By Kathleen Flaherty
Before the start of Tuesday’s presentation titled “Red States, Blue States and the Jewish State,” attendees were given two requests:
One, ask questions afterwards.
Two, don’t make any political statements.
Indeed, Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post, tried to be to as neutral as possible as he navigated the pros and cons of each presidential candidate from an Israeli perspective with analysis and a heavy dose of humor in Ryan Family Auditorium Tuesday night.
The event was co-sponsored by Medill School of Journalism’s Crain Lecture Series, Students for Israel, Tannenbaum Chabad House, and the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest.
He began by testing the political orientation of the audience of about 200 people. A majority of the audience raised their hands in support of Sen. Barack Obama.
“OK, looks like it’s a college campus,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman, a regular on CNN and Al-Jazeera, said that in Israeli polls, Sen. John McCain is ahead of Obama by about 10 percent, a mirror flip of most recent American polls.
“McCain wins the race by a small margin,” he said. “Israel is a red state, at least for now.”
The main reason why Israelis support McCain is because of his military background, which would make him a stronger leader in the eyes of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, he said.
“Terrorists smell weakness the way a shark smells blood,” Hoffman said.
And although McCain’s age is detrimental in America, it’s not in Israel.
“Israelis respect their elders,” he said. “When Ariel Sharon (who was 72 when he took office) was prime minister, Israel was a ‘geriocracy.’ ”
In fact, it is Obama’s youth and emphasis on change that rubs many Israelis the wrong way, Hoffman said.
“For Israeli ears, it sounds terrifying,” he said. “The American-Israeli relationship has never been better – who would want to change it?”
NU law student David Kohn said he learned that understanding Israeli politics helps Israelis understand American politics.
“It’s interesting how he said Israelis look at our political candidates and they see their past leaders,” said Kohn. “How they look at Obama and see someone who’s well-spoken and inexperienced, just like former prime minister Netanyahu (Israel’s youngest leader ever), and how they project Israeli leaders like Sharon and (Shimon) Peres onto an old and experienced leader like John McCain.”
Still, Hoffman made it clear that no matter who wins Nov. 4, Israel will not only adjust, but likely change to mesh with the new administration in Washington.
For instance, if Obama wins, Israel’s left will likely claim that Netanyahu - the leader of Israel’s conservative party – is incompatible with an Obama White House.
He also said that issues that concern Israelis will be on the next president’s plate.
Some are concerned that Obama wants to open up dialogue with Iran. He said that Israelis misinterpret this for “going straight over to Ahmadinejad’s house and giving him a hug and a kiss.”
Regardless of politics, the audience was more focused on the link between the two countries rather where the candidates stand.
“I was extremely impressed with his ability to relate to the audience, to convey a serious message in a very lighthearted way,” said Rabbi Klein of Chabad House, highlighting the pressing issue of whether or not Iran will get nuclear capability.
Israel’s general elections are on Feb. 10, the Palestinian Authority’s are on Jan. 9, and Iran’s are on June 12. But he said he would focus on America’s election until next week.
“Whoever gets elected is going to be in charge of deciding a lot of Israel’s history,” he said.