Pro-Trump campaigners open field office in Jewish settlement
Republican activists in Israel are ramping up a multi-city effort to get out the vote for Donald Trump, with a special focus on expatriates living in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli chapter of Republicans Overseas kicked off the settlement push on Monday in a home in the town of Ginot Shomron, where an 80-year-old rabbi from Illinois will host a voter registration drive in his living room.
The group, a locally funded nonprofit, has no formal ties to the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee — though it says it has coordinated with the Trump campaign. It has already opened field offices in three Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A fourth office is planned for the Israeli settlement of Efrat.
“This is a party that has become extremely Zionist,’’ said Abe Katsman, a leader of Republicans Overseas, speaking to reporters in the rabbi’s home. Behind him were bookshelves of Jewish religious texts, and a poster in Hebrew bearing the phrase “Trump — the Israeli interest.”
Within the next few weeks, the voter registration effort will move on from Ginot Shomron to other small settlements in the northern West Bank.
American Jewish voters in presidential elections have historically given between 70% to 80% support to Democrats. But Republican activists say that Americans residing in Israel fall the opposite way, after years of clashes between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Palestinian peace process and Iran. Democratic Party activists in Israel dispute that characterization, saying there’s never been an authoritative political poll of Americans in Israel.
The Republican Party platform this year moved to the right on Israel, dropping mention of the creation of a Palestinian state and condemning what it described as “the false notion” that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank. Republicans Overseas activists also say that Trump believes the U.S. should not criticize Israel for settlement construction like officials in the current administration have done.
To help boost turnout for Trump, the group has enlisted Israeli campaign operative Tzvika Brot, a member of Netanyahu’s parliamentary campaign team in 2013. Netanyahu last year offered Brot a job as his chief of communications, which he turned down.
The pro-Trump effort has more than 100 volunteers who will work the phones, pass out fliers, target voters through social media and advise Americans on voter registration, Brot said. He estimated that as many as one-fourth of U.S. expatriates in Israel reside in the settlements.
There are no official figures on the number of American citizens living in Israel; political activists place the number between 150,000 and 300,000. While that’s a relatively small group of voters, they could make a crucial difference in the event of a close election.
“We are working under the assumption that it’s going to be a close election, and we can make a huge difference,’’ said Katsman. “Our party is watching to see whether Israelis turn out.’’
But finding absentee voters from swing states will be a key challenge for the Israeli Trump supporters. Only 16% of the American Jewish population lived in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2012, according to a study published by the American Jewish Yearbook. About 60% of American Jews lived in New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland — states expected to back Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by safe margins.
Mitnick is a special correspondent.
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