Four comments on the presidential candidates and the president

December 16, 2015


Israel was mentioned four times in the GOP debate last night. That is very little compared to GOP debates in previous of elections. Maybe a reflection of a consensus within the party (so there's nothing to debate), maybe a reflection of the confusing times (talking about Israel becomes trickier).

Take, for example, Ted Cruz' wise utilization of Israel, by way of supporting his position against an American intervention in Syria.

I'll tell you whose view on Assad is the same as mine. It's Prime Minister Netanyahu. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said Israel doesn't have a dog in that fight because Assad is a puppet of Iran, a Shia radical Islamic terrorist, but at the same time, Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn't want to see Syria governed by ISIS. And we need to focus on American interests, not on global aspirations…

Of course, this is a little misleading. Netanyahu doesn't want Israel to intervene but is also quite unhappy about America's inability and lack of desire to be more dominant in Syria and have more impact on developments in that country. Cruz takes Netanyahu stance on Israeli involvement and uses it to justify his view regarding American involvement. Alas, Israel and the US aren't the same. Israel is a small country. America is a superpower. But Netanyahu can't say this, lest he'll be perceived as a foreign leader pushing America to war. Israel cannot refute Cruz' nuanced manipulation of Netanyahu's views to promote Cruz' views.


Trump used Israel in the debate, and not for the first time, for a similar purpose. Knowing that Israel is quite popular in the US, and especially so among Republican voters, Israel for him is a tool with which to convince the voters that his policy proposals are valid.

For Trump, Israel is the proof that borders and fences work:

I want a strong border. I do want a wall. Walls do work, you just have to speak to the folks in Israel. Walls work if they're properly constructed. I know how to build, believe me, I know how to build.

In this case, there is no misuse of Israel. Trump might be unhappy with the way he was treated by Israelis, following his announcement that a visit is coming (the visit was canceled). But the way he utilizes the Israeli experience as he advocates for building a more efficient fence on America's borders would not provoke any outcry from Israeli leaders. Even the Israeli left believe in fences.


Marco Rubio is the most impressive GOP candidate when the debate focuses on foreign policy. He seems to be the most knowledgeable, and many of the things he says are music to the ears of Israel's leaders.

Then again, America and Israel are not the same, and their priorities are not the same. For Rubio, these are the current priorities:

We need a president who stands up, number one, and says, we will defeat ISIS. And number two, says the greatest national security threat facing America is a nuclear Iran.

For Israel it is: number one Iran, number two Iran, and number three, maybe, ISIS.


Yesterday I wrote that President Rivlin made a mistake when he attended the Haaretz conference. I explained that by doing this the President put at risk his most valuable asset: his ability to be effective with all Israelis – right and left, Jewish and Arab, religious and secular.

The last couple of days could be the days in which he annoyed too many Israelis too much. These could be the days in which he lost his ability to explain because his explanations no longer carry much weight with certain Israelis. These could be the days in which some Israeli circles will arrive at the conclusion that the President flipped because he cares more for the cheers from abroad than for the barraging at home.

A poll by Panels Politics from this morning confirmed my concern. Israelis were asked: Does the President represent you? 48% said yes, 47% said no. That is to say: President Rivlin is now a President acceptable to Israel's center-left and not as acceptable to Israel's right. It is a pity. Israel has many leaders acceptable to a certain segment of the population and not to other segments. We do not need another such politician – we need the good old Rivlin that had the ability to be acceptable to all Israelis.

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