Election 2016 in Global Context: Israel

This article is the first in a series about how foreign media cover the election.

November’s election is guaranteed to impact domestic and foreign policy alike, particularly how the United States continues to conduct its relations with foreign nations. This rings especially true when discussing the Middle East, and, specifically, the state of Israel.

Israelis live in a well-educated democracy in the middle of an highly explosive region, and typically follow American politics closely. This election concerns them too, as its outcome determines the future of their country’s number one ally.

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-9-27-03-pm-1

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-10-51-39-pmWhen looking at the Israeli media, it is common to find outlets with online sections entitled “U.S. Election,” underscoring just how important this election is to Israel’s news consumers. Reporters from local media have been portraying the uncertainty of
this election, and how it’s result will subsequently impact U.S.–Israeli relations by means of opinion pieces rather than more objective news.

Judy Maltz, a journalist with Haaretz, a newspaper published in both Hebrew and English based in Tel Aviv, has helped cover the American presidential election. She says this abundance of commentary is in part due to supply and demand because distance can impede traditional reporting.

Coverage from major Israeli news outlets has, in a similar fashion to American outlets, focused on the flaws and controversies surrounding each candidate, especially in the weeks since each party held its convention this summer.

This election comes at the height of Israeli frustration with American politics. President Obama’s popularity continues to fall in Israel since the passage of the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, leading Israelis to believe that Obama did not have Israel’s best interests at heart in the making of this deal. According to a 2015 Pew Survey, half of Israelis do not have faith in the President’s capability of handling international affairs.

Maltz explains the complexities in trying to ascertain which way the general population is leaning:

“True, the Israeli electorate leans toward the right, so there would seem to be a natural affiliation with the Republicans. On the other hand, Trump has made statements about being neutral on the Middle East and about cutting aid to Israel, which presumably are not the sort of things most Israelis want to be heard. Besides that, most Israelis — regardless of their political affiliations — were quite fond of Bill Clinton, and that could work to Hillary’s favor.”

Views on The Candidates

The daily coverage has been heavier on Donald Trump stories, rather than focusing on Hillary Clinton. The Israel Hayom (Israel Today), the number one most widely read newspaper in Israel, is consistently covering Trump due to its right-wing affiliation, especially with regard to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The paper also has ties to Sheldon Adelson, the conservative casino owner who has mistakenly been attributed as the owner when in fact the Hayom is owned by a Adelson relative, Sivan Ochshorn Dumont, a daughter of a former spouse.

Trump, who made his support for Israel public at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference in March, has had controversies within the past few weeks that have called his backing of the Israeli state into question.

Most recently, the Jerusalem Post reported comments from Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, regarding Trump’s proposed immigrant ban, with the headline, “Pence indicates Trumps immigrant ban could also include Jews, Christians.” While neither Trump nor Pence ever explicitly stated anything regarding Jews or Christians, JPost explained that Trump’s ban would include individuals from regions “compromised by terrorism.”  

Additionally, news outlets seized the opportunities presented by this political season to delve into candidate’s pasts.

Yair Rosenberg from Tablet Magazine, an American Jewish online magazine, wrote an article titled “Trump Pledged to Donate in Support of Israeli Soldiers, but he never paid up,” regarding a promise Trump made in 2007 to pledge $250,000 to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a charity organization that supports the IDF.

While Israeli media outlets have been keeping a close eye on the Trump campaign in the last few weeks, Hillary Clinton has not flown completely under the radar.  

On July 6th, Boaz Bismuth of Israel Hayom wrote a short piece titled “Clinton still in trouble” for their newsletter, in which he expressed the concerns that have continued to surround Clinton after the FBI stated that Clinton was “extremely careless” in her usage of a private email server.   

When approaching her standing in Israel however, Clinton is still remembered for her her role as Secretary of State. In an op-ed for Haaretz, Allison Kaplan Sommer wrote, “Even Those Who Think Hillary Is Bad for Israel Must Now Believe Trump Would Be Worse.” While she discusses Clinton’s downfalls from an Israeli standpoint, such as the former Secretary’s mention of her role in the Iran Deal during the convention, she goes on to describe how this isn’t a normal election cycle in which the Republican candidate is less favorable for Israelis than the democratic.

Kaplan writes that Trump “has become even more utterly unpredictable than before, something that a country like Israel, whose security leans on the bedrock of its alliance with the U.S., simply can’t afford.”

She also cites that some of her own “Jewish Republican anti-Hillary acquaintances” have now decided they prefer Clinton over Trump.

Despite how provocative the Trump versus Hillary coverage may seem, Israelis don’t let the media heavily affect their feelings about global affairs. In an interview with Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for the Jerusalem Post, he says that “Israelis are very skeptical of their own media.”

Negative Commentary

The mostly negative media coverage surrounding the candidates is not a reflection of how Israelis are feeling about this election season. Hoffman says that Israelis “see this election as a wonderful thing” because it means that Obama will leave office. They believe Obama’s departure from the White House may lead to a better future for the region.

In his op-ed for Times of Israel titled, “Watching from an Israel aghast, president Trump is just unthinkable, while Clinton has started to look invaluable,” David Horovitz discussed how Clinton is looking to be better for the future of the country, using language such as “ridiculous candidate” and “blowhard populist” to describe Trump. He expressed his sheer disbelief on how Trump jumped through the hoops of the primaries and the nomination.

Maltz agrees, saying that the overall narrative of this Trump’s campaign has been “quite distressing.” She also says that it has additionally spurred an increase in voter registration drives across the country, imploring expats or dual citizens to complete their absentee ballot, “It seems to come out of a belief that absentee ballots could play a decisive role in this election — or at least that was the belief before Trump start sliding in the polls.”

Horovitz, who founded the Times of Israel, an online publication in many languages, says he’s not sure that Israelis are coming to share his same feelings about Trump.  

“I think Israelis are quite surprised that someone who says the things that Trump says has fared as well as he fared. There is appreciation here for some of his strongly pro-Israel statements, but concern that he is capable of speaking, and potentially acting, on a whim,” says Horovitz.

He does believe that Israeli coverage of this upcoming election has made Israelis view this election with a different lense than past elections, making them take a harder look at America – one in which a candidate like Trump can get away with so much.

The media has also highlighted the deteriorating relationship between President Obama and Israel, most recently when all major Israeli news outlets covered statements made by the Israeli Defense Ministry regarding the Iran Nuclear Deal, in response to Obama’s recent comments about the deal being successful in the future.

According to Haaretz in their piece “Israeli Defense Ministry Slams Obama: Iran Deal as Harmful as Munich Agreement with Hitler”, the ministry reminded people that Iran “clearly and publically declares that its goal is to destroy the State of Israel” and compared it to the Munich Agreement.  

Despite this unique election cycle, Israelis still seem to view the U.S. favorably. According to the Pew Research Center’s Global Indicators Database, 81 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of the United States in 2015, compared to 84 percent in 2014.

While news coverage in general tends to lean more negative, this negativity can affect how people overseas are watching the election unfold. For Israelis who may consume media quickly by skimming headlines and stories on their morning commute, the election as presented in the Israeli media may appear to be presenting a much more divided America.

However, this is an overview of Israeli media outlets published in English, many of which have a strong overseas readership, specifically with American Jews.

“Broadly, Israelis hope for US presidents who have gut empathy for this country and a clear sense of the challenges it faces as a nation nine-miles wide at its narrowest point in a deeply unstable and largely hostile region,” Horovitz says.

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