A few weeks ago, a respected polling organization asked Israelis which candidate for president of the United States they supported. The results were startling: By a massive majority Israelis said they want Hillary Clinton to win.
That may come as a surprise to some U.S. voters concerned about the future safety of Israel who believe Clinton is the wrong choice. But the fact is, Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, feel quite comfortable with the former secretary of state. The recent Wikileaks cables, if genuine, reveal that Netanyahu really likes and trusts Clinton.
To be sure, Clinton has said she supports the creation of a Palestinian state, and Israelis expect she will put pressure on them to make moves in that direction. But they don’t believe she will continue with the approach of the Obama administration, which has not shied away from open confrontations with the Israeli government and has, in their view, mishandled other issues in their neighborhood.
The choice between Donald Trump and Clinton is a stark one. Trump promises unpredictability. Nobody knows what, exactly, his views are on Israel. He has made vague and confusing comments, boasting that he was Grand Marshal of the 2004 Israel Day Parade, saying that he would be “sort of a neutral guy” as he seeks to negotiate a peace deal with Palestinians and vowing that he really loves Israel.
But Trump has also been the man whose campaign removed the rock from under which proudly crawled all manner of anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists who blame all the world’s woes and even worse woes to come on the Jewish people.
And Trump’s ham-handed anti-Muslim tirades could make the world much less safe for Israel. It’s not surprising that when Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Netanyahu sharply rejected the idea.
For Americans who love Israel — the vast majority of whom are not Jewish — concern about Clinton partly stems from belief that Clinton is responsible for Obama’s policies and would therefore continue along the same path. But the evidence strongly suggests Clinton would shift gears.
People close to her say she was profoundly uncomfortable with the open disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem, and she has been open, if not vociferous, about her differences with the president on many of them.
As a candidate she has tried to keep close to Obama, but she has written and spoken about how much she disagreed with Obama’s public airing of differences with Israel.
On her campaign website she says, “We need to all work together to return the special U.S.-Israel relation to constructive footing, to get back to shared concerns and interests.” That includes direct negotiations with Palestinians toward a two-state solution, which is what Netanyahu has been calling for.
On the subject of Iran, skeptics of the nuclear deal blame her for her role in initiating negotiations. But it wasn’t Clinton that brought the deal to its conclusion. Negotiating with Iran was not a mistake. The mistake was agreeing to a weak deal, and that was not Clinton’s doing.
Clinton correctly pointed last December that “Tehran’s fingerprints,” can be found in “nearly every conflict across the Middle East.” With the Iran deal on the books, she said the United States needs to “distrust and verify,” to keep a check on Iran’s behavior, including its threats to Israel.
Trump’s flirtations with Russia make Israelis very nervous. There is nothing more important for Israel’s security than a strong United States where both parties support Israel. A Trump presidency, as far as we can tell, would mean a stronger Russia, which has sided with the Syrian government, alongside Iran and Hezbollah, Israel’s mortal enemies.
Israelis may be thousands of miles away, but they are keenly interested in the American elections. After all, the choice by American voters will play a big role in their security. They are right to hope Hillary Clinton wins.
Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist, author and consultant. Follow her on Twitter at @fridaghitis.