Why Israelis care so much about this US presidential election

Israelis are transfixed by the specter of seeing a dear friend that was once held as the epitome of what a country could stand for descend to chaos usually reserved for the Middle East.

November 8, 2016 16:12
2 minute read.

Americans head to the polls

Americans head to the polls


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Israelis tend to think of their country and the issues facing it as the center of the universe – for good reason.

Often it seems like the rest of the world – from the UN to the EU – is paying us a disproportionate amount of attention.

Now it seems like we’re doing the same thing to the elections in the US. Israeli news consumers have been treated to a Clinton and Trump bombardment via TV, Internet and newspapers, with an astronomical number of minutes, column inches and bandwidth devoted to the most bizarre presidential campaign in US history.

Granted, the Ripley’s Believe it Or Not aspect of Donald Trump as a candidate in the most powerful country in the world has indeed made the elections a riveting and addictive story, but Israel’s obsession with the minutiae of this watershed moment in American history is based on something more.

It’s more about Israel’s fascination with America in general – its geographical vastness, demographic diversity, commercial abundance and the contradictory nature of a nation that serves as a symbol of liberty and yet is often embroiled in issues of inequality.

Regardless of the political ups and downs in relations between the US and Israeli governments, Israelis still consider the US to be their closest ally, even after eight years of less than stellar relations under the reigns of President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The US is Israel’s big brother, protective against outside threats but not at all unwilling to give it an embarrassing kick in the pants, as big brothers tend do.

Israelis still flock to the US to see Niagara Falls, to visit Washington, DC and New York and to experience San Francisco and Los Angeles (and visit the Apple store in each location). It is the land of larger than life, and the accumulated fables and legends of Hollywood, that provide the mystique that Israelis find irresistible. To see that image, fabricated as it may be, unravel over the course of the last year has been like a car wreck from which you can’t turn away.

It doesn’t really matter to Israel who became the president while they were sleeping, even though many joined the American college and yeshiva students and expat pundits in staying up to see the exit poll results.

Israel survived Nixon, Reagan, Carter, the Bushes and Bill Clinton, and it can withstand the continuation of an Obama doctrine under Hillary, or God knows what under Trump.

So that’s not why Israelis seem to care so passionately about this election. It’s more about the specter of seeing a dear friend that was once held as the epitome of what a country could stand for descend into chaos usually reserved for the Middle East. So we watch, read, wait and hope over a night of sleeplessness that the country we always looked up to manages to stop careening off the tracks.

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