Why Israelis Shrug Off Donald Trump’s Anti-Semitism Problem

For most American Jews, Donald Trump’s election win was nothing short of chilling, fueled in part by anti-Semitic followers and the president-elect’s own use of hateful tropes about world domination by Jewish figures in his final campaign ad.

But in Israel, the anti-Semitism surrounding the Trump campaign didn’t register as a warning sign. In fact, many Israelis never heard of it.

“It wasn’t a big issue here,” said Tal Shalev, the chief political correspondent at the Israeli Walla news site. “Right now I think [Israelis] are not necessarily aware of it and how bad it is.”

It’s not that the Israeli media didn’t cover Trump and anti-Semitism. In Israel, the U.S. elections are a media obsession, covered almost as if Israel was the 51st state with a voting public. (And in fact many Israelis with American citizenship do vote in the U.S. election.)

Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth, and other Israeli papers all published reports on anti-Semitism and Trump, with Walla recently posting an explainer video about “the orange man’s complex relationship with the chosen people.”

But unlike the Jewish media in the United States, the Israeli press didn’t focus on the issue week after week and it didn’t appear in the main headlines, never fully seeping into the national discourse.

Instead, the Israeli media largely covered the race as a dramatic spectacle, looking at how the Israel-U.S. relationship might change with the new president. One Israeli newspaper, the pro-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israel Hayom, endorsed Trump, and its main backer Sheldon Adelson donated millions to his campaign.

Many of Trump’s right wing supporters in Israel “looked the other way” with regard to the anti-Semitism said Oren Persico, a journalist with the 7th Eye media analysis site. Since Trump’s win, that dynamic has increased, as Israel’s ultra-right leaders have hailed Trump’s presidency as the end of the U.S. pressure on Israel to negotiate for Palestinian independence.

Though Trump has made inconsistent statements about his support for Israel, his campaign team ramped up its Zionist messaging in the final weeks of the campaign, delivering a list of pro-Israel principles that echoed Netanyahu’s views. When Israelis listen to Trump, they hear his vows to support Israel in the face of international pressure, and his promise to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, not anti-Semitism.

“The Trump administration is going to be highly supportive of Israel, and a few incidents of online harassment of notable American Jews isn’t going to make much of a difference for Israelis,” said Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. (To be certain, it was more than a few incidents. In an October report, the Anti-Defamation League found that “at least 800 journalists received anti-Semitic tweets,” while “the top 10 most targeted journalists (all of whom are Jewish) received 83 percent of these anti-Semitic tweets.”)

Even so, said Shalev, Israelis are “really surprised” when she tells them about the anti-Semitism in the Trump campaign. And they seem to have no notion of the pain and fear now roiling Jewish America.

“It’s clear there was some kind of a miscommunication with American Jews,” she said.

Contact Naomi Zeveloff at zeveloff@forward.com or on Twitter @naomizeveloff

Author

Naomi Zeveloff

Naomi Zeveloff

Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

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