Republicans deny downsizing Trump event in Jerusalem
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Republicans deny downsizing Trump event in Jerusalem

From left, Yossi Dagan, Mark Zell and Abe Katzman celebrating the opening of the Republicans Overseas Israel office in the West Bank town of Karnei Shomron, Sept. 5, 2016. (Andrew Tobin)

From left, Yossi Dagan, Mark Zell and Abe Katzman celebrating the opening of the Republicans Overseas Israel office in the West Bank town of Karnei Shomron, Sept. 5, 2016. (Andrew Tobin)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The main Republican group in Israel denied a report that it downsized a Jerusalem event promoting the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that what was originally to be a rally of thousands of Trump supporters will now be an event closed to the public. Marc Zell, the chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, dismissed the report, saying the event was never going to be a public rally.

“This is exactly the kind of event we’ve been planning since mid-September. The only question was where we were going to have it,” he told JTA Sunday. “This reporter wants to make a story out of nothing.”

Tzika Brot, a former Yedioth Ahronoth journalist who heads Republican Overseas Israel’s Trump campaign, said he called seven venues in Jerusalem about potentially hosting the event. Four agreed, and three declined, including Aish HaTorah, he said. Republicans Overseas Israel had not committed to any of the venues that declined and had no idea what their reasons were, he said.

Zell said the group decided to hold the event at Harp of David restaurant because it was the best of the available options in terms of price size, accessibility and security.

The Post reported Thursday that Aish HaTorah rejected a request by Republicans Overseas Israel to host the event on the roof of its building overlooking the Western Wall to avoid appearing to be siding with the Republican Party.

“We decided not to do the event, because Aish is a nonprofit that doesn’t get involved in partisan politics,” Aish director general Rabbi Steven Burg told the Post.

Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, will deliver pre-recorded video speeches as the Post reported, according to Zell. But he said Republicans Overseas Israel has yet to see the tapes, so it cannot confirm that Trump’s will be two minutes and Pence’s will be four minutes.

Trump’s speech will be the debut of a campaign video outlining the real estate mogul’s views on the Middle East and Israel, while Pence’s speech will elaborate on those view and was recorded specifically for the event, Zell said.

The event is designed to thank Republican Overseas Israel volunteers who have been working to register American voters in Israel ahead of the Nov. 8 election. The group’s members and activists will also be on hand.

“We understand that the video will be the first time Trump has articulated a particular policy program for Israel and Middle East and that this video will be the primary vehicle for articulating that message throughout the remainder of the campaign,” Zell said.

Brot denied the Post’s report that the real target of the event is American evangelicals, not Americans living in Israel.

“The event is aimed at Israelis, but evangelicals will be interested as well,” he said.

Brot also said Republicans Overseas Israel has not seen a decline in enthusiasm for Trump in recent weeks, as he has fallen behind his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the polls following a leaked audiotape of him in 2005 describing sexually aggressive behavior against women.

“We believe 80 percent [of American voters in Israel] will vote for Trump based on our data,” Brot said. “They know at the end of day, they have to pick one, and they will vote for the one who they think is best for Israel.”