During the intense rush hour before Shabbat, regulars at Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market were surprised to find something truly unique between a 3rd generation spice merchant and hipsters selling one of the many late trends in super-food: Hillary Clinton campaigners.
Few days are left on the deadline for overseas voter registration in the 2016 US election. Physical and virtual areas of Tel Aviv life frequented by ex-pats are showing signs of the heat with which the election battle rages in the motherland – clashes between Donald and Hillary supporters, popup talks about the candidates across the city, a GOP-founded campaign office in Tel Aviv and campaigns to register voters across the web.
One such campaign, iVote Israel, states that with an estimated 200,000 US citizens living in the tiny country, Israel has the same amount of voters (and therefore the same amount of influence) as Wyoming. This makes Israeli allegiance to any candidate a boon. However, while the process for absentee votes has been streamlined to a few clicks, choosing the right candidate is far from easy.
Both American and native Israelis traditionally prefer a Republican candidate. A conservative president is perceived to support Israel without question, and always throws their weight around the UN in Israel’s favor. It is also a well-known secret that Trump is endorsed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu. On paper, Israel’s choice is clear — but should we get what we want?
The GOP and their Republican candidate are offering us exactly what we want. Trump will not push Israel to a regional agreement or any sort of negotiations with the Palestinians. While he has claimed himself a neutral party, he has also shown support of building in settlements and defended Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge.
The Iranian nuclear treaty will be the Republican’s next task. “We look so desperate, and it’s a disgrace” said Trump, after declaring that he will renegotiate the terms to ensure the restoration of America’s dignity – no doubt to the enjoyment of Netanyahu, who isn’t a fan of the agreement to say the least.
Military aid is also expected to grow ever larger when the GOP handles the US checkbook. The recent deal struck by Obama is the largest one in history, but that’s still not enough. Senator Lindsey Graham was outraged by the low amount and the explicit inability to lobby for more funds or flexible missile-defense aid (it was originally a “bonus” sum added to the original aid agreement).
So far, so good, right?
Not exactly. The current Iran deal is far from perfect, but it is the best scenario. While Israel prepared for an almost unavoidable strike deep inside Iran in 2012, Secretary of State Clinton’s efforts brought to the table an agreement that pushed the Iranians from finishing the atomic race. Renegotiation would allow a very active agent in the destabilization of the area time to maneuver – alongside the support of Hezbollah, President Assad and armed terrorist groups, stress levels between Israel and Iran would doubtlessly skyrocket.
The larger military aid agreement is also more of a curse than a blessing. The act of excluding Israeli companies from the list of approved vendors in the new package limits the IDF’s ability to create solutions to its unique challenges. While Israeli soldiers work to suppress random violence against civilians, the new aid pack equips us with more F-35 fighter jets. Israel’s army will be reduced from the protector of the Jewish people to a glorified showcase of what America’s defense sector has to offer.
As far as peace is concerned, both candidates have not divulged much information on their plans for a Middle-Eastern process. It is a safe bet to assume that Hillary will push for one – after all, she laid the groundwork for the Iranian deal and was by her husband’s side during his struggles for a regional accord. Trump, on the other hand holds a very pessimistic world view on the subject, and has even been quoted to say “Sometimes agreements can’t be made”, which rings just like Bibi’s “We will forever live by the sword” speech.
While Trump may offer Israel all that it wants, it will create a problematic scenario: Palestinian unrest caused by US-backed building in Israeli settlements and a lack of any peace process. At that point, an IDF bloated from excess military aid and ill-equipped to deal with terror attacks will turn its gaze to the only enemy he’s capable of fighting — an angry and unconstrained Iran.
Yes, the Republicans will give us everything. However, in this case, everything includes the matches to spark a drastic outcome in an already turbulent region.
The lack of a clear-cut choice for Americans and Israelis makes voter’s remorse the only clear-cut outcome, but regardless, as a native with no US voting rights, I urge absentee voters in Israel not to make the easy choice, but the smart one — a candidate that will be a partner, not a rubber stamp. Don’t vote for what we want. Vote for what we need.