Tel Aviv Diary: Trump Woos American-Israeli Votes

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men attend a funeral in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Modi’in Illit on August 10. It is thought that the possibility of Donald Trump becoming the next U.S. president worries Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Marc Schulman writes. Baz Ratner/reuters

Donald Trump's U.S. presidential campaign launched its official election initiative in Israel on August 15.

While the organizations Democrats in Israel and Republicans in Israel have existed for decades, this is the first time in anyone's memory that an official campaign—replete with banners, field workers and a social media campaign—has been deployed.

Trump's efforts are aimed at the 350,000 Americans living in Israel who have the right to vote in the U.S. election this November. Trump's campaign banners here bear the slogan " Israel's interest." Those campaigning on behalf of Trump claim that unlike Hillary Clinton, who they say will sell Israel down the river, Trump will staunchly defend Israel.

Leading the charge for Trump is Marc Zell, head of Republicans in Israel. When I spoke with him on Super Tuesday last February—which feels like nearly a century ago—Zell was confident Trump would not be the Republican candidate.

At that time, I pressed Zell on whether he would support Trump if he were to become the Republican nominee. Zell hemmed and hawed and did not truly answer. Today, speaking on Israeli TV, Zell exudes confidence that Trump is the answer.

In Israel, the Trump campaign plans to concentrate its efforts in Jerusalem, Modi'in Illit and Beit Shemesh, all communities with large American populations and all with a large number of religious Israelis. The hope within the Trump campaign is that religious American-Israelis are more likely to support Trump than secular Israelis. Based on my conversations with numerous Americans in Tel Aviv, where it is hard to find any Americans who support a Trump presidency, this hypothesis is clearly true.

Over the past two decades, the natural inclination of Israelis has been to support the Republican U.S. presidential nominee, a disposition clearly strengthened by the implicit support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given each Republican candidate. Republicans are generally viewed as more "pro-Israel" here in Israel. It is felt that fewer criticisms of Israeli policies emanate from Republican politicians, compared with their Democratic counterparts.

Six months ago, Trump's anti-Muslim message clearly resonated with a segment of the Israeli population, and early opinion polls showed clear support for Trump in Israel. More recent polls mirror the polls in the U.S., with Clinton leading among Israelis generally.

There are no current polls of American-Israelis. As such, their attitudes can be deduced only from anecdotal evidence. From discussions with potential voters, one can deduce that Trump is clearly polling behind where Mitt Romney was four years ago.

One does not have to look beyond the actions of Netanyahu. In past elections, he has made his preference for a particular candidate well-known. In this campaign, Netanyahu is bending over backward to make sure there is no hint of any bias in favor of the Republican candidate on his part. In fact, it is believed that the possibility of Trump becoming president worries Netanyahu.

Trump represents a level of political uncertainty that is unprecedented in modern history. As one security expert told me a few weeks ago, if there is one thing Israel has trouble with, it is uncertainty.

Therefore, most of those who work on or study Israel's security overwhelmingly prefer Clinton. She is a known entity, and it is possible to anticipate her actions. With Trump, all bets are off.

Of the 350,000 Israel residents with the right to vote in the upcoming U.S. election, the vast majority hail from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California—all reliably blue states. It's the few thousand American-Israelis from Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania who, one has to assume, are the true targets of the Israeli Trump campaign.

It is anybody's guess how successful the campaign will be. However, I have my doubts. I know a number of American-Israelis who have not voted in years, and this year they feel it is their duty to come out and vote against Trump—even if their votes are in states Clinton will easily win.

I have yet to meet a person who has not voted in years and now says, "This year I must come out and vote for Trump."

Marc Schulman is the editor of