Should Israeli publications endorse an American candidate?

Hint: Yes, they should. But is it 'good for the Jews?'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Mitt Romney at his Jerusalem office, July, 2012 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Mitt Romney at his Jerusalem office, July, 2012 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Mitt Romney at his Jerusalem office, July, 2012 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Mitt Romney at his Jerusalem office, July, 2012 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

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.

About the Author
Joshua Stanton is Rabbi of East End Temple in Manhattan and a Senior Fellow at CLAL - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He serves on the Board of Governors of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, which liaises on behalf of Jewish communities worldwide with the Vatican and other international religious bodies. Josh was is in the 2015 - 2016 cohort of Germanacos Fellows and part of the inaugural group of Sinai and Synapses Fellows from 2013 - 2015. Previously, Josh served as Associate Rabbi at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey and before that as Associate Director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College and Director of Communications for the Coexist Foundation. He is a Founding Editor Emeritus of the Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a publication that has enabled inter-religious studies to grow into an academic field of its own. He writes for the Huffington Post and Times of Israel. Josh was one of just six finalists worldwide for the $100,000 Coexist Prize and was additionally highlighted by the Coexist Forum as "one of the foremost Jewish and interreligious bloggers in the world." In 2011, the Huffington Post named him one of the "best Jewish voices on Twitter." The Huffington Post also selected two organizations he helped found as exemplary of those which effectively "have taken their positive interfaith message online." He authored one of "15 Blogs from 2015 that Show How Faith Can Be a Force For Good." Josh has been the recipient of numerous leadership awards, including the Bridge-Builders Leadership Award from the Interfaith Youth Core, the Associates of Jewish Homes and Services for the Aging’s Annette W. and Herbert H. Lichterman Outstanding Programming Award, the Volunteer Hero Award of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the W. MacLean Johnson Fellowship for Action, the Wiener Education Fellowship, and the Hyman P. Moldover Scholarship for Jewish Communal Service. Josh's work was highlighted in chapter of the official report and proceedings of the UNESCO Chairs for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. A sought-after speaker, Josh has given presentations, speeches, and convocations at seminaries, non-profit organizations, and religious groups across the United States and beyond. Last winter, Josh presented about the next generation of religious leadership at the Holy See's 50th Anniversary celebration of Nostra Aetate at the United Nations. The prior spring, Josh spoke about social media and interfaith dialogue at an international conference on faith and reconciliation in Kosovo (his one third there). He has also spoken at the Pentagon about religious diversity in March 2013; given a presentation about the prevalence of hate crimes against houses of worship during a White House conference in July 2011 and a follow-up presentation at the White House on the potential for Dharmic communities to enhance religious pluralism nationally in April 2012; an address at the 2010 Eighth Annual Doha Conference, sponsored by the Foreign Ministry of Qatar and the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue; and a Closing Address at the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation at the United Nations in November 2009. Josh has had articles and interviews featured in newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, academic journals, publications, and blogs in ten languages. These include the Associated Press, National Geographic, Washington Post, German National Radio, Swedish National Radio, The Permanent Observer Mission from the Holy See to the United Nations, public radio's Interfaith Voices, the BBC, Vox, the The Daily Beast, The Sydney Herald, JTA, and the blog of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. Josh has contributed to edited volumes, including Flourishing in the Later Years: Jewish Pastoral Insights on Senior Pastoral Care, Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Questions, Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality, and Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation. Likewise, he has been co-author of a number of academic articles for publications as diverse as Religious Education, Long-Term Living, The Gerontologist, and the Journal of Inter-Religious Studies (a publication he co-founded). Prior to entering rabbinical school, Josh served as an Assistant to the Director of the European Youth Campaign at the Council of Europe and co-Founded Lessons of a Lifetime, a program that improves inter-generational relations through the recording of ethical wills. An alumnus of Amherst College, Josh graduated magna cum laude with majors in history, economics, and Spanish, as well as a certificate in Practical French Language from Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg, France.