Super Tuesday, Israel-style: Beachside Tel Aviv Bar Hosts Democratic Primary

Voting opens for Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary, with a steady stream of U.S. expats trying to decide between Sanders, Bloomberg, Warren and Biden

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A Democratic Party member casting her ballot for a presidential candidate in the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020.
A Democratic Party member casting her ballot for a presidential candidate in the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Dina Kraft
Dina Kraft

On Super Tuesday, thousands of miles away from the United States, the Americans arrived one by one to a beachside Tel Aviv bar, beer on tap and a pool table behind them. They took their ballot papers into a voting booth fashioned from blue construction paper and cast their ballot for a Democratic presidential candidate.

“I voted all my life for the Democratic Party and in Democratic primaries. And even though I don’t live full-time in America anymore, it’s still important to me as an American Israeli to participate in the electoral process of the United States,” said Robert Golub, 68, vice chairman of Get Out the Vote for Democrats Abroad Israel – the regional branch of the organization for American Democrats living overseas.

Most of the Americans voting had immigrated to Israel and are getting to vote for their Democratic presidential nomination as part of the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary. The organization is hosting 240 voting locations in 45 countries around the world this week (voting closes on March 10) and voters can also register to vote online. The primary will send 21 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July.

Tuesday marked the third time Leore Golan, 28, was voting through Democrats Abroad. In previous elections, Golan – who works for a startup in Tel Aviv – was living in Taiwan and Denmark.

“I wanted to vote because I want to see change in the world and I want to have impact anywhere I possibly can,” said Golan, who said she cast her ballot for Elizabeth Warren.

HAPPY HOUR? Robert Golub, vice chairman of Get Out the Vote for Democrats Abroad Israel, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020. “I voted all my life for the Democratic Party and in Democratic primaries.”Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

She wavered between the two progressive senators, Warren and Bernie Sanders, she said. “I agree overall with Sanders more, but I feel that Warren has the ability to make progress in her plans in a very clear and tangible way you don’t see in many politicians,” Golan explained.

Maya Shabi, 30, from Austin, Texas, but now living in Tel Aviv, was also among those voting Tuesday at Mike’s Place – a popular bar opposite Bograshov Beach. (On Friday, another voting booth for the global primary will be located at the bar’s Jerusalem location.) She voted for Sanders, the Democratic front-runner.

“Initially, I thought I would rather vote for Elizabeth Warren. But at this point, Sanders is the person who is gaining momentum and could serve as the biggest challenge to Trump,” Shabi said. “It’s so polarized in the United States right now: the only thing that can combat the radicalization of the right wing will be the left.”

A donations box with sign at the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020. Credit: Dina Kraft

She added: “I think [Sanders] has the most sustainable vision for the future for my generation – the millennial generation – as far as being not economically handicapped and helping the working and middle classes in America.”

If elected, Sanders would become America’s first-ever Jewish president. He has been outspoken in his criticism of Israel’s policies under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though, calling him and his government racist. That criticism, in addition to Sanders’ refusal to speak at this week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, angered many American Jews.

Shabi, who is a researcher in the field of international conflict resolution, said she thinks American-Israeli ties and shared interests are too strong to unravel. She added that Sanders’ positions on Israel “are not unfounded.”

Maya Shabi after voting in the Democrats Abroad Global Primary at Mike's Place, Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020. Credit: Dina Kraft

“Obviously, Israelis want American backing no matter what. But there still needs to be an adult in the room to say that the violation of civil liberties protected under international law cannot go unchecked,” she said, referring to Israeli actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Ricki Lieberman, 72, an immigrant to Israel from New York and wearing a pin saying “My vote counts,” said she voted for former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. It was her second vote in two days, as she had also participated in Israel’s general election on Monday.

She hoped a strong voter turnout in Israel among Democrats Abroad would send a message to counter the impression that American Israelis are all supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump.

“We need to make it clear that there are many progressive, liberal, Zionist Democrats who live in Israel,” Lieberman said. “I think it’s an important message to send friends of Israel, Jews and non-Jews alike: That in Israel, we are here and active, and committed to progressive values we want to see in our government.”

The voting form for the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

In 2016, Golub said, some 34,000 Americans voted in the Democrats Abroad Global Primary, with over 60 percent of the vote going to Sanders in his ultimately unsuccessful bid to win the nomination over Hillary Clinton.

Golub added that he was distressed by the actions of the leaders in both Israel and the United States. “The American government is causing nothing but problems to Israel, Israeli citizens and to our Israeli status in the Middle East and around the world,” he said. “I want to make sure the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania [Avenue] will have Israel as a concern, but will help push Israel to finally make peace with its neighbors and find a lasting solution with the Palestinians.”

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