Co authored by Gil Hoffman
Ever wonder what Israelis think about U.S. elections? Ever wonder what Americans think about Israeli elections? If you're still reading, then we assume you won't mind us attempting to accommodate your sense of wonder from our unique vantage point nestled (or perhaps straddled) between these two worlds.
And it helps to have an American-Israeli political affairs expert and an American Middle East war reporter in town as political sherpas of sorts.
If you ask the average American to visualize an Israeli election campaign, they would probably conjure up a hybrid between the Old Testament and Winterfell, featuring two handed throat attacks, mud wrestling in Hummus, Uzi fights on camels, and forced drownings in the Dead Sea.
And in 1996, you'd be conjuring up just the right imagery, cruising down the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in your souped up Subaru with a Camel Blue in your mouth, listening to Madonna's Material Girl. You'd be interrupted by an hourly news bulletin about a heated race between a neophyte politician named Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres, the successor to the recently assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Each inch of your car (interior and exterior) is covered by bumper stickers declaring an allegiance to YOUR candidate.
In what will turn out to be a muscle-pulling twist of irony, Peres' bumper sticker talks about strength and Netanyahu's bumper sticker touts his peacemaking.
Credit (or blame) Arthur Finkelstein on the latter count. He is the American brainchild behind: "Netanyhau, Making Peace Secure", Netanyahu's campaign slogan.
Peres' slogan was "Israel is Strong with Peres." Daily bus explosions suggested otherwise.
How things have changed in twenty years!
It's December in Tel Aviv, though you wouldn't know it. It's business as usual on the beach, skimpy bikinis and watermelons. In overheard conversation, the cynicism overflows like the Macabbi Beer on tap. The cars parked outside the beach run naked, except for the occasional "Keep a Distance" bumper sticker, and edict that based on traffic behavior, appears naive.
Of course, the reason why there are no political bumper stickers on the cars is not because politics moved out of its shabby apartment in Florentine to social media, but rather because Israelis don't want this election and feigning interest just isn't cool. They're not sure what it's really even about.
Initially, analysts referred to it as a Seinfeld Election - An election about nothing. Lately, they have been saying it's about Bibi and how much people hate him. A feeling so strong, there's a word for it Misobibi.
But most Israelis have not given the elections much thought at all. Turn out is expected to be a record low.
Soooo.... if you're looking for a country with a strong point of view these days, you'd have to turn not to the blue and white but to the red, white and blue.
The U.S. has gone in the opposite direction since 1996, when very few people, or only the liberal elites and conservative Svengalis, knew what red states and blue states were. Just try bringing up the names Obama, Clinton, Bush or Ted Cruz in casual conversation and be prepared to face the ramifications.
When it comes to politics, Israel and America have gone in opposite directions. Despite its image as an intense country, Israel has gradually become more laid back. America, by contrast, is more divided than it has been in a long time.
The colors that divide the United States lately are not just red and blue but also black and white, not to mention how much green you have in the bank. Between now and the 2016 election, it's only going to get more intense.
So, If you ask the average Israeli what an average American election looks like, they would probably say longer lines for cheeseburgers at McDonalds than at the polls. They're still not entirely wrong, but people in both countries should start rethinking the way they view the political situation in the other.