewish and pro-Israel population."

In fact, RAI-Israel is expecting a high voter turnout among Americans here. Though they provided no figures, they predict that eight out of every 10 voters are expected to vote Republican.

Democrats scoff at the prediction. Hillel Schenker, vice chairman of Democrats Abroad-Israel, responds that Bardash's estimates are "wishful thinking" with "absolutely no scientific basis."

Yet Bardash maintains that the Romney visit is a "strategic one," the significance of which - so deep into the presidential election season - is not lost on Republicans in Israel.

"Our membership is very excited and appreciates Governor Romney's coming to Israel during a busy and highly complex campaign season," says Bardash. "For him to come to Israel, even for a short period of time, speaks to the governor's understanding of Israel's importance as a reliable and committed ally of the United States."