Whether or not president-elect Donald Trump follows through with his promise to moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will be an “important litmus test” for his commitment to Israel, said Marc Zell, Director of Republican Overseas Israel, in a first reaction to the stunning upset delivered by his candidate in Tuesday’s election.
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“What he needs to do and can do is make a determination that the embassy will be moved,” Zell told Haaretz. “That’s something he can do within days after he’s inaugurated, and we’re going to be looking to see that he does it.”
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Another test of Trump’s commitment to his campaign promises to strengthen Israel, Zell said, would be his choice of the next ambassador to the country.
“We understand from various places that it may well be David Friedman, who feels strongly about the embassy and other things,” he said. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer, advises Trump on matters concerning Israel. In recent statements, he has questioned the viability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indicated that he supports annexation of the West Bank.
Trump supporters led a very aggressive campaign in Israel, hoping to tap into the right-leaning sentiments of many American immigrants living in the country. They hired a team of advisers and opened five offices, including one in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron.
According to a contested exit poll published last week, 49 percent of Israelis who voted in the U.S. election cast their ballot for Trump, while only 44 percent voted for Clinton. The poll estimated that only about 30,000 American expats in Israel voted in the election.
According to Zell, an Orthodox Jew who lives in a West Bank settlement, “somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000” of the Israeli-Americans that voted for Trump were from the battleground state of Florida, where the Republican candidate won by about 200,000 votes.
The main achievement of the Trump campaign in Israel, said Zell, was not so much generating votes for the Republican candidate in Israel, but sending a message to pro-Israel voters in the United States. “We’re talking about a very large community of voters – most of them are not Jewish, but rather evangelicals and Christian Zionists who believe in Israel and put it very high on their list in terms of voting,” he said. “They came out in large numbers to vote this time around, something they didn’t do in 2012.”
Although he has long been convinced that Trump would win the election, Zell said, he was shocked by the extent of the victory. “When it actually began to materialize last night, I was dumbstruck, awestruck – I thought there was something otherworldly about it.”
Abe Katsman, another Republican activist in Israel, speculated that the local campaign, by encouraging locals to vote, may have helped tip the balance in the tight Senate race in Pennsylvania. “We certainly may have had an impact there through voters in Israel,” said Katsman, who serves as legal counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel. “Pat Toomey survived a very strong challenge there from the Democrats.”