Hours after the American presidential candidates dished out against one another in the first televised election debate, Israel-based representatives of the two parties got together for their own election parley in Jerusalem, in a bid to convince the audience that their respective candidates were the better performer in the debate — and better for America and for Israel in general.
Many people were “very impressed by Donald Trump,” said Marc Zell, the head of Republicans Overseas Israel. He added that some 40 people had gathered on Tuesday morning at 3:00 a.m. for a screening of the debate his group had organized in the capital’s Abu Tor neighborhood. Zell acknowledged, however, that “a lot of people who watched the debate felt that he could have been more effective and addressed the issues more effectively.”
Sheldon Schorer, a former chairman of the Israeli chapter of Democrats Abroad, said Hillary Clinton did some “very important things” during the debate.
“I think she demonstrated that she has stamina, intelligence, courage, leadership, the ability to articulate issues, the ability to articulate plans,” he said. As opposed to her opponent, the former secretary of state gave concrete, straightforward answers to each question she was asked, Schorer added. “This is a person who knows what to do and can lead America forward. She gave a very good presentation,” he said.
At the beginning of the debate Trump exercised “a little more restraint,” Schorer opined. “I think he restrained himself. I think he was unable to restrain himself toward the end. His personality is that if you attack him, he will attack you right back.”
The event, hosted by MediaCentral in downtown Jerusalem, quickly digressed from an evaluation of the debate, which took place at Long Island’s Hofstra University, and focused on the candidates’ overall qualities and their policies vis-a-vis Israel and the Middle East.
Zell argued that the 2016 election cycle “breaks the mold when it comes to traditional thinking about American presidential campaigns.” Noting that Trump “destroyed” over a dozen Republican presidential hopefuls in the primaries, he argued that he “really turned American politics on its head.”
The reasons for the successes in the primaries of anti-establishment candidates such as Trump and the Democrat Bernie Sanders is an unprecedented, “deep-seated discontent among the electorate for establishment politics, Republican and Democrat alike.” Sanders shocked Clinton when he won a number of states in the Democratic primaries but eventually came up short.
While initially opposed to Trump’s candidacy due to his temperament, Zell on Tuesday said he now supports the New York billionaire “with enthusiasm. I think he is what is needed in American politics today to really shake up Washington. He’s shaken up our party; if he gets elected, as I hope he will be, he’ll shake up the establishment in Washington both in the executive branch and in Congress.”
Schorer argued that Trump’s surprise win of the Republican nomination only points to a deep malaise within the GOP, since the so-called establishment candidate — Clinton — eventually won the Democratic primaries by a large margin. Barack Obama campaigned with the promise of change and also delivered change, Schorer said, citing the president’s landmark healthcare reform.
“Now we hear that Donald Trump is a voice for change. I don’t believe it. I honestly don’t believe it,” Schorer said, arguing that he supports the “same old” policies Republicans have backed for decades. If anything, Schorer said, the Republican candidate is “unpredictable,” and “does things just to shake things up and does things for himself and we don’t know what the final results will be.”
Obama and Clinton (who served as secretary of state during his first term) indeed changed America — but not in a way that most Americans would have hoped for, Zell retorted.
“One of the ways they changed America is to lower the status and standing of America throughout the world by deliberately withdrawing and retracting American presence around the world, and enthroning, empowering regional powers like Iran to take over and fill the vacuum,” he charged. “Nowhere is that policy change more felt than here in the Middle East and particularly in Israel.”
Defending Obama and Clinton, Schorer argued that they inherited from George W. Bush an America that was not only “almost on the brink of bankruptcy,” but also “a pariah state” unable to form international alliances. “Clinton’s job was to meet again with leaders of the world and it was because of her tenacity that America is now the leader of the world,” he said.
‘It’s better not to make promises if you can’t keep them’
Asked about Trump’s promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Zell admitted that “there are no guarantees” that a president will actually carry out all his campaign promises. Before he could go on, Schorer interjected: “His word cannot be trusted? Gasp!”
Trump has declared unequivocally that Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel and will be the site of the US embassy, Zell insisted. In contrast, Democrats are in favor of dividing Israel, he added. “I don’t think you can expect much from the Hillary side. From Donald Trump, this is one of the things we’re expecting from him. I talked about shaking up Washington — If there’s anybody that can get this done it’s him.”
Schorer acknowledged that even Bill Clinton had promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then failed to deliver. “It seems that when you get up to become the president, you look at the world a little bit differently.”
The real question is whether moving the embassy would be productive or not, Schorer continued. “Will it promote peace, or is it going to give the Palestinians a reason for saying the Americans are not honest brokers and therefore get out of the business and not discuss it anymore, and that this is change of the status quo and therefore all bets are off and would cause more dissension, possibly violence?”
The Democratic platform says the status of Jerusalem is a subject of final status negotiations between the parties, Schorer added. “It’s the position of Democratic party that Jerusalem is Israel’s undivided capital. It’s been in every platform since 1988.”
Clinton has so far made no promises to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Schorer acknowledged, adding: “It’s better not to make promises if you can’t keep them.”