In Israel, there is a palpable feeling of uncertainty now that president-elect Joe Biden will be replacing President Donald Trump as the 46th president of the United States. With all of the support Trump has shown for Israel, some olim question whether that will continue in a Biden administration. American olim, unlike their Israeli neighbors and American Jewish friends, have a unique perspective and opinion on this question.
Indeed, in the lead-up to the U.S. presidential elections, an i24 News poll found that 63% of Israeli Jews said they would vote for Trump, and only 19% for Biden. By contrast, according to a Pew poll, 70% of American Jews planned to vote for Biden and only 27% for Trump.
Rabbi Ian Pear, a graduate of Yeshiva University and rabbi of the popular Shir Hadash community in Jerusalem, made three observations of how American olim voted in the presidential elections.
Firstly, he said, “While most American Jews favored Biden with the minority supporting Trump, here in Israel it was fundamentally the opposite. American olim, however, are slightly different. Even if their new home is here in Israel, they still care about what happens domestically in the U.S.”
What happens within America does concern them, and as such, for some, Trump’s personal conduct and domestic agenda—as well as his handling of COVID—matter as well. “As a result, while American olim’s support for Trump is still quite high, it is also tempered and far more nuanced than their fellow Israelis,” Pear believes.
“The corollary is also true,” said Pear. “American olim who are former Democrats would normally embrace Biden quite fully, but given Trump’s unabashed support of Israel, their support of Biden is nuanced as well. They may want him to win as they believe he is the better person to lead the U.S., but they admit Trump’s Israel support is impressive. Consequently, unlike their fellow Democrats in the U.S., their animosity to Trump is not as great.”
Another reflection on the elections is that American olim of all political persuasions are suffering from a type of depression. “While they may disagree over the cause, olim from both sides of the aisle have expressed great angst at what is happening in America in general,” Pear believes.
“Everything is political, and everyone must choose sides. Riots, COVID … even the weather … seems to be conspiring against the more idyllic image many olim hold in their hearts of their former home,” Pear observed.
“Glimpses of this effort can be found in the voices of some olim who speak about their hope that Americans will get it together and learn to live with one another again and rebuild their country together. This time, though, those same olim won’t be there to help out. Rather, they will be here in Israel—on the sidelines as it were—cheering their friends and family on, but not directly participating.”
Finally, Pear said, “Many Democrat-leaning olim also point out that while they appreciate Trump’s strong support for Israel, they consider Biden a long-time friend as well, and while admitting he will not be as supportive, they just don’t feel their concern for U.S. domestic success will necessarily come at the expense of a strong U.S.-Israel connection.”
Reflecting on the Biden win, Abe Katsman, an American-born political analyst now living in Jerusalem, believes “By and large, Israelis feel heartfelt gratitude for what the Trump administration has done in the entire Middle East region. But from what I can tell, they do not appreciate the sea change that may take effect if and when Biden takes power.”
“While the Democrats smartly focused attention on Biden’s moderate image regarding Middle East policies, he is in no mental or physical condition to micromanage any policy. His cabinet thus becomes even more important than usual, and the Sanders/Socialist Democrat wing of the party have their sights set on controlling some major departments and policies,” Katsman added.
Katsman believes there are potentially serious dangers for Israel diplomatically, now the Democrats have prevailed:
“Firstly, the Democrats have moved ever farther left and are more hostile to Israel just in the four years since President Obama left office. Biden seems to be more party figurehead than actual leader, and there are plenty of forces to worry about within the party. [His] relationship with right-of-center Israeli governments has been shaky, in any case; he doesn’t really set policy within the party anyway, and there is no chance he is in any condition to control intricate Mideast policy details—certainly not for four full years.”
Secondly, Katsman believes, the Democrats are in a particularly angry and vindictive place right now in terms of how they will change any policy enacted by President Trump.
“I do fear that there will be an effort to roll back U.S. recognition of Israeli legal rights to Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan Heights, to revive the Palestinian Authority, to again expose Israel to hostilities at the U.N., and to pivot towards appeasing Iran.”
JJ Sussman, who made aliyah from New York over 25 years ago and is the international director for Gesher, said: “In Israel, we tend to think in a very narrow prism of what is good for us or what is good for the Jews, but in this election, the story being told is entirely an economic intra-U.S.A. story. Did my monthly paycheck go up or not?”
“One thing is clear from the elections—that the mainstream media and the pollsters lost once again. 90% of the polls had Biden winning by 5% and that didn’t happen. Once again, as always it seems, people voted based on their paychecks. Even amongst lower income populations expected to go entirely Democrat, the Trump team succeeded in making a dent and garnering their votes. Florida is a great example of that,” Sussman remarked.
Benjy Singer lives in Jerusalem and is a freelance reporter and writer.