Like everybody else in the world, I guess, Israelis have been watching the American presidential campaign with a mix of amazement and amusement. The spectacle is breathtaking: Hillary Clinton, one of the most experienced people in government and international affairs, but at the same time associated with the establishment that many Americans disdain, is mud-wrestling with Donald Trump, a bizarre billionaire who, in spite of his erratic conduct, managed to win over so many Americans.
Our curiosity has led to unusually extensive coverage of the campaign in the Israeli newspapers and other media outlets. From serious analyses of the major issues to the last bit of gossip, Israelis follow this race with fascination. So much so, that last weekend, Yedioth Aharonot, one of Israel’s biggest circulation papers, dedicated its entire back page to pictures of Jimmy Fallon mussing up Donald Trump’s hair on NBC’s “Tonight.” The paper even recruited a barber who tried to solve Trump’s hair mystery (Combover? Toupee? Transplant? The barber’s verdict: transplant). For the sake of fairness, the paper quoted another “expert,” who said that he believed Clinton also had added some hair.
Instead of feeding their audience with such nonsense, I wish that the Israeli media would have covered another election campaign, which might be of much more importance for Israelis: the coming Palestinian elections in the West Bank. Hamas announced its intention to run and, if it takes over some major cities, it would pose a great threat to Israel. However, this is not as sexy as the horse race across the ocean.
According to a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, which was released two weeks ago, 62 percent of Israelis expect Clinton to win, while 24 percent believe Trump will.. However, when asked which candidates will be better from the standpoint of the Israeli government’s policies, more responded that Trump will be better (38.5 percent) than Clinton (33 percent).
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One would expect that when asked, “Whom would you want to win the U.S. presidential elections: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?” Israelis would massively opt for Trump. Not so. A higher rate prefers Clinton (43 percent) over Trump (34 percent). It seems that Israelis are sophisticated enough not to judge everything from the narrow prism of their own particular interests.
Or, perhaps, Israelis — like many Americans, I guess — just don’t have a clue of how President Trump will behave, and therefore prefer the familiar Hillary Clinton. Israelis liked Trump’s warm pro-Israeli declarations, but also took notice of the report of Politifact, the nonpartisan fact-checking outlet based in Florida, which was reported in the Washington Post and the Israeli media, stating that 78 percent of Trump’s statements were false. Maybe as president, the Israelis reason, Trump will turn his back without blinking to his promises to Israel, much like the about-face he has just made on his previous allegation that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
American Jews, unlike the Israelis, seem to have a more decisive and coherent opinion about the candidates. A recent survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), shows that 62 percent of American Jews favor Hillary Clinton over 19 percent who would vote for Donald Trump.
The majority of American Jews thinks Clinton would be better than Trump in handling terrorism (58 percent vs. 22 percent) and dealing effectively with Iran (58 percent vs. 19 percent) — two top items on the Israeli agenda as well — and in general, better in promoting U.S.-Israel relations (57 percent vs. 22 percent).
Out of this complex picture, Israelis can forge at least one clear insight: Stay away from the American elections.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been wisely avoiding any shred of siding with Trump or Clinton, probably repenting his ill-advised endorsement of Mitt Romney in 2012 and his blatant defiance of President Obama with his speech to Congress, at the invitation of the Senate’s Republican speaker.
With the growing polarization of the American society, as seen in this election campaign, support of Israel shouldn’t become a partisan issue. With the shared values between the two democracies, whoever is best for the Americans is best for Israel.