Which Candidate Resonates with Israelis?


JERUSALEM, Israel – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump – who would be a better U.S. president for Israel? That question may not be the priority for most Americans, but it's a major concern for Israelis and Americans living in Israel.

Despite all the troubles around them, Israelis are paying close attention to the U.S. election process.

"If you look at the nightly news or any of the daily newspapers, it's often the lead story," said Dan Feferman, expert on U.S.-Israeli relations.

Israeli politicians and government officials stay out of American politics. They may have their preferences, but they know they'll have to work with whomever the American people choose in the end.

Israeli citizens, on the other hand, definitely have an opinion about which candidate would be best for Israel.

"Hillary," Sheldon Schorer, former head of Democrats Abroad in Israel, told CBN News. "She is very, very supportive of Israel.  She understands the need for Israel to maintain its identity as a Jewish state and the need for its security. With Donald Trump, I just don't know."

Mark Zell, head of Republicans Abroad in Israel, said he favors Trump.

"It's Donald Trump, and the reason is first of all that he has set up a special team to deal only with Israel-related policy matters," Zell said. "When you look at the other side, you get Obama."

"I think both candidates would be quite good for Israel in the sense that they are perceived to be highly pro-Israel as far as their statements, as far as their rhetoric," Feferman said.

According to an opinion poll released in September, Israelis have mixed feelings. At that time, 43 percent preferred Clinton, compared with 34 percent for Trump.

But when asked specifically which candidate would be better for Israel, 38 percent answered Trump, while 33 percent said Clinton.

Feferman says Israelis want a president who would take a stronger stance on global threats like Iran and ISIS.

"Given the very strong support toward Israel from the Republic(an) Party over the past two decades and given the more critical tone from the Democratic Party toward Israel over the past decade or more, Israelis today generally tend to prefer and feel more comfortable with Republicans than they do with Democrats," Feferman told CBN News. "And it's interesting that in this election, those roles seem to be reversed and more Israelis prefer Clinton."

Feferman and others believe that's because Clinton is a known commodity.

Schorer says the estimated 200,000 Americans living in Israel who are eligible to vote in the U.S. elections generally lean more toward conservatives than their Jewish counterparts in the U.S.

"In recent years there's been an immigration into Israel from American and mostly they are committed American Jews to whom being Jewish is important," Schorer explained.

"Many of those are religious. Many of them care for greater Israel. Many of them live in the settlements so where the democratic policies under President Obama have been somewhat hostile to settlement activity, naturally they would gravitate toward Republicans," Schorer continued. "So there's a shift."

Zell believes the number is much higher, saying some 85 percent of Americans here vote Republican.  

"You see this pin, Trump 2016?" he said, pointing to his lapel. "I'm getting everyday people coming up to me, ordinary Israelis. They have no right to vote. They give me a hug or tell me quietly, in secret, you know, giving me the thumbs up."

Although it's questionable how much of an impact absentee ballots have on U.S. elections, many of the voters here come from important swing states like Florida and that might just tip the scales.

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