Trump promises to make Israel 'safe again'

Israeli-Americans who back Donald Trump don the Republican candidate's trademark hats and T-shirts to show their support at a rally in Jerusalem.

Rally in Jerusalem attracts Israeli-Americans who will cast absentee ballots on Nov. 8

Israeli-American supporters at Wednesday's rally in Jerusalem wore Donald Trump T-shirts and carried signs with the Republican candidate's name in Hebrew. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

The crowd chanted "Trump, Trump" over and over. Some wore those red "Make America Great Again" caps. They booed when Hillary Clinton's name was mentioned.

If it weren't for the blue and white signs with the candidate's name printed in Hebrew, you'd be forgiven if you thought this rally for the Republican nominee for president was taking place in the United States.

Instead, about 200 American-Israelis gathered at sunset on Wednesday night on a restaurant rooftop overlooking the stone walls of Jerusalem's Old City to show their support for Donald Trump. 

Come to me when it's rape, and it's proven.— Trump supporter Ruth Cohen

"I am a big supporter of Trump. I believe in what he says. And I'm totally horrified of what I call the wicked witch possibly becoming president," said Izzy Broker, who came to the rally from the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion.

Republican activists from Israel — in both English and Hebrew — praised Trump, calling him a "true friend of Israel."

But the moment the crowd clamoured for came when Trump's image appeared on a giant video screen, with Israel's separation barrier that lines the West Bank in the distance.

It lasted 54 seconds.

Israeli-American Izzy Broker says Trump, if elected, 'will allow Israel to make their own decisions.' (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Lots of love, less policy

"I love Israel and honour and respect the Jewish faith and tradition. And it's important that we have a president that feels the same way," Trump said in pre-recorded message in which he played up his connection to Judaism through his daughter Ivanka's marriage to Jared Kushner.

Trump's video message contained no mention of his policy for the Middle East or Israel. But the candidate has pledged to scrap the deal to limit Iran's nuclear program, which was negotiated under U.S. President Barack Obama.

"Together we will stand up to enemies like Iran bent on destroying Israel and her people," Trump told supporters. "Together we will make America and Israel safe again."

Trump has also said previously he would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would mark a shift in U.S. policy. Most nations — including Canada — do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In the crowd, Ruth Cohen thrust her arm in the air during Trump's address and applauded vigorously when it ended.

Ruth Cohen, who lives in Jerusalem, says she supports Trump because 'I don’t think he wants to destroy Israel the way that the Clintons want to destroy Israel.' (Ellen Krosney/CBC)

"I think he's wonderful," Cohen said, dismissing the sexual assault allegations levelled at Trump by about a dozen women. "I'm so sick and tired of this fake, like, 'He touched a woman, kissed a woman.' Come to me when it's rape, and it's proven."

Cohen's friend Sarah Sweet made aliyah (the term used for Jews who emigrate to Israel from the diaspora) in July and now lives in Jerusalem.

"You know why I came? I was afraid Hillary was going to be elected president and I was afraid of what America was coming to, what was going to happen," Sweet explained.

Trump lags in Israeli polls too

Despite the strong show of support on Wednesday night, a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 43 per cent of Israelis back Clinton, compared to 26 per cent for Trump. (The survey was conducted before his remarks about groping women were made public.)

Marc Zell, co-chair of Republicans Overseas Israel, has been the main public face supporting Trump in Israel. (Ellen Krosney/CBC)

Still, Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, the group that organized Wednesday's rally, said he expects about two-thirds of American-Israelis will back Trump.

There are at least 200,000 of them eligible to vote in the Nov. 8 election.

Zell said Trump will "restore sanity" to the American position on the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We're not going to try to force a square peg in a round hole," Zell told CBC News. "We're not going to the table any longer with preconceived notions about how Arabs and Israelis ought to make peace. Whether they can make peace at all."


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.