There's an assumption circulating among some in the news media, some American Jews, both on the right and left, and among political-geeks in general that Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump is favored by Israelis over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The assumption is rooted in the belief that Trump -- based on his rhetoric (but ignoring his many contradictions) -- will be a more full-throated supporter of Israel than Clinton will be, and so of course Israelis back him over her.
How could they not? The United States is Israeli's most important international protector, so of course Israelis must want the toughest talking candidate.
As a #NeverTrump guy, I think this belief is very wrong. But this post isn't about who Israelis SHOULD support for president of the United States, but who they DO support. (Unless I state otherwise, when I refer to Israelis I'm referring in the main to Jewish Israelis. Israeli Arabs, or Israeli Palestinians, as many prefer to be called, have their own complicated political equations, be they Christian or Muslim.)
So who do Israelis prefer?
Here's a link from May to a Jerusalem Post story reporting on a survey that shows an Israeli preference for Clinton. Note that non-Jewish Israelis are included in this survey. And here's a CNBC analysis, also from May, that puts some meat on the bare-bones Post news report.
Two salient CNBC paragraphs follow:
But experts in the country who spoke to CNBC said that many Israelis view the contest as a choice between a predictable option in Clinton, the former secretary of state, and an unknown variable in Trump, an abrasive businessman who has not held elected office.
"With Hillary, she's a safe pair of hands. She has a good knowledge of the region, she has a good knowledge of the players. There's a difficulty to understand what Trump is all about," said Jonathan Rynhold, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and expert in Israeli foreign policy.
Moreover, a late June poll by an Israeli TV station found that while Israelis were statistically even on the question of which candidate they think would be better for Israel (apparently meaning which would pressure Israel less to make concessions to the Palestinians), 47 percent said Clinton would be "better suited" than Trump (31 percent) to lead the U.S. And when asked who they would vote for if they were U.S. citizens, 42 percent said Clinton to Trump's 35 percent.
So why the assumption that Trump would, shall we say, trump Clinton in Israel?
This recent Foreign Affairs essay bolsters the assumption when it argues that a staunchly anti-Arab and anti-Muslim president, as Trump would presumably be, could in the end appeal more to Israelis than a more moderate Clinton administration.
Meanwhile, despite Trump’s foreign-policy incoherence, the Israeli government might well be tempted to bet the future of the U.S.-Israel alliance on Republicans, as it did in 2012 when [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu evidently counted on [President Barack] Obama’s eviction from the White House.
Governments and citizens often disagree, of course, and Foreign Affairs is speaking here only of the former. It's important not to conflate the two so as not to have an incomplete picture of what the average Israeli thinks.
It's also a false narrative to assume that because Israeli Jews voted Netanyahu into office they still agree with him on all or most matters, or on who should lead the U.S. Moreover, because Obama and Netanyahu have repeatedly clashed over policy differences does not necessarily mean Netanyahu and Clinton will also repeatedly clash. Also, I doubt the string of Team Trump comments deemed by many Jews to be anti-Semitic is helping him in Israel.
So, again, why the assumption I stated at the onset of this blog post?
For one, there are the respective Republican and Democratic 2016 party platforms. The Republican platform takes a rhetorical hardline in favor of political goals supported by right-wing Israelis; the Democratic platform much less so, and in fact backs liberal Israeli goals. Click here for a comparison of the platforms.
Perhaps fueling the assumption even more than the actual platform differences, was the harsh assessments of Israeli policies voiced by now-defeated candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and some of his supporters on the Democratic platform writing committee.
Another contributing factor is that because Netanyahu is a right-winger, it's presumed he'll naturally feel more comfortable with Trump's foreign policy hawkishness than with Clinton, with whom he's had a long and mostly workable relationship, though it was certainly strained at times when she was Secretary of State.
As for Netanyahu's relationship with Trump, there is none, of course. Just as Trump has no real relationship with any foreign leader, save his rhetorical bromance with Russia's Vladamir Putin. Or perhaps more than merely rhetorical.
But perhaps the single biggest reason for this assumption's staying power is the Republican echo chamber. Israel's largest circulation newspaper is the free daily Israel Hayom (Israel Today), which is owned, not just coincidentally, by Republican, Trump and Netanyahu backer Sheldon Adelson -- the billionaire casino owner who is not an Israeli. Israel Hayom has pumped out story after story lauding Trump. Here's one fawning example.
Of course the general election is still months off and, since anything can happen, Israeli Jews could change their preference for American president as events unfold.
However, this bottom line won't change: If you're a journalist who relies solely on Republican-centric American media for your understanding of what's happening in Israel, you'd do better by reading more widely in the American Jewish and English-language Israeli press (read and understand Hebrew? Even better).
Locals are almost always better at explaining themselves than are outsiders with an axe to grind.