8/15/2016 Trump Campaign in Israel

Donald Trump’s U.S. Presidential campaign launched its official election initiative in Israel today. While both organizations, Democrats in Israel and Republicans in Israel, have existed for decades, this is the first time in anyone’s memory that an official campaign – replete with banners, field workers and a social media campaign has been deployed. Trump’s efforts are aimed at the 350,000 Americans living in Israel who have the right to vote on November 8th. Trump’s campaign banners here bear the slogan “Trump … In Israel’s interest”. Those campaigning on behalf of Trump claim that unlike Secretary of State Clinton – who will sell Israel down the river, Trump will staunchly defend Israel.

Leading the charge for Trump is Marc Zell, head of Republicans in Israel. When I spoke with him on what fells like nearly a century ago (i.e. on Super Tuesday, February 2016), Zell was confident Trump would not be the Republican candidate. At that time, I pressed Zell on whether he would support Trump, if Trump were to become the Republican nominee. Zell hemmed and hawed and did not truly answer. Today, speaking on Israeli TV Zell exuded confidence that Trump was the answer.

The Trump campaign plans to concentrate their efforts here in Jerusalem, Modi’in and Bet Shemesh, all communities with large American populations; all with a large number of religious Israelis. The hope within the Trump campaign is that religious American-Israelis are more likely to support Trump than secular Israelis. Based on conversations with numerous Americans in Tel Aviv, this hypothesis is clearly true. In Tel Aviv, it is hard to find any Americans who support a Trump presidency.

Over the last two decades the natural inclination of Israelis has been to support the Republican U.S. Presidential nominee – a disposition clearly strengthened by the implicit support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given each Republican candidate. Republicans are generally viewed as more “pro-Israel” here in Israel. It is felt that fewer criticisms of Israeli policies emanate from Republican politicians than from their Democratic counterparts.

Six month ago, Trump’s anti-Muslim message clearly resonated with a segment of the Israeli population, and early opinion polls showed clear support for Trump in Israel. More recent polls mirror the polls in the U.S., with Hillary Clinton leading among Israelis generally. There are no current polls of American-Israelis. As such, their attitudes can only deduced from anecdotal evidence. From discussions with potential voters one can deduce that Trump is clearly polling behind where Romney was four years ago.

One does not have to look beyond the actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu.In past elections he has made his preference for a particular candidate well known. In this campaign, Netanyahu is bending over backwards to make sure there is no hint of any bias in favor of the Republican candidate on his part. In fact, it is believed that the possibility of Trump becoming President worries Netanyahu.

Trump represents a level of political uncertainty that is unprecedented in modern history. As one security expert told me a few weeks ago – If there is one thing Israel has trouble with, it is uncertainty. Therefore, most of those who work on or study Israel’s security overwhelming prefer Clinton. She is a known entity, and it is possible to anticipate her actions; with Trump, all bets are off.

While there are approximately 350,000 Israeli residents with the right to vote in this upcoming U.S. election, the vast majority of American-Israelis hail from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California – all reliably Blue states. It’s the few thousand American-Israelis from Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania who one has to assume are the true targets of the Israeli Trump campaign. It is anybody’s guess how successful the campaign will be. However, I have my doubts. I know a number of American-Israelis who have not voted in years. Though this year they feel it is their duty to come out and vote against Trump – even if their votes are in states that Clinton will easily win. I have yet to meet the person who has not voted in years and has said – this year I must come out and vote for Trump.