2/24/2016 The View of Trump from Tel Aviv

Much of the talk in Tel Aviv this morning was about Donald Trump’s victory in Nevada. Word of Trump’s triumph even led the Israeli morning news. Israelis have always had a keen interest in American politics. Although their understanding of the process is limited, and until now the “Trump phenomena” has been looked upon with the sense of – “look what the crazy Americans are doing”. This morning, for the first time, people appeared to be taking the Trump phenomena seriously. Most people who I spoke with today in Tel Aviv have gone from a sense of curiosity regarding this unconventional candidate, to being convinced Trump will be the Republican Presidential nominee.

Tel Aviv residents, who by-and-large dislike Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made immediate comparisons between Netanyahu and Trump. Both Netanyahu and Trump, they said, are authoritarians and appeal to people’s fears. Each of these leaders has their own bogeyman – for Bibi, it’s the Arabs; for Trump, it’s the immigrants. Most people here believe that in the end Hillary Clinton would beat Trump. Though, of course, those same people all believed MK Yitzhak Herzog was going to defeat Netanyahu in their recent race for Prime Minister.

Overall, many Israelis seem to share a common trait with Trump supporters. There continues to be a sweeping sense of unease here in the country; a fear that despite the overwhelming economic, military and social advantages Israel has over all of its neighbors, something is going very wrong, and only a strong leader is capable of protecting us in these circumstances. Undoubtedly, in Israel’s case, the enemies are very real. Instead of turning to an outsider to take on these enemies, the Israeli public has turned to ‘a tried and true leader’ who aims to become the longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history.

Another shared trait among Trump and Bibi supporters appears to be a hatred of the media. In Israel’s case, it’s the foreign media and not the domestic media. Israelis seem comfortable with their domestic media, whose criticism of the government comes mostly from the left-leaning Ha’aretz newspaper. The most widely circulated newspaper in the country is owned, indirectly, by Sheldon Adelson, (the American casino mogul and close confidant of the Netanyahu) and is considered the voice of the Prime Minister. However, the foreign media has been the target of increasing criticism in recent weeks – including some unexpected tongue-lashing during an extraordinary Knesset hearing in which representatives of the journalists and publishers were called to task.

The nexus of the Knesset’s criticism of the media focused on a majority of headlines printed after many of the past several month’s recent terror attacks. These headlines generally lead with: “Palestinian slain…,” the sub-header, or continuation of course states, “after attacking and wounding (or killing) Israelis.” To many, starting off by highlighting the dead terrorist creates a false equivalency. Local ire toward the media often gets directed at the foreign correspondents on the ground. Tensions have escalated to the point that last week, a reporter for the Washington Post was briefly detained by the Damascus Gate. This seems to be another example of the rather ‘thin skin’ Israelis have developed when it comes to criticism.

Today, Israelis have had the luxury of dwelling on the news from America, after a relatively quiet few days of domestic news. Daily attacks continue in the West Bank, and to a lesser extent in East Jerusalem – with two locations constituting the nexus of most of the attacks, i.e. the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc (where an attack last week took the life of one young solider on leave.)
Yet, for Tel Avivans, these attacks are all happening “over there”. The everyday violence is a mere 50 miles from here; but to many, it’s a world away. The big news in Tel Aviv was the latest buyout with Oracle – announcing the purchase of Revello Systems for $500 million – another in a long list of Israelis start ups that have been purchased in the past year, for a total of over $7 billion.

Next week, Amazon’s Web Services division is setting up a pop-up loft in the middle of Tel Aviv’s most popular thoroughfares; “Rothschild Boulevard”. So, while many in Israel worry about the future, and our enemies to the North, to the South, or to the East … most in people in Tel Aviv are busy thinking about how they can come up with “the next big thing” and join the list of successful Israeli start-up entrepreneurs.