Oleg Frolov, a 41-year-old bottle collector in Tel Aviv, said he didn’t know much about Donald Trump or where he stands on Israel. And that’s exactly why he was happy about Republican’s shocking upset victory over Hillary Clinton, whom he detests.
“I don’t know Trump at all,” he said, stopping underneath an overpass near Tel Aviv mall Dizengoff Center with two plastic bags full of crumpled cans. “Because of that, I think he’s better.”
Israelis woke up to Donald Trump as the 45th American president, but they were largely unsure of what Trump’s stunning ascent to the presidency meant for their nation and its historic alliance with the United States.
Though many Israelis opposed Clinton’s vision of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, they still preferred her to Trump, an utter unknown.
Others saw in Trump’s complete lack of experience and vision in the Middle East a blank slate on which to project their hopes for a more aggressively Zionist U.S. presidency.
Yasmin Keren, 70, was sitting on a bench in central Tel Aviv with her Pekingese “Peki” and Chihauhau “Smokey” the morning after the U.S. election. She called Trump a “serious man,” in contrast to Clinton, who was all talk.
She also judged Clinton for the actions of her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who brokered the failed 1993 peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians. “He did nothing for Israel,” she said.
Trump, on the other hand, could go either way — and that’s why she wanted to give him a chance.
“I don’t know if he loves Israel,” she said. “He says he does but we don’t know.”
Liberal Israelis were fretting about the elections results as they walked on Tel Aviv’s tony Dizengoff Street.
Larissa Goldenstein, a 74-year-old retired special education teacher, said that that she was “very afraid” of Trump.
Yael Goldstein, a 31-year-old manager of a yoga studio, said that she learned of Trump’s closing victory at 6:00 in the morning when she woke up to feed her 1.5 year old. She was horrified, calling Trump’s denigration of women and minorities “not what America represents.”
But she wasn’t surprised at Trump’s sweeping win.
“Americans are against the establishment,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what Trump says.”
Goldstein, who votes for the far left Meretz party, said that Clinton was “corrupt,” but better than Trump.
“A lot of people said he will be good for Israel, but I don’t think so,” she said. “He’ll do like Bibi [Netanyahu],” she said, predicting that Trump would be in support of Israel building Jewish-only settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
She said that the news reminded her of Israel’s 2015 election, when pollsters predicted that Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog could topple sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Netanyahu won handily.
Her left-leaning friends kept tabs on the U.S. election on their group on WhatsApp, the smart phone messaging service. Two Israeli friends living in Boston joked that if Trump won, they would move back to Israel.
Now, they’ll have to decide.
Naomi Zeveloff is the former Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.