I know it’s hard to imagine a presidential candidate more polarizing than Donald Trump, but in a country as divided as Israel, it’s no surprise he would have a strong following among Israelis.
So what’s the first thing I’d do if I were an Israeli?
Trump would surely have my vote, of course.
I mean, he’s a bigot, right?
Trump has made many comments about Muslims and the Jewish community in particular, and many of his campaign statements have been deeply offensive to Israel.
But Israel has been far more sensitive about Trump’s statements.
As a result, most Israelis don’t think of Trump as anti-Semitic, but they also aren’t surprised by the comments.
“When I’m in Israel, I’m very aware of how I’m perceived,” says Adnan, a 25-year-old graphic designer who is studying architecture in Tel Aviv.
“I’m not a fan of Trump, and I don’t find his comments offensive.
But when I’m talking to Israelis, I see him as a guy who is not very respectful of the state of Israel.
I find it really strange that I have to explain to them that I’m an Israeli, when they don’t understand what that means.”
For Israelis, Trump’s position on Israel is especially controversial because he has been criticized for his past comments about Jews and the Jews of Europe.
During a speech on January 26, 2017, Trump said, “The Jews are the problem in Europe.
They’re bringing drugs.
They rape our women.
They bring crime and they’re rapists.”
And in a speech to Jewish Americans in June, 2017: “There are a lot of people who want to take our country away from us.
There are a few people who are trying to take away our freedom of speech, our freedom to worship, our right to assemble.”
In the past, Trump has also called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” a comment that has been met with harsh criticism from Muslim leaders.
“It is not surprising that there is a growing feeling among Israelis that he is anti-Israeli, because of the way he talks,” says Yaron Bar-Lev, the director of the Israel Institute of Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
“His anti-Semitism is clear.
And it’s been seen as part of his entire political agenda, and this is part of what makes it difficult for Israelis to understand how he is going to lead the country.”
So why do so many Israelis like Trump?
Because of his stance on Israel.
“Trump is very strong in his criticism of Israel and the way that it is governed,” says Bar-Lavie.
“He has been outspoken against the settlements and the occupation and the whole thing.
He is very clear about what he thinks about the Palestinian issue, which is very important to him, and what he’s doing on the campaign trail.
It’s a very difficult thing for Israelis in general to grasp.”
So does that mean Trump is an anti-Semite?
It’s not really a given that Trump would consider Jews as people.
For some Israelis, though, Trump is just another politician who is too far removed from reality to be seen as anti, says Barlev.
“But for me personally, Trump isn’t a very clear anti-Zionist, either,” Barlev adds.
“There’s a lot that I don’ think is anti [about Israel], and I can’t really pinpoint it.”
But for some Israelis who do think Trump is a racist, Trump does offer some insights into their country’s history, particularly in the context of Israel’s struggle with racism.
“We’ve been here before.
Israel’s history is riddled with racist and anti-semitic policies.
So if you look at the way Israel has always been treated, it will never be the same,” says Eytan Golan, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Israel is in a struggle with this history, and there is no way that Trump will be able to solve it.”
And despite Trump’s rhetoric, he also has a strong base of support among the Israeli public, Bar-Aviv notes.
“Even if you don’t agree with his positions, he will still draw people to him,” Bar-Golan says.
“That is the strength of Trump’s supporters.
It is not a matter of if, but when.
And that is the same strength that Israel has had for decades.
Trump has never been in any way an anti Semite.
In fact, in a way, he is just the one candidate who is bringing the issue back into the political discourse.”
So what are the biggest obstacles to Trump becoming president?
In a country like Israel, there are plenty of obstacles that come along with any presidential candidate.
There is the issue of foreign policy, which can take a back seat to the domestic politics of a country.
In Israel, a majority of Israelis are opposed to any