Several figures on the Israeli Right have recently backed US Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is running for the Republican nomination for US president.
While there is no polling data on the matter, support for Rubio seems to be a trend in the Israeli Right and among its supporters.
J. Philip Rosen, the former chairman of the board of American Friends of Likud and a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board, announced his endorsement for Rubio last May, and ahead of last week’s Iowa primary sent a letter to a mass mailing list calling for people to “join the Rubio team,” even if they usually vote for Democrats.
Rosen called Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton a “crook” and Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist, a “socialist/communist” who will push for the creation of a Palestinian state, “a terrorist regime led by Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and its cohorts miles... from Israel’s major cities.”
“It is becoming increasingly clear that Marco Rubio is the candidate who can and will beat Hillary/ Bernie,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Nevada billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who donated tens of millions of dollars to Republicans in 2012 and a major backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has made his support for Rubio clear, though he has yet to officially choose a winner for the so-called “Adelson primary.”Israel Hayom
, Israel’s most-read Hebrew daily, is often thought to reflect the preferences of Adelson, its owner. While neither the paper nor Adelson have officially endorsed Rubio, the paper seems to favor the senator in its coverage of his campaign, which has been extensive, and choice of photos.
The other newspaper Adelson owns, the Las Vegas Review-Journal
, endorsed Rubio last week.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam, each donated the maximum permitted donation of $2,700 to Rubio in December, the same month in which the Florida senator visited the casino mogul in Las Vegas.
However, the Adelsons each also gave the maximum donation of $2,700 to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last week. Several US news outlets have reported that, while Adelson prefers Rubio, his wife supports Cruz.
When asked whether Rosen and Adelson’s pro-Rubio signals mean anything for the Likud in Israel, a senior party official who asked to remain anonymous said no, but expressed strong support for the Florida senator.
“Of course we prefer Republicans over Democrats,” the Likud official said in the Knesset last week. “The Likud and the Republicans have a lot in common, ideologically.”
The official said he would prefer Rubio, but that Cruz would be a good choice, too.
“Even if [businessman Donald] Trump wins, he’s better than a Democrat,” he added.
Still, the Likud official added, “the US chooses its leaders and we don’t, and we will be happy to work with whoever is elected.”
Likud isn’t the only right-wing Israeli party that seems to be in Rubio’s camp.
Jeremy Saltan, the Bayit Yehudi’s Anglo Forum chairman and a close political adviser to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, said he would consider Rubio “one of the top choices” in the US election.
“This is a candidate who says ‘Judea and Samaria’ instead of ‘West Bank,’ and recognizes that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem and that is where the US Embassy should stand,” Saltan said.
“The senator said that Israel is a priority to him and his pledge that Israel will be his first visit as president shows that.”
Saltan added: “Rubio’s strong national security policies are very close to the ideology of many Bayit Yehudi voters.”
Cruz, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and businessman Donald Trump also said they would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem if elected, though Trump would not commit to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a remark that earned him boos at last year’s Republican Jewish Coalition conference.
As for Republican voters living in Israel, Marc Zell does not speak for them all, but as co-chairman of Republicans Abroad Israel and Worldwide Vice President of Republicans Overseas, he has an influential voice and knows many like-minded voters.
Zell gave his personal endorsement – not that of either expat Republican organization – to Rubio earlier this year, and said that he noticed that many Israelis feel the same way.
According to Zell, Rubio is popular among Israelis because he is “extremely knowledgeable about foreign policy. Of all the candidates in either party, he knows the most. His analysis of the situation in the Middle East is spot-on and I think Israelis – and they don’t have to be right-wing [in Israeli politics] – like Rubio because he is in favor of a strong US foreign policy, with an analytically sound basis for understanding the region.
“That’s really what people are attracted to,” he said.
Zell compared Rubio to president John F. Kennedy, as young and “attractive physically and in terms of the freshness of his views and very articulate,” but, referring to family values that Republicans are known to highlight, added: “I think he’s a lot more responsible than JFK, who was a womanizer and had moral problems that Rubio doesn’t have.”
Support for Israel is also an advantage Rubio has, Zell explained, saying that the Florida senator does not just talk about Israel, but has a “strategic appreciation for Israel’s role in the region, the alliance between the US and Israel, and the common values we share as democracies in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
At the same time, Zell said the Republican Party on the whole is closely connected to Israel, “as opposed to the Democratic Party, which is moving to the extreme left.”
Asked why other leading candidates, like Trump and Cruz don’t seem to enjoy the same popularity in Israel, Zell said “they are very populist and demagogic, and Israelis and Jews generally react negatively to those kinds of public figures and personalities, with good reason. We’ve had experience with those types.”
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