I have been asked over the past month, “How are Israelis reacting to the results of the presidential elections in the US?” So, after enough people have asked, I figured that it might be worthwhile to put out my analysis from my little corner of Jerusalem.
First of all, I will disclose that I voted absentee for Hillary Clinton. I was very excited for the possibility of a woman president and I thought she was a well-qualified candidate. I share many of her stated social values, and I believe that she sincerely cares deeply for the American people and has dedicated her professional life to improving people’s lives through public policy. She is someone who has vast experience in national government and could have used that to navigate the presidency. And I do appreciate an American government who nudges Israel to not forget about always trying to make peace, even when it seems almost impossible. I didn’t expect perfect, and certainly every candidate is flawed.
Many in my liberal circles were shocked at the results of the election. These include Americans, both those who grew up in America and those who have American citizenship through their parents and thus also have the right to vote. People, especially children, are in shock to discover quite ugly facets to America which they had thought were passing from the collective consciousness – the bigotry, xenophobia and messages of hate and ignorance which was heard time and again by Trump supporters is unprecedented. And the ability of more mainstream Trump supporters to turn a blind eye to such hateful and violent expressions, or pooh-pooh it, was even more astounding. The media reports that the voter turnout for the 300,000 American Israelis this year was much lower than in 2012 (JTA). Many say that Orthodox Jews tend to vote Republican and that non-Orthodox Jews tend to vote Democrat.
Many cite that what sways an Israeli American’s vote is the candidates’ stances on Israel. It seems to me that both candidates hold a position which reflects the general attitude of their parties or at least the behavior of the most recent American presidents – The Democrat pressures Israel all the time to hold talks with the Palestinians and work toward a peace treaty that would include concessions on both sides. The Republican leaves Israel alone on the Palestinian issue and lets Israel do what it wants (which, in recent years, is to expand the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories). So, perhaps that is how many Israeli Americans voted – only taking into consideration this particular issue.
My nine-year-old son brought home varying messages from school (he is one of two kids in his class who has an American parent). The teacher said that most Americans think both candidates are bad and they are choosing from the lesser evil. A friend told him that he heard that Trump is better for Israel and Clinton hates Israel. This same friend was at our house today, and he was now saying that Trump is dangerous and very bad.
I was at a small party a few days after the election. The host, an American Israeli, asked people to share the glimmer of hope they might feel even after the results. People did some reflecting, but generally the conversation would turn very quickly to matters of internal concern to Israel – poverty, refugees, issues of gender, religion and state, etc. One might say, “Oh, that’s so Israeli! Israelis just like to talk about themselves and they think they are the center of the world.” I think this is just human nature. I was just in America. Here people have a perfect opportunity to ask me about all kinds of things happening in Israel, but most of our conversations they talked about their own lives and challenges.
I also noticed that, among the upset liberals, a number of people, notably men, came right up to me before I even opened my mouth. They assumed (correctly) that I voted for Clinton and they all said something very similar: “Don’t worry! I know you’re sad that there isn’t a woman president, but it’s OK! You’ll see that things will even be good with Trump.”
The government here is more or less keeping quiet. Prime Minister Netanyahu called to congratulate Trump. I know there was an issue surrounding a party of Jewish organizations in New York at which Stephen Bannon was set to attend as well as Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador (Bannon didn’t attend in the end). Trump makes the news in Israeli newspapers daily. As Israel is closer to Europe, there are many eyes on major elections in Europe to see if it is not just the US but if it is a trend of going to the extreme right, which many associate with fascism and ethnic supremacy/intolerance for minorities.
Finally, I have been digging deep in the recesses of my mind recalling our citizenship course in high school. I can’t recall how many times I’ve had to explain to people what is the Electoral College. It’s something that is hard to fathom here. It’s one of those things that the more you explain it and actually think about it, the more it makes you wonder about it.
I appreciate the shock that many of my family and friends are going through. I would like to say that maybe it can all be OK with the incoming president, but I am really not sure.
But then I look at the political situation in Israel and calm down a little bit. I did not vote for the Likud party which is now in power. I have seen how the Likud’s coalition with national religious and ultra-Orthodox political parties have strengthened the extremist religious establishment in Israel who work every day to exert their hegemony over Israeli society and whose sole aim is a society ruled by an extremist interpretation of Jewish law through coercion and oppression. Having said that, I know that life goes on. I am strengthened by seeing how much support there is for a Jewish democratic pluralistic society on the local level of political life. I have so much work to do and so many people who continue to seek the Judaism which I am committed to. There are so many people and organizations that work to advance dialogue and co-existence between Jews and Arabs of all religions and demographics. More than you can imagine. We continue our work, we keep a positive attitude, and we are out there reaching out to people, creating more dialogues, building communities, and having small successes.
I truly hope that my American friends and family who suddenly discovered the fire burning in their belly after the result of the election will keep that fire going and will create some real political action. Here in Israel, politics is personal. Here, political decisions affect our everyday lives in every facet of our lives. People make a point of being informed, and everyone has an opinion to vehemently share with you and you are expected to be as passionate about your view. I think that the more people involved in the political process, the more healthy the democratic society. I hope and pray that, at the very least, Americans as a whole take their democratic process serious and make themselves a part of the creation of public policy, not just every four years in the voting booth.