Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, November 4, 2016.
Consider the situation in America to the situation in Israel on almost any foreign or domestic issue, and you’re forced to admit that, heck, Israel is in a better place….A lament for America, sullied by a loutish election campaign; and a comparative salute to Israel.
What can one say about the ghastly US presidential election campaign that is (thankfully!) coming to an end next week? That we cry for America, the greatest nation on the face of this earth, which is self-immolating; sunk by candidates who are insincere, uncouth, and unprincipled.
The crude campaigns of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton leave the US badly divided along the lines of race, economic status, and political ideology; with dark forces of intolerance dominating every talk show and rally. Alas, there is almost no discussion of important policy issues in a world where US leadership acutely is being challenged.
What can we say? Say this: In comparative perspective, Israel seems like the sane, stable democracy these days!
Consider the situation in America to the situation in Israel on almost any foreign or domestic issue, and you’re forced to admit that, heck, Israel is in a better place.
To begin with, perhaps Israel’s system of government – long maligned – is more satisfying and representative. Voters here in Israel have more than two binary choices for leader of the country. Don’t tens of millions of Americans wish that they had a serious third party candidate to vote for this year?
And for all the rough and tumble nature of Israeli party politics, hasn’t the cutthroat, populist primary system in America disappointed Republicans and Democrats alike?
By the way, Israel had a female leader (Golda Meir) more than forty years ago, while in America they’re still arguing about the glass ceiling and wondering whether a woman can be trusted with the highest office in the land.
It’s true that Israel hasn’t had a black, or a Sephardic, prime minister, while America has elected an African-American as president twice. But given the ongoing and escalating race riots in US inner cities, I’m not sure that America has too much to brag about in this field. In any case, Jews from Arab lands have served as Israel’s military chief-of-staff, defense minister, and president, as well as Supreme Court justices.
As for the quality of candidates for national leader: I bet you Americans would bus themselves in droves to the polling stations in order to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu if he was running as a third candidate in this US election!
Now consider the language used in campaigns. Here, Israeli politicians regularly accuse each other of fascism and corruption, which is bad enough. But no-one mixes female hygiene, the size of male organs, and other deplorables into political discourse.
Nobody in Israel has questioned the integrity of our electoral system either, even when the result was decided by a hairbreadth; for example, when Binyamin Netanyahu edged Shimon Peres out of office in 1996 by less than one percent of the vote. Nobody claimed that this was “rigged,” and nobody threatened to reject the result of the vote.
Israel’s prosecutors have actually put corrupt politicians behind bars, including a president, prime minister, finance and interior minister, and more. They didn’t cover-up and close the books on crimes akin to “extreme carelessness” in handling “very sensitive, highly classified information that possibly was accessed by hostile actors” – which is what the FBI did this year.
MORE IMPORTANT than the above is the fact that Israel has charted for itself intelligent courses in foreign and domestic policy; which is far more than can be said of the US in the Barack Obama era and likely beyond. Furthermore, such issues are actually debated intensely in Israeli elections campaigns, whereas the 2016 US presidential campaign has been dominated by personal insults and peccadilloes, not policy.
Israel has a working national health system that, for all its problems, is the envy of most countries in the world. Everybody benefits from quite comprehensive mandatory coverage. Obama’s health reforms have been a disaster, yet neither presidential candidate has bothered to present a realistic plan to fix things.
Israel built a fence to keep millions of illegal immigrants from Africa from flooding into the country through Sinai, and passed several iterations of tough yet humanitarian immigration/deportation law that have been debated at length in parliament and the highest court. It’s a controversial policy area that has been met head-on by intelligent debate and determined government action.
And in the US? Beyond Trump lazy, hazy and haphazard Mexican wall idea, neither he nor his opponent have offered any realistic approaches to dealing with immigration issues.
There is a serious and worthy debate underway in Israel about the direction, composition, and scope of powers of the Supreme Court. The justice minister is also seeking to reform the selection process for justices, in an above-board and open process that will involve give-and-take between conservatives and liberals.
In the US however, the Supreme Court has become an ultimate political football, with presidents unabashedly yanking it left and right, and the fiercely partisan Congress flat-out blocking presidential appointments just because.
Who has handled relations with Russia better in recent years, Netanyahu or Obama? The Israeli prime minister has managed a difficult situation with Russian fighters flying on our northern border, backing our enemies – without incident; while the American president has completely botched his ballyhooed “reset” with Moscow, and let Putin muscle into Eastern Europe and the Mideast.
Who has done a better job of setting down red lines regarding the conflict in Syria? With determination, Netanyahu has telegraphed the limits of what Israel can tolerate north of its borders, keeping Hizballah and Iran at bay for now. He quietly and smartly has used humanitarian diplomacy with rebel groups to safeguard the border too. Obama on the other hand, wimply whimpered down from the red lines he himself loudly had set regarding chemical weapons and other war crimes in Syria, leaving America with little credibility or clout.
Who has more allies now in the Arab world, Israel or the US? The Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis and other Gulfies today tacitly rely on Netanyahu’s acumen and security assistance more than they count on Obama’s. Only the mullahs in Iran have a better relationship with the White House than they do with the Israeli prime minister’s office; and the Obama-Rouhani nuclear accord ain’t a great feather in America’s cap.
This listing of America’s woes and foibles, and the comparison to Israel’s relative resiliencies, is not meant to gloat. It is with sorrow that I chronicle the yanking of America off its solid policy moorings by an outlier president, and its sullying by a loutish election campaign.
I weep for America and wish it a refuah shleima; a speedy and full recovery. The world needs America to bounce back, and I am praying that it will.
But the contrast detailed here should instill some modesty in American politicians and pundits (and Jewish community leaders) who are quick to lecture Israel about what it must do on a range of external and internal matters. Hey, American friends, get your act together before hectoring Israel.