Last week, I registered to vote in the American elections. It is the first time in my nearly 25 years in Israel that I plan to vote as an American. I am doing it because I love the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president of the United States, and am excited about helping her get into office. She is an outstanding candidate and would likely be one of the best presidents America has ever had. And also, it would be an amazing thing for women everywhere.
Sadly, however, I realize that I am in a minority among Americans living in Israel. I heard some strange things at the registration event. “I don’t know much about the candidates,” one women admitted, “but I think I’ll vote for Trump.” Another woman said, “Trump is a good businessman.” I guess news about his 3,500 lawsuits, four bankruptcies and habit of cheating his suppliers hasn’t reached Tel Aviv.
I have been having a hard time finding a strong cadre of support for Hillary in Israel. An online group of olim for Hillary has only a handful of members. And two weeks ago, I was trying to find someone to go with to attend a pro-Hillary meeting in Jerusalem, and I could not get one person in my entire city of Modi’in to come with me. The apathy was palpable.
Meanwhile Trump seems to have a base of support in Israel that, while mind-blowing in some ways, is not entirely surprising. The idea that Trump is “good for Israel” while Hillary is “bad for Israel” has been filling up my Facebook feed for a while. In the previous presidential election, 85 percent of eligible US voters living in Israel supported the Republican nominee, according to the supposedly non-partisan iVote Israel, and the organization Republicans Overseas assumes this to still be true. In fact, Trump announced that he is opening up a campaign headquarters here to connect with his voter base.
The Trump support among olim reflects some troubling realities about what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Trump is a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic reality television show performer and conspiracy theory aficionado. His voters, a group dominated by what Professor Michael Kimmel terms “Angry White Men,” seem to like that about him. Yet among Americans here in Israel, none of that seems to even matter – because here, the only thing that matters is his stance on Israel. Which means the candidate with the most right-wing, militaristic and unilateral approach to the Palestinian-Israel conflict is considered the most pro-Israel. It is why Trump received an astounding standing ovation at the AIPAC convention. Some Jews are willing to ignore everything about him as long as he says that the Jews are right and the Palestinians are wrong.
For the record, Clinton is very vocal about fighting terrorism and protecting Israel’s security, and is known to be pro armed forces when needed – in fact, she is considered too war-hawkish by her critics.
Yet, any mention of Clinton’s name among olim elicits a knee-jerk response that she is anti-Israel. Why? Because she is not only in favor of Israel’s security, she is also in favor of listening to Palestinians and striving for peace. This complex and dynamic stance, in which she sees the conflict not as a simplistic “I’m right and you’re wrong” but rather as a complicated network of truths, narratives and real needs, is anathema to so many so-called “pro-Israel” groups. As if to say, a person who gives any legitimacy to the real lives of Palestinians must be an anti-Zionist, Jew-hating bigot. The second anyone expresses sympathy for the plight of Palestinians, they are immediately labeled as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic.
This is the perfect opportunity for American Jews – here and stateside – to rethink what it means to be pro-Israel. Because if being pro-Israel means being so single-mindedly obsessive about delegitimizing anything a Palestinian has to say, if it means being so reflexively reactive toward policy positions as to be unable to see nuance, if it means ignoring everything else about a public person other than how militaristic they are about Israel, then we need to ask ourselves what it means to support Israel. Put differently, if being pro-Israel means liking a guy like Trump, who says that in his mind war is a good thing, then we really need to ask ourselves what it means to be pro-Israel. If being pro-Israel means being in the same camp as Trump, we are doing something very wrong.
I love Hillary’s stance on Israel. She is an outstanding listener and mediator. I love that she is able to hold together seemingly opposing positions – one that says that Israel needs security and another that says that Palestinians need to be heard and heeded. To me, the ability to hear all sides, combined with the desire to make everyone’s lives better, makes for a great leader. And I think that this is what being pro-Israel really means. It is not about violence, militarism and an unrelenting and tone deaf adherence to only part of the story. It is about trying to create a state in which everyone can find a place and live peacefully. That is the essence of being pro-Israel. I hope that Hillary gets that chance to implement a peaceful vision in our fragile little country.
After all, what’s good for humanity is what’s good for Israel.