The plaza at the entrance to Modi’in’s mall was fairly deserted as supporters of Donald Trump launched his election campaign for American voters in Israel. In light of the candidate’s stagnation in the polls and embarrassing revelations from his campaign in The New York Times, the Trump campaign has decided to go after every possible ballot, turning to potential voters in Israel with a Hebrew-language campaign.
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“Israeli Americans can decide the elections in the United States,” said Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Abroad – Israel. Zell estimates that there are more than 300,000 people in Israel with the right to vote in the U.S. elections and he wants to reach as many as he can – especially voters from swing states. “In Florida, 500 people decided the election,” he said, referring to Democrat Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000.
Two arches made of red, white and blue balloons festooned the mall entrance. Inside them were signs that seem to have been inspired in part by Ariel Sharon’s last election campaign. The signs bore the name “Trump” in white letters on a dark blue background, followed by a large red dot. Underneath, in smaller white letters were the words “the Israeli interest.”
There were more photographers present than Trump supporters. Activists walked around looking for American citizens among the shoppers, which was no easy task. “We finally found an American, move back,” one of the photographers asked bystanders when an American couple was found for a photo-op, and was immediately surrounded by the photographers.
“I like Donald Trump’s policy,” said Sruli Cooper, an Israeli American who has lived in Modi’in since 2002. “His immigration policy, his positions on the economy are very important, and his positions on security. He sees Israel as an ally in the Middle East, he knows that without Israel the Middle East will be a disaster and a terrible place to live.”
Cooper said he knows people who know Trump and his family. “They all have good things to say about him, so you can’t deny it.” According to Cooper, Trump “doesn’t have scandals like Clinton,” adding that he does not “consider Hillary Clinton a supporter of Israel.”
Another shopper, Hadassah Schwartz, 23, who was born in Israel to American parents, said she wavered a great deal and in the end decided to vote for Trump because “he’s the best for Israel.” According to Schwartz, “He will be the toughest with our enemies, Hezbollah, Iran and ISIS – he’s the most pro-Israel, and so is his team.”
Schwartz is registered to vote in Pennsylvania, considered one of the swing states, and she is the kind of voter the campaign is particularly targeting. “There, every vote counts and I really hope the Republican candidate wins,” she said.
“Everybody agrees with me that he’s an unconventional candidate and some of his statements are controversial. But he has a sense of humor and some of his statements were made as a joke and he took them back,” Schwartz said. She added that she believed Clinton also wanted the best for Israel but “as a right-winger I support Trump.”
Zell conceded that he had not been for Trump, but once Trump became the Republican candidate, he toed the line. “It’s the people who decide, not the establishment. And the people stated their will very clearly.” Zell said Trump was “not easy, he causes quite a few problems every day, but in the end after I looked into it myself, I’m sure this is the man.”
Zell said the Republican Party had campaigned in Israel in the past but not with material directed at Hebrew speakers – “the second and third generation here have American passports but they don’t see the importance of voting in the United States.” To that end, the party hired a team of Israeli consultants, including former journalist Zvika Brot and Dana Mizrahi, a former spokeswoman for Education Minister Naftali Bennett and of a campaign by the extreme anti-leftist group Im Tirtzu.
According to Zell, the party will be focusing its efforts in communities with large numbers of Americans, and will be holding rallies soon in Jerusalem, Ra’anana and Be'er Sheva.