Israelis have been closely watching slow-burning US election results with intense interest, many of them seeing the outcome as likely to deeply affect their own future.
TV channels, radio stations and news outlets have been broadcasting the returns with all the breathlessness of American cable news throughout the night and day, even with the time difference forcing Israelis to pull an all-nighter in order to watch the initial results roll in.
“It is worthwhile for you to stay up until 3 a.m.,” Kan’s chief international analyst Moav Vardi told viewers repeatedly during Tuesday night’s news broadcast, predicting that the first exit polls from East Coast states may already reveal the identity of the winner.
Those who listened to his advice were disappointed, as clarity over the results remained elusive at that hour, and still hours later.
Unlike people in much of the rest of the world, Israelis are generally supportive of US President Donald Trump, according to opinion polls. Trump’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, leave the Iran deal and help broker treaties with Gulf countries have brought him accolades from even those on the center-left of Israel’s political spectrum. At the same time, many have expressed alarm at Trump’s alleged reluctance to condemn white supremacists and see his presidency as having given a boost to anti-Semites.
While US commentators have described the election as among the most fateful in the country’s modern history, some Israeli pundits have described the vote as a high-stakes contest for Israel as well.
“The US presidential election is replete with what may be fateful repercussions for the State of Israel,” former ambassador to the US Michael Oren wrote in a column for pro-Trump tabloid Israel Hayom.
Hundreds of thousands of US citizens are thought to live in Israel and both the Republicans and Democrats have branch offices here, which ran their own get-out-the-vote campaigns in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote.
“All the votes need to be counted and it’s important to make sure that every voice is heard and to give secretaries of state the opportunity to get their numbers right before any numbers are called,” Heather Stone, the head of the Israel chapter Democrats Abroad, told The Times of Israel at around 3 a.m. Israel time, calling on state governments and media networks to refrain from making calls until all absentee ballots have been counted.
Stone said she was optimistic as ballots started to be counted.
“The team here in Israel worked hard turning out voters in Pennsylvania and Florida through phone and text banking,” she told The Times of Israel.
On the ground in Israel, the Democrats Abroad chapter doubled its membership, which now stands in the thousands, Stone said, while refraining from giving an exact number.
“The international numbers for web traffic on our voter registration site were over a million, and IP addresses from Israel tripled what they were in 2016,” she said. “We’re looking to have two times, if not more, of the voters we had in Israel in the last election.”
Unsurprisingly, she said a Biden victory would be a positive development for Israel.
“Biden will return the US to its rightful position of being a world leader in foreign policy and in the international community. When the US is strong and is leading by its democratic principles and values, it’s a good ally for its friends such as Israel and a strong deterrent for its enemies such as Iran.”
Republicans Abroad in Israel head Marc Zell claimed that some 150,000 absentee ballots were cast by US citizens living in Israel in total. Eight in 10 of those votes were for the Republican incumbent, he speculated, based on an unproven claim of 80 percent support for Trump among Israelis.
In fact, a recent survey from the Israel Democracy Institute found 60 percent of Israelis thought Trump was better for Israel.
“Trump re-scripted the whole political dynamic, taking the focus off of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and placing it on the real threat which is Iran,” Zell said.
But even some Trump backers in Israel tried to distance themselves from the president’s false claim that he had won the election and further vote counting should be halted, alleging fraud.
“Like most Israelis, I’d be very happy if Trump will be the president of the United States,” Channel 12 News’s pundit Amit Segal wrote on Facebook. “But his speech this morning was his most embarrassing since he entered politics.”
“That was scary,” he said, charging that Trump is trying to disenfranchise millions of Americans whose votes haven’t been counted.
Nadav Eyal, the chief international correspondent of rival Channel 13, had similar thoughts.
“What we just witnessed is a terrible moment for the republic,” he tweeted. “If the president is really going to the Supreme Court (for what?), even before the votes were counted, the whole concept of leadership change is shattered.”
Knowing that the elections could go both ways and hence wary of antagonizing either candidate, Israeli officials kept a low profile on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen as among the most outspoken Trump supporters, has reportedly instructed his ministers not to give any interviews about the race.
One of the few officials who dared speak to the press about the matter was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan. “I believe and I hope that even the Democratic party, if it wins, will not want to return to the old paradigm of ‘land for peace,’ but rather will learn the lesson and continue the trend,” he told one of the morning radio talk shows.
But beyond Erdan, it has been up to former officials to offer commentary to the country’s hungry press.
A PR person working for Danny Danon, who recently wrapped up a several-year stint as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, sent reporters two separate statements — one for each possible victor.
“President Trump has set a higher bar than ever before when it comes to the Middle East,” read one. “Israel in particular is grateful for his bold decisions. We anticipate many additional normalization agreements and greater prosperity in the region over the next four years of a Trump term.”
“Joe Biden has a long relationship with Israel which extends as far back as 1973 when he met then Prime Minister Golda Meir. … We are optimistic that he recognizes the advantages of the recent regional developments,” read the other. “Israel hopes to once again join hands with the US and the Biden administration and build upon the strong partnership that exists between our two countries.”
Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.