This past Friday, Jewish colleagues and friends set upon social media with lively discussions about Haaretz’s endorsement of Barack Obama for a second term in office. The question at hand seemed to be why a foreign newspaper — and an Israeli one in particular — would endorse an American presidential candidate.
Implicit in the conversations was the concern that Israeli institutions, including the premiership, defense establishment, and now even news media, were inserting themselves indecorously into American politics. Likewise, below the surface lay an age-old worry: is it good for the Jews?
While these perturbations should not be dismissed, it seems that they would benefit from greater contextualization. The question might not be why an Israeli publication (and one of great repute at that) would endorse an American candidate, but rather why it shouldn’t.
First, Haaretz is but one of many foreign newspapers to endorse an American candidate for president. While fewer foreign media outlets appear to have done so this presidential election than the last, I spent some quality time this weekend poring over the London Economist’s political analysis and rather weak endorsement of President Obama.
Likewise, there is no reason to suggest that such endorsements are confined to newspapers. It would seem that the Nobel Prize Committee functionally endorsed President Obama earlier on in his term, and that there has been a slew of commentaries from foreign leaders about the elections.
Just yesterday, Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox, lambasted Mitt Romney and his stance on immigration:
He himself has immigrant [roots]. I don’t understand — why this position?… Maybe they have figured out that without the Hispanic vote they can make it. And let’s say that is true. But what is going to be the capacity of the nation during the next four years if there is a divide?
Likewise, one might remember the “rebuke” that British Prime Minister David Cameron gave Romney in a spat over the London Olympics, suggesting that Romney was in no place to criticize the British government, given that he had only helped orchestrate Olympic games in “the middle of nowhere.”
That Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has danced a somewhat careful dance between American candidates does not mean that he has lacked for expression of opinion about them or their policies. It is widely understood that he would prefer a Romney presidency to a second term for President Obama.
The question remains, however, why we should mind that the head of state from one country would rather collaborate with one candidate from another — and expresses his or her views. Even as Israel holds an important place within American foreign policy, would we really be bold enough to suggest that its place is more important for American foreign policy than that of Mexico or Great Britain, its geographically proximate and longest-standing allies, respectively?
What appears to be reflected in Haaretz’s endorsement of Obama, more than the uniqueness of America’s relationship with Israel, is the recognition of globalization and the extent to which the leaders of one country impact the realities in others. The person elected president of the United States will influence the well-being of citizens in countless countries around the world. Correspondingly, Israel is but one American ally whose political and thought leaders are expressing opinions about the potential leaders of the United States.
What is unique about Haaretz’s endorsement of President Obama, and ongoing commentaries about the election, is not the endorsement itself, but the self-consciousness it has evoked among some American Jews. While at times the recurrent discussion of American foreign policy in the Middle East can grow unnerving, we should rejoice in the fact that Israel remains integrally connected to the process of globalization, and its press free to comment on whatever it so chooses — whether domestically, or overseas.
It would be problematic if Haaretz were speaking on behalf of all Jews, and not just the intellectual elite of Israel (who comprise a large portion of its readers). American Jews are not out of bounds to worry that Israeli governmental, social, and media institutions might at some moments overreach and venture to present their own constituents’ views as normative for all Jews. But the vibrancy of Israel’s press should be a cause for joy — and the views it presents a start, not close, to conversations about international diplomacy.
Haaretz should be commended for its endorsement of an American presidential candidate, and other Israeli publications should be encouraged to follow suit, to display with greater clarity the diversity of views held within Israel itself.