At Tel Aviv Voter Registration Drive, Clinton Wins by Knockout

An unscientific poll by Haaretz of Americans registering to vote by absentee ballot in November upholds the city's liberal reputation.

The U.S. voter registration drive by iVote Israel in Tel Aviv's Sarona Market, August 9, 2016. A young woman wearing an oversized stars-and-stripes hat explains something to a woman holding registration forms, a passport and a U.S. Social Security card. A booth with a banner reading, "American citizens, register to vote here" is in the background.
David Bachar

If a random selection of American citizens registering to vote in the upcoming U.S. election from Israel provides any indication of what lies ahead, then Donald Trump might as well throw in the towel.

At a first major registration drive held in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night, American-Israelis — at least those who agreed to reveal their voting preferences — were almost unanimous in declaring Hillary Clinton their candidate of choice. The number of Trump supporters in the group could hardly be counted on one hand.

More than 200 American-Israelis turned out for the event, the purpose of which was to help them fill out forms required of U.S. citizens planning to vote in the election by absentee ballot. Organized by iVote Israel, a nonprofit that encourages U.S. citizens in Israel to exercise their voting rights, it was held in the upscale Sarona Market — right outside the Max Brenner restaurant where four Israelis were killed in a terror attack two months ago.

A bastion of progressive liberalism, Tel Aviv can hardly be considered representative of Israel, especially since a relatively large share of American-Israelis live in West Bank settlements where there tends to be much less sympathy for the Democratic Party. Still, as home to one of the largest American expatriate communities in Israel, Tel Aviv carries more political clout than many other cities.

Karine Hyman, a 31-year-old psychotherapist and actress who was filling out her registration forms, does not mince word when asked why she will be voting for Clinton. “The direction Trump is taking is scary,” she says. “I think he’s a bigot, a racist and a sexist, who in general has lots of disrespect for human beings.”

Hyman, who moved to Israel from New York eight years ago, says she originally supported Bernie Sanders, but since he lost the Democratic race to Clinton she feels no choice but to support the party candidate. “I don’t love her,” she says of Clinton, “but that’s whom we have left.”

Hyman came to the event with her mother, France, (a former Parisian, as her name might suggest) who says she is also voting for Clinton. But unlike her daughter, the elder Hyman, a makeup artist by profession, doesn’t consider Clinton her default candidate. “I like Hillary a lot,” she says, “and I think she’s better than anyone else. I would’ve liked Bernie too except that he’s so anti-Israel.”

Although she is almost 40, this is the first time Mika Raday will be exercising her right to vote in an American election. “I never felt it was important until now,” she acknowledges, expressing particular concerns about where U.S. foreign policy is headed. And yes, of course she will be voting for Clinton, she says, as if that were self-evident.

This is also a first American election for Aaron, who asked that his full name not be published. But he will definitely not be voting for Clinton. “Trump is the most pro-Israel and most Zionist presidential candidate there ever was,” declares the 32-year-old who describes himself as “an artist, dancer and musician.” Aaron notes that in gematria, Hebrew numerology, a system for assigning numerical values to letters in the alphabet, the Hebrew transliteration of “Donald Trump” has the same numerical value as a well-known Hebrew phrase used to describe the messiah. “Hillary” and “Clinton,” however, each adds up to the same numerical value as the Hebrew word for a female of the Amalekite people, the nemesis of the Israelites.

“Trust me, I have friends who know him,” says Aaron, who has lived in both New York and Florida. “Everything people are saying against Donald Trump, it’s all total lies.”

According to iVote Israel, which describes itself as nonpartisan, an estimated 200,000 Israeli residents are eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential election. The organization estimates that 160,000 were eligible to vote in 2012, and that half of them exercised that privilege. “The goal of our organization is that American politicians realize they have a constituency here in Israel,” says Eitan Charnoff, national director of the organization.

Asked whether he thought Israeli-Americans might not take the trouble to vote with Clinton enjoying a significant lead in the polls these days, Charnoff said: “I hope not. I’m also not sure that will be the case because of the unique nature of this election and all the excitement around it.”

According to figures compiled by iVote Israel, among eligible voters living in Israel, 60,000 are from New York, 30,000 from New Jersey, 17,500 from Florida, 12,500 from California, 11,000 from Pennsylvania and 7,500 from Ohio. The organization is planning several events each week until the November 8 election to help U.S. citizens register, including one on Wednesday in Ma’aleh Adumim, one of the biggest West Bank settlements. Charnoff says several small registration drives were held last week, but the Tel Aviv event was the official launch.

U.S. citizens interested in voting can also register directly through their state using the Federal Voting Assistance Program website (https://www.fvap.gov/). The purpose of the events his organization is holding, says Charnoff, is to help answer frequent questions that arise and walk potential voters through the process.

Alexa Arena, a 26-year-old originally from Boston, says she had planned to vote in this first election of hers as an absentee voter, “but now the stakes are even higher, which makes it even more important.” Although she is not a registered Democrat, Arena says that she has always voted for Democratic candidates. “Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m from Boston, where the Democrats have always been strong,” she observes.

The U.S. voter registration drive by iVote Israel in Tel Aviv's Sarona Market, August 9, 2016. A young woman wearing an "I Vote Israel" baseball cap hands out absentee ballot registration forms on a walking path. A booth with a banner reading, "American citizens, register to vote here" is in the background.
David Bachar

Her friend and Tel Aviv University colleague Yonit Schacher also comes from a state with a strong Democratic bent, in her case New York. Even though she believes Clinton will face no real contest in New York, Schacher says she still intends to cast her absentee ballot. “I’m voting out of principle this time,” she says, “because I really don’t like Donald Trump.”

Neither does Yoel Anouchi, a physician from Cleveland who moved to the northern Israeli town of Nahariya three years ago. Anouchi and his wife decided to take advantage of the fact that they were spending the day in Tel Aviv to stop by the registration event in Tel Aviv. But as he discloses while standing in line to fill out the forms, neither does he like Clinton very much.

“It hurts me that I have to vote for either of them,” laments the 58-year-old, who sports a kippa. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s about choosing the lesser of two evils.”

And has he decided yet which is less evil? “I think I’m leaning toward the Republicans,” he says.