If Donald Trump becomes the Republican presidential nominee, Marc Zell, co-chairperson of the Israeli chapter of Republicans Overseas, and vice president of Republicans Overseas International, says that for the first time ever he will refuse to campaign for his party’s candidate.
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“I may even have to resign,” admits Zell, acknowledging the difficulty of heading a chapter of this organization without supporting the party's chosen candidate for president. If it comes to that, it will be painful. Zell has been active in Israel on behalf of the Republican Party for 25 years.
Emphasizing that he speaks for himself, not for his organization, Zell says that his “personal feelings about his candidacy are so strong” that actively supporting Trump would be impossible. He had been planning to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer, but now he says he will travel there only if there is a real chance for a different nominee - any other nominee. If it becomes clear that Trump is coming into the convention as the presumptive candidate, with enough delegates to turn it into a coronation, he is going to stay away.
“Why would I want to celebrate the nomination of someone who isn’t qualified to be president?” Zell asked.
Zell stresses that not every member of the Republican Overseas Israel board – or the rank and file – shares his misgivings and he denies there is any tension in the organization over Trump. “We agree to disagree. It’s the American way,” he jokes.
But he says he has been on the receiving end of many worried phone calls and emails. On a global scale, he knows that he is far from the only ex-pat Republican activist who is deeply concerned about a Trump candidacy, he says. Many of his counterparts in the overseas GOP organization in which he serves are equally unhappy about Trump.
“The fact that the front runner has not demonstrated a serious or deep understanding about foreign policy is really disconcerting to those who care about it,” he says. The source of the Overseas Republican discontent with Trump ranges from his offensive comments regarding Mexicans, his disconcerting embrace of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and his dismissal of NATO as “obsolete.”
More importantly, closer to home, “no one really knows where he stands on anything regarding Israel,” Zell says, adding that he was horrified by Trump’s appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition candidates forum, where it first became clear to him that Trump had a “fundamental lack of understanding about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
Subsequently, Trump's zig-zags on issues haven’t changed Zell's mind. He wasn’t impressed by Trump’s speech at AIPAC, which won him ovations from the pro-Israel lobby, but which Zell points out, “wasn’t written by him - he just read it.” He thinks that Jews who “take solace in the fact that he has a Jewish son and daughter-in-law and grandkids are just fooling themselves.”
“The problem with Trump on foreign policy, is you don’t know what he stands for from one day to the next does anyone know where he stands on Syria, Turkey and Afghanistan? Not really.”
Zell said the primary issue that has united Republican ex-pats around the world is the issue of dual taxation, which many U.S. citizens abroad find expensive, complicated and onerous enough to justify renouncing their U.S. citizenship. It has “made expatriates into [financial] pariahs all over the globe,” Zell says.
Americans abroad have rallied congressional Republicans to repeal the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, and have filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. They have won pledges from all current GOP candidates to roll it back
Except one. When the issue has been raised with Trump, Zell says, “he has said absolutely nothing. It’s not on his radar screen.”
Zell’s unhappiness with Trump has its limits - he will not refuse to vote for him if that's what it takes to defeat the presumed Democratic nominee. “I couldn’t vote for Hillary. She is an absolute disaster, she cannot be trusted she’s a fraudster.”
As he sees it, Hillary is assuredly bad for Israel and the world. Trump, on the other hand, is a gamble. “He could turn out to be the greatest president, that’s a possibility I won’t rule out, but he could turn out to be worse than Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter.”
That’s a risk that this committed Republican doesn’t think Israel can afford to take.