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Israel media review

Here, let me cast that ballot for you: What the press is saying on November 3

Israelis may not be able to vote, but they are not shy about telling Americans who they should cast their ballots for, in an election widely viewed here as the MOST IMPORTANT EVER

A voter casts a ballot at a polling station in New York City on November 1, 2020. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images/AFP)
A voter casts a ballot at a polling station in New York City on November 1, 2020. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images/AFP)

1. Hanging chads, anyone? Election excitement has hit fever pitch in Israel, despite this not actually being one of the United States or territories.

  • Pictures of US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden dominate each and every general print news publication. Even the ultra-Orthodox newspapers lead off with the US elections, albeit without the massive pictures of Don and Joe.
  • “Who will be president,” reads a top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, correctly identifying the election of most interest to most Israelis.
  • It’s a simple question without a simple answer, and much of the coverage across the Hebrew media landscape is devoted to trying to untangle and explain how the elections will work, how to read the returns and the tea leaves and all the ways everything could go sideways in a hurry.
  • “Unlike past votes, this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, most voters are mailing in ballots… Counting the ballots in each state is different,” explains Channel 13. “The delay in counting the votes could create nerve-wracking days until we know who the next president will be. In order for that not to happen one of the candidates, and right now the polls only give that possibility to Biden, needs to win by a knockout and not on points. Meaning the gap by Wednesday morning Israel time will be so great that the rest of the votes won’t have significance except for the final electoral college count. If this does not happen — the identity of the winner won’t be clear until Wednesday night or even Thursday.”
  • That estimate is more optimistic than most experts’, including Kan’s Moav Vardi, who surmises that the count and challenges could go on for a while.
  • He gets so deep into the weeds that he details a situation in which the Senate could turn Kamala Harris into Trump’s vice president.
  • Channel 12 news presents a series of scenarios, from the likely (Biden winning), to the possible (Trump winning), to the “scary” (the race is too close and gets dragged into the courts).
  • Israel Hayom focuses on the idea that the vote won’t be known for a while and hammers home the point again and again the claim that the polls showing Biden in the lead are misleading: “Everyone in the media is talking about Biden having the lead, but the momentum and energy on the ground indicate Trump has it – not only in the number of rallies but also, of course, by the number of participants and the general pace of events,” writes editor Boaz Bismuth.
  • Former US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who teaches Army Radio’s Razi Barkai that Washington, DC, has shadow representatives in the House or Senate, also assesses that the Supreme Court will not intervene in the final counting of the votes.
  • “The thesis that Trump will turn a loss into a victory via the courts should not happen,” he says.

2. No pressure: Shapiro, an outspoken Biden backer, notes that he understands why Israelis are so invested, adding that “for me, these are the most important elections in my lifetime.”

  • Israeli pundits take it even further, and despite not being able to actually vote, have plenty of advice for Americans on how they should. “The fate of the world is on the agenda today,” Walla’s Guy Elster opines.
  • “The elections are so fateful because the future of the Earth hangs in the balance. It’s at a critical juncture, some say it’s in critical condition, and another four years of a president who exults in his disdain for science could be a death blow for it,” he writes. “Trump and his ilk, like the Brazilian President and destroyer of the Amazon Jair Bolsonaro, have sallied into mud fights with leading scientists in their countries and dismissed the virus as a typical sickness.”
  • “The fate of the republic,” reads a headline in a Yedioth column from Nadav Eyal.
  • “If Trump wins, oh boy will he win. Aside from putting the pollsters out of business, it will show that the world of the Trumpists is the world, not a one-off variance from the political center, but a new mainstream.”
  • Also in Yedioth, Alon Pinkas writes that “the election results could define America in a larger way than any elections since before the Civil War.”
  • Noting the societal divisions, he adds that “one of the two camps will win today, but the battle won’t end with the counting of the votes. This is an ongoing fight for the most important country in history, which is being forced to redefine itself.”
  • While Pinkas calls the vote a referendum on Trump, Israel Hayom columnist Amnon Lord rejects that idea and calls the vote a “referendum on America,” presenting Trump as “humanity’s hope.”
  • “The Democrats present it as a referendum on Donald Trump, emphasizing his failure in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic; but the truth is that the American voter will choose between two regimes. The first, flawed as it may be, is led by a president that, though his personality is unpalatable to many of his followers as well, is nevertheless humanity’s hope and the strategic backbone of all the lovers of freedom in the world,” he writes. “The other regime, which is already rising from the bottom up, is a tyranny. … It is a regime of silencing, persecution, and dismissal by an intellectual mob in control of important media outlets and ivory towers ruled by the establishment; of hi-tech and social media giants with a grip on the public consciousness.”

