Would Trump Win an Israeli Election?

Israel, Latest, Politics
Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu
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1. What to make of Israelis’ support for Trump?

One of Donald Trump’s favorite lines when addressing Jewish American or Israeli listeners, is that if he ran for office in Israel, he’d get “98 percent” of the votes.

He’s not exaggerating by much.

Recent polls conducted in Israel show that Trump’s life would be much easier, could he replace Pennsylvania with Jerusalem, or Florida with Tel Aviv. A poll conducted by i24 News in early October found that 63 percent of Israelis prefer Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Another poll, commissioned by Mitvim Institute found 70 percent favored Trump and 30 percent favored Biden.

Among American Jews, it’s also a 70-30 split (actually, 75 to 22, according to the latest poll,) but this time, in favor of Biden. So, Trump wins handedly among Israelis, but when it comes to Jews who actually vote in the U.S. election, he loses miserably.

Why are Israelis so in love with Trump?

The answer is pretty obvious:  because they’re Israelis. They look at the American presidential race through an Israeli perspective and see Trump as a leader who adopted a policy on Israel much closer to those supported by the Israeli government than any of his predecessors. (Jerusalem, Golan Heights, Iran nuclear deal, cut aid to Palestinians, a peace plan map that includes all settlements, and brokering deals with Gulf countries.)

One may ask, if most of these steps were for the benefit of the Netanyahu-Likud followers, which only represents about half of the Israelis, how does support for Trump reach 70 percent?

Easy. Those 50 percent who dislike Bibi? Most are either right of center, or centrists who see no problem with moving the U.S. embassy without reaching a deal with the Palestinian Authority and who love the peace accords with Bahrain and the UAE and couldn’t care less about how they undermine prospects of reaching a deal with the Palestinians. There just isn’t that much ‘left’ of Israel’s left. 

American Jews, on the other hand, look at Trump as Americans. They care about the pandemic ravaging the country, about shutting down immigration and demonizing immigrants, about race relations, about healthcare, the Supreme Court, about everything liberal Americans vote on.

And in that sense, there really is no problem. It makes perfect sense. No one expects Israelis to care about the future of Obamacare, just as there’s no expectation that American Jews will vote for a president based on his position regarding the capital of Israel.

But there is one point in which this gap does require a second look:

While the political divide–American Jews tend to be liberal, Israelis lean to the right–is obvious, this time around there’s another factor. For the past four years, a majority of American Jews have been sounding the alarm over the rise of anti-Semitism in America, the surge in white supremacist violence, and the feeling they share that it is not being met with the appropriate response from the White House. This is not just another part of the liberal agenda. It is a concern unique to Jewish Americans, and no one can deny the fact that most American Jews feel this way. This is where the gap between American and Israeli Jews transcends politics and touches on the essence of Jewish life in the diaspora. American Jews, in their time of need, are asking to  be heard. They have sought recognition from their Israeli brethren. The recent polls indicate that their plea has fallen on deaf ears.

2. Getting ready to vote: Issues Jewish Americans care about

It’s time. Early voting is in full swing, mail-in ballots are out, and for those voting on election day, the clock is ticking.

So, here’s a quick summary of the issues most Jewish Americans think of before going to the polls:

According to an American Jewish Committee poll published Monday, the top issue for American Jewish voters is the coronavirus pandemic (26 percent), followed by healthcare and race relations.

These are, by and large, the priorities of most Democratic voters.

Add to the mix fighting anti-Semitism and white supremacy, and attitudes toward Israel, and you have the American Jewish priority list.

3. What the campaigns are telling Jewish voters

The Biden campaign is stressing Trump’s ineptitude in his dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. They also stress Biden’s commitment to fighting white supremacy and anti-Semitism (an issue he’s been highlighting ever since entering the race).

Their main pitch to Jewish voters: Biden shares your values. (And, he’s not Trump.)

The Trump campaign is talking to Jewish voters about Israel, including the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the recent peace accords with the Gulf states. There’s also a line about the economy and tax breaks.

The Trump campaign’s main pitch to Jewish voters: Trump did so much for Israel. (And the Dems are drifting left.)

4. Where might Jewish voters shift?

Republicans expected Jews to shift to Trump because of the Israel issue (both Trump’s actions and the fear of the Democrats becoming anti-Israel). Polls suggest this isn’t happening, though it could help solidify the support of modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Trump’s views on church-state issues can also help with Orthodox voters, mainly when it comes to support for parochial schools.   

Dems feel safe with their standing with Jewish Americans. They think they can make some gains with the oh-so-valuable elderly Florida Jews on the pandemic issue, and that Jewish liberals who didn’t vote in 2016 will feel more obliged to do so this time, because of the rise in anti-Semitism.

5. Jewish voters are still waiting for answers on…

Will Trump denounce in an unequivocal, unconditional manner all forms, groups and individuals related to white supremacy? 

How will Trump advance his “deal of the century” if re-elected? Will he allow Israeli annexation? Will he take any action to bring Palestinians to the table?

What’s next with Iran? Does Trump believe that a military option is on the table?

How will Biden, if elected, undo Trump’s Israel policy? We know he won’t move back the embassy, but will he return to Obama’s final days’ action against Israel’s settlement policy?

How will Biden get Iran back to an improved nuclear deal?

What’s Biden’s plan for getting his party behind his pro-Israel worldview? (and, for that matter, how does he intend to work with a Netanyahu government after all that has happened in the past four years?)

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