US election seen from Israel: "A domestic political issue" here

US election seen from Israel: "A domestic political issue" here

Neri Zilber is a Tel-Aviv based freelance journalist who writes primarily for Foreign Policy, The Daily Beast, Politico and The Atlantic. He is also affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Gabrielle Debinski: To what extent are Israelis — the people and government — concerned with the outcome of the upcoming US election?

NZ: Well, it's of great concern to people here and especially the political class. Israel is often referred to as a domestic political issue in America. Arguably, America is a domestic political issue in Israel as well.


I don't think I'm speaking out of school when I say that Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, the long-serving prime minister here in Israel, has bet a lot on Donald Trump over the past three and a half years. He's made it a calling card and a centerpiece of his multiple reelection bids, going so far as to put up massive banners all over the country with him and Trump shaking hands and the tagline "Netanyahu, a league above all the rest." The closeness of Netanyahu and Trump has really aided Netanyahu domestically here in Israel.

GD: How concerned is Netanyahu with the prospect of a Biden victory then?

NZ: I think Netanyahu is quite concerned if Trump were to lose in November.

The fact that Trump's poll numbers have plummeted in recent months, primarily due to COVID, I think that was perhaps a wrinkle that Netanyahu was hoping to avoid.

I think [Netanyahu] is going to try to leverage — and we've already seen him leverage — the remaining few months of the Trump administration to bolster his own position domestically. And again, the best example is both the substance and the timing of the UAE deal [to normalize ties with Israel], which was brokered by Jared Kushner. I don't think the timing is a coincidence with Israel potentially facing yet another election in the coming months.

GD: A recent Gallup poll showed that Israelis support Trump more than any other nation. Why do you think that is?

NZ: The best explanation that I could find was that Israelis are one-issue voters. When it comes to American presidents, they care very little about things like, say, Supreme Court nominations or abortion rights — or even corruption and common decency in the American presidency. What they really care about is Israel: whether this individual or foreign leader is "good" for Israel or "bad" for Israel. In Donald Trump, you have somebody who has been almost unconditionally supportive, at least diplomatically, of Israel and the Israeli government.

GD: When you say Israelis, are you including progressive voters there too?

NZ: I would say they [progressives] are probably more aware of the damage that American presidents like Donald Trump do to Israel's long-term interests. But most Israelis are appreciative of the fact that not a lot is asked of Israel, primarily in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but not only. You have an American president who unconditionally moves the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and unconditionally recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights — and is positively inclined towards recognizing Israeli sovereignty over massive parts of the West Bank.

Most Israelis, unfortunately, don't put too much stock in things like the long-running conflict with the Palestinians or the future of the settlements or even Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state. There are segments of Israeli society, progressive segments, that do very much care about those issues. But for most Israelis, I think it's more quotidian concerns that impact what they think and how they vote.

I think the best example is a few weeks ago when the West Bank annexation was still on the table, there was a demonstration in Tel Aviv that I attended. There were perhaps 2,000 people there. And that's being charitable. A week or two after that, there was a demonstration demanding economic relief due to the second wave of COVID, and there were anywhere between 50,000-70,000 people in the same square. So I think that tells you where the public's priorities are at the moment.

GD: What do Israelis make of the recent Trump-brokered peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates?

NZ: Even in the liberal bastion of Tel Aviv, approval for this deal with the UAE is quite high. Even Israelis who view many things quite cynically and are quite skeptical and critical of Bibi Netanyahu, concede that this is a historic agreement. It's only the third Arab state willing to make peace with Israel in the 70-plus years that Israel has been around.

The Emirates as well are making a big push to attract Israelis which is different than previous peace treaties between Israel and Egypt or Israel and Jordan, where it's a much colder peace. The Emiratis, both commercially as well as politically, are making the big "hearts and minds" push for the Israeli public, perhaps with an eye towards influencing certain decisions that come out of Washington.

GD: How much did the outcome of the 2016 US election affect Israel and Israeli politics?

NZ: I don't think you can overstate the impact that the 2016 US election had on Israel and Israeli politics. Trump's foreign policy, and Trump's relationship with Israel is very different than anything that would have come out of a Hillary Clinton administration.

A Clinton administration would not have moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A Clinton administration certainly would not have put out a peace plan like the Trump administration did this past January, heavily tilted towards the Israelis — literally written by "Bibi" Netanyahu.

I think you would've seen a lot more friction between the Netanyahu government and the Clinton administration. And so Bibi himself couldn't have positioned himself as this kind of indispensable go-between between Israel and America. This kind of close friend of the American president, almost a Trump whisperer.

Also, you've seen many states, including recently the UAE, make a decision that the road to Washington, the road to Trump's heart runs through Jerusalem. You now see Sudan trying to get its name off the [state-sanctioned] terror list by perhaps cutting its own normalization agreement with Israel.

This interview is part of the GZERO project Global voices on the US election, which you can find in full here.

As digital technology reshapes the workplace, a move toward skills-based training and employment will unlock opportunities for companies and job seekers alike. While automation and AI are already taking on many routine tasks, demand for people with technology skills is rising fast around the globe. Getting the right people into the right jobs within the right organizations is one of the biggest challenges facing the world of work. So how can it be overcome? To read some recent skills-related stories, visit Microsoft On the Issues.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

More Show less

Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

More Show less

The end of "forever" in Afghanistan: The Biden administration says it'll withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted Washington to invade the country in the first place. It's unclear how the withdrawal will affect American plans to steer intra-Afghan peace talks in the right direction under the terms of a peace agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban in May 2020. Trump promised to pull out next month as long as the former al-Qaida hosts kept their end of the bargain by not launching deadly attacks (spoiler alert: they have not). Biden's move honors his campaign pledge to end a "forever war" that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and cost the US Treasury almost $1 trillion since 2001. However, critics fear that a hasty departure could leave the Afghans helpless to prevent the Taliban from returning to power, rendering the entire mission not only expensive, but ultimately pointless.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

More Show less

750 million: While struggling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world right now, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. Moscow has a deal in place to produce 750 million doses of the shot in India.

More Show less

In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

A children’s book on vaccination

GZERO World Clips