Donald Trump finds corner of support among Israel's Americans

Story highlights

  • Israel has 200,000 eligible American voters
  • Last election, Republican Mitt Romney won 85% of the vote in Israel

Modi'in, Israel (CNN)Less than three months before the US presidential election, it isn't looking good for Donald Trump.

The Republican nominee's numbers are down in the national polls and in many crucial swing states like Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
    But there is another locale, more than 5,000 miles away, that Republicans hope will tip the scales and determine the future of the United States.
    At a mall in Modi'in, in central Israel, American-Israeli Republicans press the flesh. Red, white and blue balloons flank a sign in Hebrew that appears similar to Trump's "Make America Great Again" logo, but it doesn't promise to restore America's greatness.
    "The Israeli interest, it's the Israeli interest in refreshing, re-resurrecting the close bond that has typified the US-Israel relationship," said Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel. "The whole Middle East has gone up in flames during this (Obama) administration."
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    Relations between the United States and Israel have chilled under President Barack Obama's tenure.
    In one particularly tense episode, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly defied Obama in March 2015 by addressing the US Congress. He urged lawmakers to torpedo the President's nuclear deal with Iran.
    Registered Florida voter Debora Grufi believes Trump will heal the rift.
    "I don't think the Obama administration has been fair to Israel and hasn't been friendly," she said. Donald Trump "has Israel's best interest in hand. I think he wants the country to be at peace."
    Republicans believe that if they get enough Israeli votes, they could influence tightly contested swing states. In 2000, George W. Bush won Florida and the presidency with only 537 votes.
    Israel has 200,000 eligible American voters, according to the non-partisan organization IVoteIsrael, which registers American Israelis to vote. The State Department estimates that there are 9 million US citizens living abroad but couldn't provide numbers of voters from different countries.
    Last election, Republican Mitt Romney won 85% of the vote in Israel.
    "We do have an influence," Zell said. "Every vote that we sign up here could make a difference in the history of the world."
    But influencing the election in the United States will be difficult. The most recent CNN poll of polls shows Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leading Trump by an average of 10 points.
    And despite American Israelis current tendency to vote Republican, Israelis are nearly split on which candidate would be better. Israel's Channel 2 found that Clinton was deemed "more fit" to be US president by a 16-point margin.
    In 2013, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey showing that 70% of American Jewish voters were Democrat.
    Trump in particular has had problems attracting the Jewish vote after claims of anti-Semitic themes in various tweets and the backing he's received from the former head of the KKK, David Duke, and the American Nazi Party.
    Trump's supporters in Israel don't buy it.
    Zell called the claims "malarkey" and accused the media of slandering Trump.
    "It's crap, it's garbage!" said Sruly Cooper, a Florida voter and Trump supporter. "If you want to judge Trump, judge him by his family. Judge him by his children. Judge him by his success and his philanthropy and not what the press says about him, like bringing up David Duke."
    Still, many Israeli Americans say they are unhappy with both candidates -- and more so Trump.
    "We don't really trust Hillary, and Trump I think is a little crazy, so we can't trust him either," said Zvi Samson, a registered New York voter. "It's the lesser of two evils. I'll either not vote, or I'll vote for Hilary Clinton."