3. Voting with someone else’s feet: Israel Hayom in fact appears to coat its pro-Trump leanings with a veneer of legitimate news coverage. Its top headline is the supremely pareve “Fateful elections” above equally pareve pictures of the two candidates in front of podiums. But all that fades away with a closer look at the paper.

  • “Don’t be afraid at all,” reads the headline of a column from publisher Miriam Adelson, and while she is talking about going to vote, she doesn’t intend the message to reach Biden voters. (The same op-ed runs in English in her Las Vegas Review Journal and on Israel Hayom’s English website. It’s unclear who her intended audience is with the Hebrew column, though.)
  • “Our democratic system allows us to keep our vote private. That is fine and – as is my fervent hope and belief – the final tally will show that a majority of us favor a second Trump term,” she writes.
  • And while bemoaning the boarded up shops and fears of unrest surrounding the elections, she also appears to encourage Trump supporters to take to the street if things don’t go their way: “Trump supporters are by no means alone. But they will certainly be diminished, as individuals, if they swallow their pride, avert their gaze, and shuffle along silently to cast their vote before rushing home. The coming hours will be a time of reckoning for the amity that we should extend our fellow Americans even if we disagree politically. Trump voters, just like Biden voters, should speak up as freely as they wish and hold their heads high.”
  • There’s a lot more in Israel Hayom where that came from. Other Israeli outlets and their journalists are also just as outspoken about how they feel Americans should vote, with the idea of unbiased reporting not really a value here.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial is plain in stumping for Biden. “It must be hoped that four years of Trumpism have been enough for Americans, and that they will choose to begin a new chapter – one that’s a little less interesting but involves a little more responsibility and solidarity – in the life of America, the world and Israel, too. It’s impossible to simultaneously think Trump is bad for democracy but good for Israel. Anything that’s bad for liberal democracy is bad for Israel as well.”
  • Channel 12’s Arad Nir, dispatched to the US to cover the vote, says that “Joe Biden represents everything America needs after four years of Donald Trump’s hyperactivity. A stable statesmanlike presence, calm and uniting. One who knows the governmental system, doesn’t tweet from the hip, who know what it means to ride public transportation and does not look for ways to cheat on income taxes.”

4. Showtime in Israel: Despite that, Israelis seem to still be in Trump’s thrall. An Israel Democracy Institute survey published Monday showed 60 percent of Israelis think Trump’s win would be better for Israel.

  • In Yedioth, Sima Kadmon claims that “if Trump were running in Israel, he could claim victory even before we vote. This rude man, devoid of any restraints, is seen as pro-Israel, and even people on the center-left in Israel, who shy from his style, who see a disaster in the destruction of our ties with the Democratic Party, who are angry over the diplomatic freeze with the Palestinians and the way it has squandered its role as an Israeli-Palestinian mediator, feel an ambivalence toward him.”
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already getting ready for a Biden win but not by abandoning his Trumpy ways. Rather he is preparing to treat him as he did Obama, an enemy: “It won’t be as easy to paint Biden as hostile, with his decades of support for Israel in the Senate, as it was with the freshman senator from Illinois with the middle name Hussein. But there’s more ways than one to create a false narrative.”
  • In fact, Pfeffer says that Netanyahu and Co. will present Biden as a weak puppet of his more extreme string-pullers from the more progressive wing of the party. “The message is clear: Biden may be pro-Israel at heart, but he will be president in name only and his senile weakness will make him a plaything of the dark powers behind the scenes at the Democratic Party.”
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren writes that if Biden does win, Netanyahu will also spin it in his favor when it comes to local politics.
  • “The prime minister prides himself on having fended off immense pressure, especially regarding Israel’s West Bank settlement enterprise, from the last Democrat who sat in the Oval Office. The fact that he dared openly confront and even antagonize Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, over the 2015 nuclear deal, shows that only someone of his stature can be trusted to stand up to Biden, Netanyahu and his supporters will doubtlessly argue.”
  • At least one pro-Trump figure appears to be hedging his bets. Alan Dershowitz tells Army Radio that “Trump is one of the best presidents for Israel, and Joe Biden is also a friend of Israel, so Israel will be good hands either way.”

