Israeli political leaders have thus far made a point of keeping their two cents out of the big election drama playing out across the ocean, doggedly refusing to endorse either of the presidential candidates.
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But a background check on some of the key figures running the Donald Trump campaign in Israel reveals a very strong affinity with one particular side of the Israeli political map.
Tzvika Brot, the newly appointed director of the Republican Party campaign team in Israel, is a former journalist with close ties to the right-wing Likud party. After taking unpaid leave a few years ago from the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth, where he served as Knesset correspondent, Brot was approached by senior Likud officials urging him to run as their representative for mayor of Bat Yam, located just south of Tel Aviv. Brot declined to run for mayor but did try, without success, to get elected to the city council as a representative of Likud.
Less than a year ago, Benjamin Netanyahu offered him the prestigious job of director of communications in the Prime Minister’s Office. Brot turned him down as well, preferring to continue working as an independent political strategist.
Brot, who was a well-respected journalist and worked for Army Radio before joining Yedioth Ahronoth, was hired to run the campaign about a month ago by Republican Party activists in Israel.
Since his appointment, Brot has already opened three offices for the Trump campaign – in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Modi’in. In the next week or two, he said, a fourth office would be officially opened in the West Bank settlement of Ginot Shomron.
The spokeswoman of the Trump campaign team is Dana Mizrahi, who previously served as press adviser to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the religious right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party. Habayit Hayehudi is a key partner in Netanyahu’s coalition government.
In response to a question from Haaretz, Mizrahi, who is not Orthodox, said her appointment with Bennett had been professional and not political. Indeed, before working with the Habayit Hayehudi chairman, she served as a press adviser to Labor party leader Ehud Barak, when he was defense minister.
Still, earlier this year, after breaking ties with Bennett to become an independent consultant, Mizrahi served as public relations director of a highly controversial campaign launched by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu. The campaign included videos in which human-rights activists and celebrated artists and writers were “outed” as “moles” serving Israel’s enemies because of their left-wing views.
Another key member of the Trump campaign staff is Yerach Toker, a high-profile ultra-Orthodox public relations specialist. Toker, who previously served as media adviser to Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni, is the Trump campaign liaison to the ultra-Orthodox community, which is a promising demographic for the Republican Party because of its conservative bent and relatively large number of American passport holders. Gafni, Toker’s former boss, is a longstanding member of United Torah Judaism, a party that is also a major partner in Netanyahu’s governing coalition.
In charge of new media for the campaign is Roni Arzi, the CEO of Mashrokit, an Internet services company. A former journalist, Arzi, who is Orthodox, has worked on both the personal campaign of Naftali Bennett and the party campaign of Habayit Hayehudi. For several years, he also served as spokesman of the Yesha Council, the organization that advocates on behalf of the settler movement.
Speaking with Haaretz, Brot estimated that about 300,000 Israelis are eligible to vote in the U.S. elections. (iVote Israel, a non-partisan organization that has been holding registration drives around the country, has put the number at a much lower 200,000.)
He further estimated that about 70 percent of these American-Israelis tend to vote in Israel for parties that belong to the political center and right, making them natural allies of the Republican Party. Citing various different sources, Brot said that about 35 percent of American-Israelis are modern Orthodox, 15 percent are ultra-Orthodox, another 15 percent are “traditional,” and 35 percent are secular.
Because many American citizens live in the Jewish settlements, he said, the upcoming opening of the Trump campaign office in Ginot Shomron would be an important event. “We will have a special guest there,” he promised. “I can’t say who it will be, but it won’t be Trump.”