By Alina Dain Sharon/JNS.org
In early August Israeli media reported that the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has launched outreach to an estimated 300,000 eligible American voters living in Israel. The Trump campaign is working with the Israel branch of Republicans Overseas, an organization that works to reach American citizens abroad who can vote via absentee ballot. According to Israeli media, the Trump campaign has reportedly hired former Yediot Aharonot reporter Tzvika Brot, and other Israeli political and public relations experts on the ground in Israel, in order to reach American voters in the Jewish state.
“Our efforts to reach American voters living or visiting Israel prior to the election are primarily through the Republican Overseas efforts,” which has also been working with groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) on this front, said Bo Denysyk, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign’s Special Voter Groups attached to Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
Denysyk explained to JNS.org that although the Trump campaign is making efforts to reach eligible U.S. voters in various foreign countries, it is placing a special priority on the Jewish state.
“With the Obama administration undermining Israel at almost every turn (especially by negotiating a horrible deal with Iran), we believe that Jewish voters, regardless of whether they are in the U.S. or Israel, will support the Trump-Pence ticket in high numbers,” he said.
Could votes by Americans in Israel affect the presidential election’s outcome?
In order to be able to vote, Americans abroad need to fill out a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and submit it to their local election office in the U.S. every year. Before an election, such voters will receive an absentee ballot by mail or electronically, depending on their state’s rules. Voters abroad vote in the state where they last lived before leaving the U.S.
As there are large Jewish communities in battleground states such as Ohio and Florida, Denysyk said the Trump campaign is particularly interested in targeting Americans in Israel who come from those states and “can possibly provide the winning margin” during the election. Republicans Overseas estimates that there are about 10,000-12,000 Republicans from Florida in Israel.
A report published in March by the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford in the U.K titled America’s Overseas Voters: How They Could Decide the U.S. Presidency in 2016 notes past cases in which voters abroad made a difference in results in swing states, such as the famous case of the 2000 presidential election, during which overseas Florida ballots gave former President George W. Bush a narrow lead after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the state’s recount. If the election had included the ballots that arrived after the Nov. 26 deadline, former Vice President Al Gore would have won Florida, and the presidential election.
Professor Jay Sexton, former director of the Rothermere American Institute and co-author of the report, told JNS.org that the Trump’s campaign and Republican Overseas’ effort to reach U.S. voters in Israel “is a good move” because traditionally Republicans have had “inferior campaign infrastructure overseas” compared to the Democrats.
According to Sexton’s report, the comparable organization to Republicans Overseas on the Democrat side, Democrats Abroad, has traditionally had a more institutionalized relationship with the Democratic Party.
Alex Montgomery, communications director of Democrats Abroad, told JNS.org that the organization reaches out to its members in Israel and other countries “through emails and phone banking, reminding our members that they need to request their ballot to vote this year.”
“We will very shortly start running ads on social media across Israel to let potential voters know how they can vote and answer the many questions voters from abroad typically have about the voting process,” he said.
In Israel in particular, “there are tens of thousands of U.S. voters…so the impact in the U.S. can be considerable, particularly for senate and house elections with tight races. As well as getting out the vote in Israel for Democratic candidates causes a ripple effect back home with U.S. voters who are influenced by their families and friends in Israel,” he added.
Meanwhile, Republicans Overseas is working to catch up to the Democrats on outreach to voters in foreign countries, including Israel. Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel and the vice president of the international organization Republicans Overseas, recently acknowledged to the Jerusalem Post that outreach to American voters in Israel has begun late and has faced a lot of challenges. Nevertheless, he is optimistic about the project.
“It is late to do this, but better late than never. We have to move quickly. It’s not an easy task, but based on the positive reaction we have been getting, we have a shot at this,” he said.
Why should U.S. voters in Israel vote for Trump?
Denysyk said that both the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton “are the architects of the turmoil and terrorism in the Middle East.”
He cited the Arab Spring, the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Obama administration’s frequent admonishing of the Israeli government for construction in Judea and Samaria, eastern Jerusalem and its refusal to take the Islamic State seriously, as things that have contributed to a greater risk to Israel’s security.
“Mr. Trump will immediately upon becoming president strengthen ties with Israel and start the process to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal (or terminate the agreement) and give U.S. military forces in the Middle East more resources and more flexibility to contain and then destroy [the Islamic State] and other terrorist groups that are a threat to Israel's security,” Denysyk said.
Yet, these comments echo recent statements made by Trump that have been widely-criticized by Democrats and even some Republicans, including most recently, on Thursday, with Trump calling President Barack Obama the "founder" of the Islamic State and Hillary Clinton the group’s "co-founder."
As such, while overseas absentee votes could play a decisive role in battleground states, especially in a close election, Rothermere’s Sexton cautioned that he does not see outreach to American voters in Israel “having a decisive impact on the election because of the larger problems confronting Mr. Trump.”
Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.