5. But is it good for the Middle East: ToI’s Aaron Boxerman writes about Palestinians who are waiting with bated breath for the election results to see if they need to suffer four more years of Trump, and what they will do depends on the outcome.

  • “Should Biden win, Abbas would likely drop any pretense of elections, regional realignment, and so on and immediately move to reengage with the US,” says Washington Institute senior fellow and former PA adviser Ghaith al-Omari.
  • He adds that a Trump win will further weaken Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, giving him few options: “Even if Trump is elected, Ramallah will find a way to reengage. Another four years of total isolation is something they simply cannot afford… There is more and more of a sense that this is the worst moment for the Palestinian national movement since 1948.”
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Barel is similarly blunt, writing that Trump managed to do the impossible by making the Middle East even worse.
  • “Trump turned the United States into a shadow in the Middle East – a barely-there presence that’s not only incapable of resolving conflicts, but nourishes them and thereby helps prolong them,” he writes, going on to call Trump a “clown.”
  • Offering a counterpoint is the lead editorial of the UAE’s The National, which posits that in the Middle East “Trump’s record is broadly positive. His determination to stand up to the menace of Tehran has been commendable. He helped to negotiate the Abraham Accord with the UAE and Israel – potentially a seismic turning-point in the region’s history. ISIS has been tamed, if not yet put down. Sudan has been brought back into the international fold.”
  • Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, asked about ambassador David Friedman’s comments about Iranians praying for a Biden victory says, “I don’t know what they are praying for … I don’t see the Iran nuclear deal coming back.”

6. Yo, Semites: And then there are the Jews, and the ever-present fears of anti-Semitism.

  • “Supporters of Trump or Biden, the Jews in the US are united by one thing, fears of anti-Semitism,” reads a headline in Walla.
  • Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes that Israelis should forgive American Jews for supporting the candidate who allegedly feeds that anti-Semitism. “American Jews, for their part, are disheartened and dismayed by the Israeli near-consensus in favor of Trump. In their eyes, whatever benefits Israel has gained from his presidency dwarf in comparison to the untold damage Trump has inflicted on his own country. … From the American Jewish point of view, Israel’s Trump worship is a moral and ethical failure. … Israel’s preference for Trump over Biden is virtually incomprehensible for many American Jews who still hold the Jewish State dear to their hearts.”
  • In JTA, Shira Hanau reports that Orthodox Jews have a lot of reasons they say they actually back Trump: “There is much enthusiasm for the president among haredim, if only out of concern for what a Democratic administration may do on the religious rights front, and out of gratitude to Mr. Trump for his actions vis a vis Israel and the Middle East,” she quotes Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesperson for the Haredi group Agudath Israel.
  • In Pittsburgh, site of the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history, ToI’s Jacob Magid finds that community members are rejecting political divisions wrought by the election.
  • Audrey Glickman, a survivor of the Tree of Life shooting, tells him that the synagogue is home to members from across the political spectrum “and we pride ourselves in our ability to get along with one another.”
  • “Since I know people in the building during the shooting who would still vote for Donald Trump no matter what, I hesitate [to publicly speak out] because I’d rather keep my friends and stay unified rather than see us divided over who is president,” she says of her own silence about voting for Biden.
  • Squirrel Hill resident Susan Friedberg Kalson expresses a similar sentiment: “You feel very powerless when something like this happens in your community, but voting is the way we make our beliefs heard and express our voice most powerfully.”

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