TAU and CNN co-host live US Election panel
Renowned CNN political commentator Jonathan Mann asked Israeli academics, politicians, journalists and the public why the US presidential election is critical to Israel
Titled "The US Elections: Why Does It Matter To Us?," a spirited CNN-hosted panel on the upcoming American presidential election was staged at Tel Aviv University on Monday October 29. Organized jointly with TAU’s Abba Ebban Graduate Studies Program in Diplomacy of the Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy and Ynet — on whose site it was broadcast live — the event drew four leading Israeli figures to discuss the ramifications for Israel of the heated Obama-Romney race.
The panel was comprised of Prof. Yossi Shain, TAU and Georgetown Professor of International Relations; Dr. Yossi Beilin, former Israeli minister and key figure in the Israeli peace movement; Dov Weisglass, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s bureau chief Dov Weisglass; and journalist Dana Weiss.
A tectonic election
TAU’s Malka Brender Hall of Justice was filled to capacity, eager students spilling into the adjacent foyer as CNN host Jonathan Mann — himself Jewish — opened the discussion by stating that both the US and Israel “are at a crossroads right now… the majority of the world’s Jews live in Israel and the United States… and so in the next few months the majority of the world’s Jews will be going the polls.” The outcomes of both national elections stand to have an enormous impact in both the domestic and global arenas, Mann predicted.
Prof. Yossi Shain, Head of TAU’s Department of Political Science, warned that “the very essence of the US’s role in the world in international affairs — as the “city on the shining hill” — is at stake in this election.” “The American Dream is not just a local dream — it’s an international one,” Shain asserted. In “an era of confusion… people are asking around the world, what does America really want?,” he added.
Dana Weiss, a TAU graduate, stated that “this election is the best reality show in the world... it's an election between the old America and the new America… the old, Republican, white America, and the new, immigrant, changing America. This resonates with our [Israeli] elections, which at this point are also about which Israel will prevail.”
Mann noted that Israel was mentioned over 30 times in the final presidential debate focused on foreign affairs, and that the only other country mentioned more was Iran, owing to the threat it posed to Israel.
Prof. Shain highlighted the efficacy of “Netanyahu’s claim, at least in the hearts of Israelis and Republicans and many American Jews… that there was no commitment with passion” from Obama in preventing a nuclear Iran.
Dov Weisglass questioned the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overt display of support for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, cautioning that “Israel’s dependence on the US now is almost total,” and that meddling in partisan American politics damages US-Israeli relations.
Amidst this polarized atmosphere, the panelists appeared in agreement that the majority of Jews living in the US would vote Democrat, whereas American Jews in Israel would favor the Republican Party.
The peace impasse
As for the election’s outcome on moribund Israel-Palestinian negotiations, Shain was adamant that the US president cannot determine the process, arguing that he is merely a player, and that American pressure can only go so far. For progress to be made, he insisted, “the Israelis have to be engaged.”
Yossi Beilin, a key architect of the Oslo accords, argued that US presidents can indeed exert monumental influence on peace-making in the Middle East, and emphasized that Israelis are not mere observers — but rather partners — in the election. “Just think about our history,” he continued, “Truman and the birth of the state… Carter and peace with Egypt, Clinton and peace with Jordan and the Oslo process… We have a very important stake in this.”