Democratic Debates and Israeli Elections, Round Two

By | Jul 30, 2019
Latest, Moment's DC Dispatch

Five things to know this week from the nation’s capital.
By Nathan Guttman.

1. Trump’s Racist Attacks Are Getting Dangerously Close

When Donald Trump went after “the squad”four newly elected progressive Democrats, all of whom are women of colormany in the Jewish community began to grumble. Some spoke out against the blatant bigoted attacks, which singled out non-white lawmakers and called on them to “go back” to countries they had supposedly come from. Others, like conservative columnist David Frum in The Atlantic, pointed to the false choice Trump has pushed American Jews to make, between fighting his racism or accepting the particular protection he is offering Jews. Then came the latest set of attacks aimed at Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings and his western Baltimore congressional district that increased the level of anxiety. For many, it was Trump’s use of terms like “infested” and “rodents” that brought back disturbing memories, as Chemi Shalev noted in Haaretz

Can Jews still stay out of this discussion? Probably not. As if to prove Shalev’s claims and fears correct, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney went on Fox News and, sure enough, invoked the Jewish card. “If Adam Schiff had said the same thing [as Cummings] about the border, then the president would be attacking Adam Schiff in the exact same way today…it has zero to do with the fact that Adam is Jewish and everything to do with that Adam would just be wrong if he were saying that.” 

There it is.

Mulvaney, gatekeeper of the Oval Office, seems to be keeping tabs on the religious faith and ethnic background of House committee chairs. Clearly, he meant no harm. But if there was any doubt how short the distance is from talking about rodents and minorities to making the conversation about Jews, just listen to Mulvaney again.



2. Democratic Debates Preview

Democrats will get their chance to shine on Tuesday and Wednesday when their 20 luckiest candidates participate in the second series of televised debates. There will be a lot to look for: Who will prevail on Tuesday when progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren face off? How will the second round of Kamala Harris v. Joe Biden play out in Wednesday’s debate? Will another candidate seize the moment and jump ahead (Klobuchar? Gilibrand? Booker? Maybe Beto?) How will fringe candidates such as Marianne Williamson or Andrew Yang fair? And will anyone notice that Eric Swalwell is no longer there? 

For many in the Jewish community the second debate could serve as a great chance to make up for the subject sorely missing from the first round: Foreign policy. Sure, the debate touched here and there on Russia, Iran and America’s role in the world, but it would be nice to hear more from candidates running to be the leader of the free world about their thoughts and policies on the Middle East, world power struggles and how their values will play out on the global stage. It’s definitely not as sexy as discussing Joe Biden’s votes from three decades ago, but could be somewhat useful.



3. No Jewish Love for Bernie?

At The Forward, Aiden Pink put together a cool analysis of Jewish donors favorites in the Democratic primaries. The biggest surprise? Jews aren’t putting their money on Bernie Sanders. Apparently, having the first Jewish president isn’t a top priority for donors of the tribe.



4. Israel’s Converging Political Parties Makes It Easier for Americans

If there’s one thing that drives Americans crazy about Israel’s political system, it’s the multitude of parties running and getting into the Knesset. Try explaining to those who grew up in a two-party system why there’s a need for not one but two haredi parties (easyone for Ashkenazi and one for Sephardi ultra-Orthodox), why there are four parties representing the Arab constituency (because it is large and diverse), why there really is a need for three or four different right-wing lists (and three center-left ones).

The good news is that events of the past week will make Israel’s politics a little more understandable. On the left, a historic merger between the old left’s Meretz with Ehud Barak’s newly formed and already defunct Democratic Israel, and at least one Labor MK who had crossed the line, created the new Democratic Camp which will occupy the space left of Labor. Further to the left, four predominantly-Arab parties renewed their joint list that has proved successful in the past. And on the right, two factions that had fought bitterly in the last election cycle have now converged to one, forming what is expected to be a large bloc to the right of Netanyahu. All this maneuvering means little in terms of the final outcome. At best, it can ensure that votes don’t get lost on smaller parties that fail to pass the threshold and don’t make it into the Knesset. But for those watching Israeli politics from America, life just got a bit easier. It’s no two-party system, but it’s definitely easier to follow a 10-party system than it is keeping track of 20 factions.



5. Bibi’s Buddies: Trump, Putin, Modi

Last time Israel went to elections (and it wasn’t so long ago), Benjamin Netanyahu led a campaign based on his diplomatic skills, unmatched by his rivals. And what better way of showing off these skills than by plastering huge banners starring him and President Trump shaking hands. The banners, one covering an entire building in Jerusalem and another posted alongside a major Tel Aviv thoroughfare, greeted drivers with a clear message that only Bibi can represent Israel’s interests on the world’s stage. 

Now, with elections around the corner again, Netanyahu is trying to refresh the message, except this time Trump alone is not enough. Last week, Likud revealed three massive campaign banners each adorning an entire side of the party’s Tel-Aviv headquarters. One still depicts Bibi with his best friend Trump. The other has the Israeli leader shaking hands warmly with Russian President Vladimir Putin and on the third, a giant Bibi is pictured with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Netanyahu even made a little video clip making the point that his leadership on world affairs is in “a different league” than his political rivals. Is Putin really worth votes in the Israeli elections? And Modi? And what does Trump think about having to share Bibi’s love with two other leaders? Voters will have a chance to answer some of these questions in September.

(Photo Credit: NBCNews/Screenshot)

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