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Marc Zell, the chairman of Republicans living in Israel, in Modiin, Israel, August 15, 2016. Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
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Trump Sets Up Shop in Israel

There are an estimated 400,000 registered American voters in Israel, and Trump is likely to win a majority of them—especially in the West Bank

Armin Rosen
August 26, 2016
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
Marc Zell, the chairman of Republicans living in Israel, in Modiin, Israel, August 15, 2016. Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

The most competent wing of the pro-Trump effort might be in Israel. Earlier this month, Republicans Overseas Israel launched an outreach campaign aimed at American voters living in the country. According to the West Bank-based website Arutz Sheva, Trump supporters now have three small offices in Israel—in Ramat Gan, Modiin and Jerusalem—that are attempting to sway the estimated 400,000 American citizens residing in the Jewish state. Arutz Sheva reported that a fourth office will be soon opened “over the Green Line in Samaria,” in the West Bank.

The Israel-based pro-Trump operation has a granularity and an organizational rigor seldom in evidence in the Republican candidate’s official campaign. Both JTA and Arutz Sheva reported that Trump supporters are micro-targeting 30,000 expat voters with registrations in potential swing-states. This sophisticated and labor-intensive effort is in marked contrast to the actual campaign’s stateside ground game, which has been disorganized and skeletal, even in places Trump needs to win. And it draws an interesting if unflattering contrast to the Trump campaign’s U.S.-based Jewish outreach, which seems to consist of only a single campaign liaison to the Jewish community.

Trump’s backers in Israel also made the uncharacteristically canny decision to open an office in the West Bank in order to target American voters living east of the Green Line. The West Bank is promising territory for Trump. David M. Friedman, the bankruptcy lawyer and philanthropist who acts as Trump’s lead adviser on Israel-related matters, is the president of the board of the American Friends of Bet-El, a West Bank settlement north of Ramallah that is not expected to remain under Israeli control in the event of a final peace agreement. And the organizer of Trump’s Israel outreach is Republicans Overseas Israel co-chair Marc Zell, an American-born lawyer and former law partner of George W. Bush-era Pentagon official Douglas Feith. Zell now lives in Alon Shvut, a West Bank settlement outside of Jerusalem. Clinton is also a longstanding supporter of a peace process that many settlers oppose, and her record likely doesn’t sit well with more ideologically motivated members of the community: As Secretary of State, Clinton oversaw an inevitably fruitless peace effort that required the Israeli government imposing an unprecedented 10-month freeze in settlement construction in 2009.

It’s smart for the Trump campaign to target voters over the Green Line for another, less obvious reason. According to Arutz Sheva, some 15 percent of Jews living over the Green Line are Americans, accounting for over 60,000 people. The West Bank has a density of registered voters who likely have a strong pre-existing aversion to Hillary Clinton. Settlers are a potential Trump constituency, and Trump’s backers have set up an infrastructure for reaching them.

Pro-Trump efforts in Israel are likely to be successful. As JTA reported, Mitt Romney is believed to have gotten as much as 85 percent of the Israel-based expat vote in 2012, compared to roughly 30 percent of the Jewish vote in the U.S. Some 30 percent of Americans living in Israel are classified as “religious Zionist” according to JTA, meaning they belong to a religious and ideological bloc that’s generally skeptical of the peace process and that takes a much different view of Israel and Judaism in general than the majority of Jews in the U.S.

Indeed, Trump’s potential success in Israel offers another striking contrast between Israel and the U.S.: Back in March, AIPAC, the U.S.’s leading pro-Israel lobbying group, issued an unusual public apology after Trump criticized President Barack Obama during a speech to the organization’s annual policy conference. Trump’s campaign has sparked a string of controversies stemming from the candidate’s alleged indifference towards some of his more vocally anti-Semitic supporters, and has drawn repeated condemnation from groups like the Anti-Defamation League. But many and perhaps most American Jews living in Israel are likely to have a totally opposite perception of the candidate than many of the groups and individuals advancing the community’s causes in the United States.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article contained two errors. David M. Friedman, Trump’s lead adviser on Israel-related matters, was incorrectly written as David M. Miller. Finally, there are 400,000 American citizens living in Israel, not 400,000 registered American voters, as a previous version of this article incorrectly stated.

Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.

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