Donald Trump and Mike Pence are on the big screen, their images and voices blasting in the video, making their pitch to voters at a campaign rally. Such a video appearance in and of itself is not unique — except this is not Florida, Ohio, or Pennsylvania. This is Israel. More specifically, this is Jerusalem. In a pre-recorded video statement, Trump vowed at his October Jerusalem rally that, should he be elected, his administration will stand “side-by-side with the Jewish people and Israel’s leaders.”
The rally, titled "Jerusalem Forever," was organized by Republicans Overseas Israel (ROI), the Israeli branch of Republicans Overseas, an organization which calls itself the “sole organization of the Republican Party for United States Citizens living permanently or temporarily abroad.” It is not formally affiliated with the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee.
Because they are campaigning for the oversee absentee ballot vote, some of the votes ROI is fighting for may only be counted days after the election — and, thus, after a winner is announced. Realistically, the votes of Americans living abroad account for such a relatively small portion that they don't make a significant difference. According to an ROI press release, around 75,000 Americans living in Israel voted in the 2012 election — a fraction of the voters in the least populous state, Wyoming (234,341).
However, Marc Zell, the co-chairman of ROI, tells Bustle the group has only seen an increase in interest this election cycle, despite the fact that the two major party candidates are considered two of the least popular in U.S. history. “We’ve got probably the two least popular candidates individually, but most popular election cycle that I can remember, ever,” Zell says.
For Zell, it’s important that Israeli-Americans vote to show that they do care because, to him, “the world is looking to see whether the American community in Israel puts its money where its mouth is, and steps up and votes and wants to be counted.”
And this year they’ve stepped up their game, according to Zell. He tells Bustle that ROI has more than 100 people volunteering for them in the streets and in call centers for anyone who has questions. Their focus is on Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.
Tzvika Brot, the man considered ROI's campaign manger, says this is the first time they launched such a big campaign in Israel. According to Brot, in previous years, ROI only had one office in the entire country compared to the seven they opened this year. “We have such a huge majority for the Republican (party),” he tells us, “unlike any other country in the world.”
Polls done by non-partisan organization iVoteIsrael in the 2008 and 2012 elections back ROI’s philosophy. In 2008, 76 percent of Israeli voters cast their ballot for John McCain, and in 2012, 85 percent voted for Mitt Romney. So in hopes of getting similar results, ROI launched their biggest campaign. Brot says this is the first time they have a professional strategic team. "Of course, the campaign this year includes professional a strategic team," Brot tells Bustle. "Media advisors, social media experts, and many other specialists in all kinds of fields." They are campaigning in both English and Hebrew and are reaching out to voters under the age of 40 who have never before cast a ballot. "This time they react to our message, and the reaction to the campaign was phenomenal," he adds.
However, is it harder to make a pitch for Trump in Israel, the one and only Jewish state, when his campaign has been dogged with concerns about anti-Semitism?
Trump has repeatedly said that he supports Israel and the Jewish people, telling members of AIPAC at their annual conference in Washington D.C., that he is “a lifelong supporter and true friend of Israel.” As for his family, he talks about his daughter Ivanka converting to Judaism and raising a Jewish family. But to many voters (Jewish and otherwise) that hasn't compensated for the incidences of anti-Semitism related to his campaign that have occurred during the election cycle.
For one, there's the fact that former Klu Klux Klan Imperial Grand Wizard David Duke has heartily endorsed Trump — and to many, Trump took too long to denounce his support. There was Trump's Star of David tweet in July, which featured Clinton's face with the Jewish symbol and piles of money. Trump was also loathe to denounce the anti-Semitic death threats that journalist Julia Ioffe received when she wrote a less-than-favorable profile of his wife, Melania.
So, how can Jewish voters support him?
For Brot, it’s about the person and the politics, and not the supporters. “There isn't any perfect president, maybe in Hollywood you can find a perfect person,” he tells Bustle. “But at the end of the day, the voters here know that they have to pick one of two candidates. They care deeply about America and they care deeply about Israel, and they want to have a president that can elevate the connection between the countries.”
When asked about the concerns of anti-Semitism surrounding Trump's campaign, especially the support from Duke, ROI staffer Sheila Weiner tells Bustle, they are “superfluous to what the main things that the people here really care about.”
Weiner adds that, “Nobody likes that David Duke supports him, but that’s really irrelevant, it has nothing to do with anything, there are so many more important issues.”
So, with just days to go until the elections, are ROI’s efforts and the attention they’ve been getting paying off? An exit poll released by iVoteIsrael and Keevoon Global Research last week shows Trump leading Clinton 49 percent to 44 percent, a slight victory, but a huge decrease from what we saw in the two previous elections.
Eitan Charnoff, the national director of iVoteIsrael, tells Bustle its 2016 polling shows the Israeli-American voters are dynamic, calling the change in the voting pattern a “dramatic” one." Perhaps, the ultimate result may reveal that despite ROI's intensified efforts, Trump's flaws aren't actually seen as "superfluous."
Images: Republicans Overseas Israel (4).