JERUSALEM — The Republican Party launched its first ever election campaign in Israel on Monday, trying to convince skeptical American-Israeli dual citizens to cast their votes for Donald Trump.
GOP activists campaigned in Israeli cities with high concentrations of Americans, such as Jerusalem, Modiin and Raanana, handing out stickers and buttons with the slogan "Trump — in Israel's interest" — in Hebrew and in English.
Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, said about 100,000 Israelis voted in the last presidential election, with some 85 percent going Republican. He said the goal was to tap into many more of the potential 300,000-400,000 voters in the country, particularly those who have never voted before.
"We want to convince them, through our campaign, that it is important for them to vote, that they are doing a service for Israel, kind of like doing (military) reserve duty from their own home by voting for the Republican candidate who's really got Israel's interest at heart," he said.
Trump remains a controversial candidate in Israel. He has suggested in the past that he would be more "neutral" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that, as president, he may scale back foreign aid, of which Israel is a major recipient.
He's also been accused of failing to disavow anti-Semitic rhetoric among his supporters and espousing an anti-immigrant stance that is grating to many Jews.
Trump has drawn criticism from some American Jews for comments last year to a gathering of Jewish donors. He was booed after refusing to endorse Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel — a key Israeli position. Some of his other comments were seen by some as promoting Jewish stereotypes. He was forced to cancel a planned trip to Israel late last year after an uproar over some of his comments.
Zell insists the Israeli overseas vote is far more than symbolic.
"In the year 2000, we had an election where the president of the United States was decided by 537 votes in southern Florida. In Israel we had 1,500 Republican votes for George Bush in that election from southern Florida," he said. "So the impact that we could have in a close election could be very dramatic."