Republicans are stepping up their ground game this year … setting up shop in Israel.
Republicans Overseas, a political organization created in 2013 for conservative Americans who are living outside of the United States, opened up its first kosher chapter in Jerusalem on Monday and is planning two more offices in Modi’in and Raanana in the coming days, co-chairman Marc Zell told TheWrap Monday.
While the group is not directly associated with the Trump campaign, Zell says they are “as close as can be connected to the campaign without actually being officially connected,” adding that several people on their board of directors are also Republican National Committee members.
The idea, according to Zell, is to register the more than 300,000 American expats living in Israel so they can cast absentee votes for Donald Trump.
Zell says that even though American Jews tend to overwhelmingly vote Democrat, those living in Israel have “a different set of priorities” and could vote Republican this year.
Trump is not exactly a revered figure in Israel despite what Zell says. A May poll of Jewish Israelis found 40 percent backed Hillary Clinton while only 31 percent supported Trump (the survey did not specify whether respondents were U.S. citizens). In the early days of his campaign, Trump angered many Israelis when he said he intended to be more “neutral” when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not to mention, he has a penchant for retweeting neo-Nazis, which isn’t exactly a selling point among Jews.
Zell, who is also the vice president of Republicans Overseas International, wasn’t a Trump fan himself just a few months ago. In April, Zell told Israeli paper Haaretz that he would refuse to campaign for Trump, adding that he was thinking he “may even have to resign.”
His own change of heart aside, Zell says expats are more motivated to go out and vote this year because of their opposition to a law called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which requires financial institutions to report any assets held by Americans overseas. According to Zell, the law — which was passed by Democrats as part of a comprehensive anti-tax evasion initiative — has become a wedge issue for many expats around the world.
“It essentially turns financial institutions into agents of the IRS,” Zell said. “It singles out American expats.”
While most Americans who live in Israel come from New York and California, two states that aren’t in play, Zell insists at least 10,000 to 12,000 of them are from Florida, a key swing state and a must-win for Trump. Zell estimated a similar number come from Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“In 2000, the race was determined by 537 votes in Southern Florida,” Zell said. “About 1,500 of them came from Israel. If we can turn some of them Republican, it could make a huge impact,” he said.
But while the move is certainly creative, some experts say it may amount to bupkes.
“You can sum up this latest move in two words,” Jack Pitney, professor of government at California’s Claremont McKenna College, told TheWrap, “‘Fakakta’ and ‘Meshuga,'” which means “screwed up” and “crazy” in Yiddish.
Pitney suggested Republicans should focus on the key battle states at home rather than spend time and energy on a few Israeli-Americans living thousands of miles away who may not be as incentivized to go out and vote.
“If you look more broadly at the Trump campaign it’s very poorly organized,” Pitney said. “His ground operation is a joke and the Republican get out and vote outreach is strictly junior varsity.”