By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Choices

 


An American friend, who is almost as old as I am, can’t remember a presidential election with worse choices.

An internet friend wrote about a bumper sticker, “I hate them both.” Another likes ABC, Anybody but Clinton.

The latter recalls a movement in the Knesset when the Members had to select a President in 2000: Anybody but Peres led to Moshe Katsav, currently seeking a parole. Activists are arguing if it should be granted to a man convicted of rape and other crimes, who has yet to admit his guilt and promise reform.

Ms Clinton’s long record in the public eye goes back to Bill’s term as Governor of Arkansas, and his adventures.

Those continued during her time in the White House, and were accompanied by stories about her own activity, said to be associated with the death of White House counsel Vince Foster. 

On the policy front, she was the chief mover of a major health care initiative, whose flop may have been due at least partly to her style. 

Several group score her Senate record as left of center, but not so far to the left as to mark her as extremist or ideologue.

As Secretary of State, she was involved in pushing the President to join the attack on Libya, which produced a disaster still unfolding, as bad as what George W. Bush did to Iraq. She is also charged with lax security at the Embassy in Bengazi, resulting in the deaths of the Ambassador and others, as well as her sloppy care of sensitive e-mails.


Israelis remember her warm hug of Mrs. Arafat, but that may have only been one of the hugs that politically active persons and their spouses are expected to provide one and all.

Donald Trump has become more frightening as he has moved closer to the Republican nomination. Israelis can’t escape  memories and stories of the Holocaust, and Trump’s rhetoric recalls some of the worst. 

Observers describe Donald as a populist, simpleton, demagogue, rabble rouser, provocateur, stimulater of violence, and/or racist. Early in his campaign he threatened to run as an independent, and sink the Republican candidate, if he did not win the party’s nomination. Now he is predicting—one can say threatening—violence at the convention  if party big-wigs take it from him. 

It’s easy to remember Brownshirts fighting Communists and other leftists in German streets, especially against the sound of Trump ranting against immigrants and Muslims, against a government that has taken America away from its people, and in support of police and other security personnel who deal with obstreperous opponents.


It some see to his credit bringing out citizens who have stayed away from politics, others see him drawing from the woodwork a mass of people who are best left outside of a presidential election.

We should take care not to exaggerate. Comparing Trump to Hitler is as far off the rails as some of Trump’s performances.

There is nothing in his background like Mein Kampf. 

Institutions of American government are stronger than those of Weimar, and better designed to limit whoever finds him/herself at the top. States and municipalities determine much of what Americans receive. Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security have degrees of independence, informed along with the White House by the work of intelligence bureaucracies whose competition provides yet another barrier against excessive centralization. Members of Congress have tens of thousands of their own aides to help them stand up to the Executive, and the Supreme Court has its long tradition of independence.

All of those institutions and individuals may frustrate a President unhindered by his/her own experience or emotions. Yet they did not stop American adventures in Vietnam or Iraq, neither of which were great accomplishments.

The American society is also more resilient to radical government than was Germany in the 1930s. Minorities with  political clout should provide ample protection to any surge from the remnants of White racism that still exist, and have appeared in this campaign. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians of various kinds, and Jews should be able to defend themselves, and may work to defend one another under the theme of protecting one protects all.


On the other hand, the signs of violence among opponents and supporters, arguably provoked, encouraged, and apparently enjoyed by Trump himself, may join with the armaments spread throughout the population to produce significant violence during the campaign and onward. 

What all this means for the United States, we don’t know, but I’ll leave my American friends to look after themselves. 

What it means for the little country I’ve been living in for more than 40 years is something else.

We’ve recently heard from Vladimir Putin that Russia guarantees the security of Israel. We’ve heard the equivalent from every American President of recent memory.

If the Germans keep Angela Merkel or someone like her in office, we may get more of what we need there.

There may also be help from American Jews who still think Israel is worth supporting.

We also have ourselves. Close to 70 years of history show that Israelis’ capacity in political maneuvering, along with the IDF and other security organizations, have served us well.

Comments welcome.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, irashark@gmail.com

 

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