RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Both Republicans and Democrats will tell you, the Jewish vote is vital in the upcoming presidential election. And this year, one party is going very far in its efforts to woo Jewish voters, all the way to Israel. Israel is home to a large American community, and for the first time, the Republican Party has crossed the Atlantic to actively campaign.
NPR's Middle East correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports that Republican Party envoys find themselves on fertile ground.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: It's an odd statistic. While in the U.S. American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic, in Israel the exact opposite is true. In the last U.S. elections, some 79 percent of Jews living in the U.S. voted Democrat. But according to Republicans Abroad Israel, their exit polls showed 77 percent of American-Israeli Jews voted the other way.
ARI FLEISCHER: In Israel, it's like hunting gefilte fish in a barrel. Most Jews in Israel are strong Republican.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Ari Fleischer, press secretary under President George W. Bush. He's on a trip this week for the Republican Jewish Coalition. The party estimates there are 150,000 eligible American voters living in Israel. Republicans believe it will be a close election, and so while every vote counts, some count more than others.
FLEISCHER: It all adds up. So indeed, there are a number of people in Israel who are Americans, who are registered to vote in Florida, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania. And they're the real people that I hope to be able to influence this week. The more turnout in Israel, the more Republican the turnout's going to be.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Flesicher says the Jewish vote is in play. He says in 1992, the first President Bush got only 11 percent of the Jewish vote. In 2004 when the second Bush was re-elected, he got 24 percent.
FLEISCHER: The object for Republicans in the Jewish community is to make inroads, not to win a majority. The Democrats will win the majority of the Jewish vote, but if we can hold them to 75 percent, to 70 percent, it will be a huge victory for Republicans. It's the difference between winning and losing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so Fleischer and the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition are making the rounds here. NPR interviewed the former press secretary after a lunch at the Psagot Winery in the occupied West Bank. Many American Jews live in the settlements, and the Republicans are appealing directly to them. Josh Hasten was at the event and lives in the settlement of Gush Etzion. The Republican message, he says, resonates.
JOSH HASTEN: It's a very important election, historic election, especially for Israel now, where we're facing such pressure, particularly from the Obama Administration and the State Department in terms of land and our rights to this land.
MATT BROOKS: Thank all of you for being here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: At another event in the city of Modiin in central Israel, Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, welcomes around a hundred people attending the town hall meeting here. He asks them to not only vote for Mitt Romney, but to tell their friends and family in the states to do so as well.
BROOKS: Let them know that we need a change of leadership. Let them know that we don't want an administration that the default position is to criticize Israel for building in its eternal capital of Jerusalem. We don't want an administration that wants to internationally condemn Israel for building its settlements in lands that Israel is developing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The crowd here is animated, receptive, and naturally, mostly Republican. Many questions center around how Romney will be different in his policies towards Israel than President Obama. Brooks responds by recounting an anecdote of a visit by Romney to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo in 2007. Romney was taking a tour with the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, of the security barrier Israel installed to protect itself from attacks on its civilians there.
BROOKS: And he was talking to the IDF briefer, and he said, well, how come you don't build the wall higher? Well, the briefer starts in, well, the U.N., you know, complains about this, and the Europeans complain about that, and he said, why do you care what those people think? There are people over there shooting your children. He says, if you have to build the wall 15 feet, 20 feet, build the wall.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mitt Romney will be visiting Israel at the end of the month, and he won't only be trying to get votes here, but also raise money. According to reports, he will be hosting a $60,000-a-plate fundraiser, and it's expected to be sold out. Lourdes Garcia Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.