The US Republican Party is running an election campaign in Israel for its presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The campaign, which kicked off Aug. 15, targets the 300,000 expatriate Americans with voting rights who live in Israel. The efforts focus on cities with concentrations of people holding American citizenship: Jerusalem, Modiin, Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh, the Etzion Bloc settlements, Haifa and Beersheba. As part of the campaign, the Republicans have set up public information stands in the shopping centers of these cities to disseminate campaign messages.
Tzvika Brot, the director of the Trump campaign in Israel, is convinced that 80% of the Americans in Israel are supporters of the Republican Party. One important reason, according to Brot, is that 65% of the American expats in Israel are religious or traditional. “These groups naturally identify with the right and with conservative values,” he said. “That’s why we work mainly on explaining to people how to cast their vote, and less on convincing them. Most of this public is already on our side.”
Brot said the campaign in Israel is the largest conducted by the party in any country in the world outside of the United States, because “Israel has the largest number of Americans in the world by percentage of population.” Though he declines to disclose the campaign's budget, he said, “We are talking about a very generous budget, the kind we’ve never seen before.”
Brot said the Israeli-American public “chooses its candidate only according to the extent of the candidate’s affinity toward Israel. And there’s no doubt that Trump is best for Israel.” The campaign managers in Israel chose the slogan, “Trump: The Israeli interest.”
The obvious question is: Why this focus on the Jewish vote? After all, many American Jews are concentrated in New York, which is generally viewed as a Democratic-oriented state. But Brot has a ready answer: “In 2000, when George W. Bush ran against Al Gore, 537 votes from a specific district of Florida decided the election. This district alone counted 1,000 votes from Americans living in Israel who supported Bush. Thus, we can say that to a certain extent, the Israeli votes were what tilted the balance. Clearly, if the election results aren't close, then it won’t matter. But we know that the results will be close, and the Israeli campaign may actually decide the election.”
The campaign's activities in Israel are diverse. “We have a telemarketing headquarters, and we call people all the time,” Brot said. “A large part of our budget is invested in connecting with electors via the social networks. In addition, we conduct public events: We set up stands in the shopping centers and we also go from door to door. We have appointed regional supervisors who manage sub-headquarters that reach the individual voter. In addition, we have managers for different sectors: for yeshiva students, for seminary students and a special manager for soldiers. Now we are launching a Hebrew-language website.”
Sheldon Schorer, a lawyer and Democrats Abroad spokesman in Israel, objected to this argument. “Trump good for Israel?” he said in a conversation with Al-Monitor, his tone betraying annoyance. “How do we know such a thing? We are talking about a businessman who has never done a thing in his life connected to foreign policy. One day he says that Israel and the Palestinians must be treated equally. After that he says that Israel should have to pay for American [security] support of Israel.” Schorer contends that the Democrats, in contrast, have historically proven that they are the most committed to Israel’s security.
Schorer also fumes at the figure bandied about by Trump’s headquarters — that 80% of Americans in Israel support the Republican Party. “I have heard this falsehood time after time, and it surprises me that they continue with it. If they have a professional public opinion survey, let them release it to the public. But that’s not what they do. When [former Republican candidate Mitt] Romney was running, they publicized a falsified survey claiming that they had a majority. After the elections, it emerged that [President Barack] Obama received 70% support here in Israel,” he said.
“Until about a decade ago, support in Israel for the Democrats ranged from 72% to 79%, and that matched the support for Democrats among American Jewry,” Schorer explained. “In recent years we have seen an emigration to Israel of religious Americans who went to live in the settlements. These are usually closer to the Republicans, so it is possible that the percentages have changed a bit. But I don’t believe that there has been such a great reversal here, certainly not for such an unseemly person as Trump. I am 100% sure that most of the religious Americans living in Ra’anana will not vote for the Republicans and that most of them will continue to support the Democrats.”
In a restaurant next to Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva, which is frequented by American students, Chaim Rosental, 21, from Brooklyn and Zalman Stone, 20, from Spring Valley, Maryland, offered their opinions to Al-Monitor. “I support Trump because he talks about America’s problems, and he will also be better for Israel,” said Rosental. “Hillary Clinton will continue Obama’s policy in the White House, and this really was not good policy for Israel,” he emphasized.
In contrast, Stone said that he intends to vote for Clinton. “Maybe Clinton isn’t really the best, but ultimately there are only two candidates and we have to choose. I can’t see myself voting for that capricious roughneck Donald Trump,” he said. “We don’t know a thing about Trump, and everything that he's said was just part of the campaign. Since America is so important to me, I intend to vote for Clinton. In principle, I didn’t intend to vote at all, but because of the danger of Trump I will vote.”
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