by Ravenel Godbold
As the presidential primaries loom, news of the upcoming presidential elections in the U.S. has become an increasingly permanent fixture on media sites around the world, and it appears particularly in Israel. Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post have created tabs on their respective sites dedicated to the 2016 U.S. Elections, while other Israeli media sites have featured articles detailing the presidential race on their home pages. Initially, the interest in a foreign country’s political process seemed odd – why would the Israeli public be so invested in a presidential election occurring in eight months, thousands of miles away?
The answer is simple. The U.S. is the largest supporter of Israel on the international stage. According to Foreign Assistance, a U.S. government website, of the $37.9 billion planned in foreign aid for the 2016 fiscal year, $3.1 billion is allocated for Israel (only $442 million is allocated for the West Bank and Gaza in comparison).1 This number alone makes a compelling case for Israeli interest in American politics, but in addition to the billions of dollars pouring into Israeli coffers, the U.S. offers other benefits. America remains a global superpower, although arguments can be made that this is a title we may not enjoy for much longer, and Israel enjoys the military, economic, and political perks of having such a powerful friend. The relationship is not totally one-sided; the U.S. benefits from the military/intelligence-sharing aspects and Israeli technological discoveries, as well as having an alliance with “the only democracy in the Middle East”.
Americans have adopted the same views towards Israel as our leaders. According to a March 2015 Gallup Poll, 81% of Republicans, 70% of Independents, and 60% of Democrats described themselves as having a favorable opinion of Israel.2 These are the same constituents who will elect the next president, and the candidates realize the importance of their stance on Israel and have taken sides accordingly. The leading Republican contenders- Trump, Cruz, and Rubio -have all reiterated their dedication to maintaining a positive relationship with Israel. Of the two Democratic candidates, Clinton has taken a more definitive approach in terms of supporting Israel. Sanders has been critical of the Netanyahu government and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is still giving lip service to the “America supports Israel” camp.
Presidential Hopefuls: Donald Trump (R), Hillary Clinton (D), Ted Cruz (R), and Bernie Sanders (D)3
At this point in the race, foreign policy has not been given much attention, and it will likely be after the national conventions before foreign policy platforms are introduced. While there is always a chance for a last minute platform change, it is highly unlikely a presidential hopeful would choose to take an opposing stance towards Israel and risk alienating evangelical Christian or religious Jewish voters.
As primaries and caucuses are held throughout the U.S. in the coming weeks, the next being the Democratic Primary in my home state of South Carolina (Trump won big in the South Carolina Republican Primary on February 20th), the pool of candidates will continue to shrink. By the end of July 2016, the Republican and Democratic Conventions will announce their choices for the presidency. Vice-presidential candidates will be nominated and debates will commence. The electoral process is far from over but one thing is for sure, Israel will remain an ally and financial aid recipient regardless of the next American president. The only thing the Israeli public and Bibi should worry about is how to spend the money they will undoubtedly receive from the incoming administration.