By James Russell
Special to the TJP
For most Americans in this election cycle, there are two states — red and blue.
But for Jewish Americans, there is another state: Israel.
At least according to Gil Hoffman, the chief political correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.
Hoffman spoke about contemporary American politics from an Israeli’s point of view at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth on Monday, Sept. 19. The program was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.
Born and raised in the United States and having written for the Miami Herald and Arizona Republic before moving to Israel, Hoffman told the crowd he does not remember growing up in a hotly divided country.
“Growing up in the United States I never knew if I was in a red or blue state. But now everyone knows if they are one or the other,” Hoffman said.
In fact, Hoffman recalled how Israel in decades past resembled the modern United States.
“We are excited about the American elections. Coming from Israel our countries have gone in opposite directions. In our 1996 elections our country was incredibly polarized … but now Israelis have become more relaxed. Americans have gone the other direction,” Hoffman said. “We don’t envy American Jews right now. Israeli politics are simpler in a way. In the U.S., you have two messed-up parties. In Israel, you have 30 messed-up parties.”
While Americans are hotly divided between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, recent polls reveal Israelis feel far more ambiguous about the two candidates.
“When asked who is better for the United States, Israelis say Clinton. For Netanyahu? Trump. But for Israel? It’s a tie. Many still even say ‘I don’t know,’ ” Hoffman said. “Have you met an Israeli who says ‘I don’t know’?”
Israelis have a myriad of reasons to be skeptical of both major party candidates. For Trump, it goes back to 2013, when he endorsed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for re-election. In his unprecedented endorsement, Trump said he wished Netanyahu would run for president of the United States.
“Trump’s advisers are taking a right-wing line on Israel. And Trump is saying things Israelis like to hear,” Hoffman said.
Netanyahu, however, has remained cautious.
“He remains convinced he could get along with former Secretary of State Clinton,” Hoffman said.
But it is clear that among Israelis, either candidate is better for Israel than the current administration.
“We fought the Iran deal,” Hoffman said, referring to the contentious deal between the United States and Iran that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country suspending nuclear weapons production. “But it got us closer to the United States and Arabs. Thanks to Obama we finalized for more military aid than anywhere else.”
That aid package, which was approved earlier this month, provides $38 billion in military aid over the next decade.
It is the largest aid package in history.
“Do Israelis take that for granted? Yes. But Obama’s strategy in the Middle East has influenced that opinion,” Hoffman said.
Obama’s focus on halting Israeli settlements in disputed areas of the region, for instance, has isolated Israeli centrists.
But previous presidents have also made Israelis skeptical of American leaders, especially in the period between the election and inauguration.
While American politics may be in disarray, Hoffman isn’t ashamed to be an American, or an Israeli either.
“I’ve never been more proud to be an Israeli and American,” Hoffman said.