Deconstruction Zone: Why Israelis prefer Trump
Oct 30, 2020 | Shmuel Rosner
A recently released poll from i24News told us what we already know: Most Israelis want Donald Trump to remain president. And no, this is not about him being a Republican. In fact, four years ago, when Trump was still relatively unknown (as a politician), a majority of Israelis believed Hillary Clinton was the better candidate for Israel. Now, having seen him in action, having seen what decisions he makes, Israelis see Trump as favourable to their country.
Many Americans, especially Jewish Americans, will look at this fact with a sense of horror. But there is no reason to be horrified. Israelis are merely being well-mannered in reciprocating Trump’s amiability towards their country.
But Trump is losing – well, he is probably losing, based on mid-October’s polls. And I know that many Americans will hesitate to reach such a conclusion because of Trump’s surprise win four years ago. And yet, polls are polls, and evidence is evidence. And those of us who prioritise facts over fears and data over gut feelings know that Trump is unlikely to be re-elected.
Israelis are going to be somewhat disappointed. No matter: Israelis’ preferences are of zero importance in an American election. Still, the election holds implications for Israel. President Trump proved that it is within the power of a determined president to change realities. Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem; his Democratic challenger Joe Biden clarified that he will not move it back to Tel Aviv. Trump recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan; Biden is deciding whether to make this an issue for debate.
There are other policies that Biden is more likely to change. Policy toward Iran is the most important example. A Democratic administration will want to reinstate former president Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. But that’s not easy.
Time has passed and circumstances have changed: Israel and the Gulf states have become closer and can use their leverage against a weaker Iran. Importantly, if Biden reinstates the Iran deal, it will not be his legacy – it will be that of President Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry. There’s an opportunity here for Israel and the Gulf states to argue that a Biden administration has the time and leeway to consider important changes before it rejoins a treaty with Iran.
To push for these changes effectively, Israel must prepare for a new reality and quickly get over its disappointment when Trump loses. Israel must look at Biden not as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity. He can help Israel solidify its relations with the Democratic Party. He can help legitimise Israeli policies in the eyes of suspicious Americans. And he can help Israel prove that Israelis have no political preferences (Republicans over Democrats) – just policy preferences (strong on Iran over weaker on Iran).
Are Israelis ready for this process of necessary adjustment? Their leaders – the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and senior diplomats – are ready. They understand that the game is almost over. They know that while it’s important to keep Trump on Israel’s side, and even allow him to utilise Israel in his campaign, it is also essential not to alienate the incoming administration. Biden and Netanyahu are both experienced enough to know how such politicking can be done within proper boundaries.
As for the rest of Israel’s citizenry, trust in the Biden administration really depends on what Biden will be doing. Will he begin his term using soothing words and a friendly approach, or will he follow Obama’s example of putting daylight between the countries? Will he communicate with Teheran without first consulting with Israel’s leaders, or follow Trump’s example of no mutual surprises?
Israel is worried about a repeat of Obama, and it has the tendency to show defiance at the first sign of difficulty. But regardless of whether Biden repeats Obama’s policy of distance or chooses his own path (my guess, he will not be an Obama repeat), Israel must prepare to engage with him, as a friend.