On Monday, a very special event took place at my campus in Tel Aviv University. CNN's anchor and correspondent, Jonathan Mann, came for a visit, in order to host a conference on the topic: "The U.S elections: why does it matter to us?" The event was covered by press worldwide, and only a bit more than a hundred people were allowed into the small hall. Ever since I heard of this conference, I knew I couldn't miss it for the world, and I feel very lucky to be one of the few who experienced it live.
The hall was decorated in red and blue, and pins saying "Democrat" or "Republican" with matching candidates' photos were handed to us as we entered. As we waited for the conference to start, two television screens presented short clips from various US electionsele news coverage. Whispers took over the silence, as many Israeli-American voters argued with their peers over who should win. As CNN's correspondent in Israel, Sara Sinder, presented Mann, the whispers stopped at once, and everybody clapped their hands with a great show of respect. After all, it's not every day we earn such an honor.
CNN and other foreign news channels are broadcast here in Israel, but they are not commonly viewed. Before Monday's event, the only idea I had about Mann was from reading his resume'. However, even while not knowing of him, there was something about him that made me feel honored to hear him speak live. Other than Mann, who hosted the conference, four respected figures from the Israeli world of politics, higher education and journalism took the parts of the panelists: Professor Yossi Shain, who other than being an educator at Tel Aviv Uni. Is also a Political science expert; Dov Weissglass, who is a practicing attorney, was responsible for the Prime Minister's contact with the White House, State Department, and other branches of the US administrations; Dr. Yossi Beilin, a statesman, a minister in the governments of Israel and a former journalist; and Dana Weiss, one of Israel's top journalists.
For an hour and a half, all four panelists had to deal with the not-so-simple mission to answer Mann's questions regarding Israel, the US and the mutual impact both countries have on one another. Mann opened the conference with the wondering of why American Jews currently living in Israel, tend to vote for a republican candidate, while American Jews living in the States tend to vote for a democrat candidate. He then mentioned the fact that during the presidential debates, so far, Israel was mentioned 30 times. The only country mentioned more times, he said, was Iran, and even that was in relation to Israel. He talked about how the US presidential candidates actually go head to head on who is a better friend and protector to Israel. Later, he asked the panel members why they believe Israelis care so much about the US elections. Weiss said that in her opinion, many Israelis want to know if Netanyahu has made the right choice by publicly supporting Romney. Beilin replied that Israelis are not just observers, and that even though we are not allowed to participate in the elections, we should. "We are going to be an impact for the results," he said. Weisglass looked at it from a different angle, and said that our dependence on the US is almost total, and that the identity of the future US president is more important to us than the identity of our own Prime Minister. Than he said that "for us, it is a vital matter who will be the next President of the United States."
Many important issues were brought to the table, along with some interesting questions from the audience. One of the topics Mann brought up was perhaps the most important one when it comes to the US- Israel relations: Will the elected President stop the Iranian threat? Weisglass said that when it comes to Iran, the sanctions are very moderate, "If the US would make all commercial interactions with Iran illegal, it would really collapse it. No under the table, over the table, under the chair." Weiss mentioned Netanyahu's saying that Obama hadn't shown true passion of stopping Iran. While addressing this statement of our Prime Minister, she said that the question that needs to be asked is weather Netanyahu is exaggerating, or Obama is really not committed to stopping Iran: "Everybody's saying all the rights words, the armies are ready to go, the sanctions are ready as well. All that's missing is the leader's passion, whoever it might be." Beilin said that the problem with Romney is the "Unknown."
When Mann asked the panelists to compare the US presidential campaigns to the Israeli election campaign, they pretty much agreed that while the Israeli campaign is not nearing the level of respect and intellectuality of the US one, our campaigns have much more action in them. Beilin said that the US campaign is way too long, and pulls away the attention of the current President from performing his role as President. He also criticized the role of the spouses in the campaign: "why would I, as a potential voter, care what the candidate's spouse has to say about him? Why would anyone vote for someone because of his wife?" Weiss addressed the US presidential debates, which are not held here. She said that it is amazing to see how the two candidates, one who is President and one who is an aspiring one, are standing in front of one another, and show absolute respect to one another. She added that as she watches the debates she couldn't believe how they both have the understanding and acceptance of the fact they both get the same amount of attention: "they patiently wait for the other to finish what he has to say, and do not interrupt each other. They both take the time to meet with the voters, and not only give interviews when it is most convenient for them. They actually care about the voters there, in the US." Weisglass then mentioned just how big the difference is: "the Americans can say a debate was full of action, while it is not even nearing our interactions between the candidates. Here they interrupt each other almost all the time, and it sometimes seem like they are about to go at it and fight each other."
Before the conference came to an end, one of the audience members asked how the panelists think the Israeli- Palestinian issue can be solved. Everyone laughed a little bit, saying this answer will take all day, but then shortly replied that the only way to achieve peace is for both sides to not only want peace, or say they do, but to act on it as well.
This was a very fruitful evening for all audience members, and I am sure also for Mann and the Panelists. I have learned many new things thanks to some fresh insights I had yet to hear. But the most important message from the conference, to me at least, is that Israel is as important to the US as the US is important to Israel (And this one goes to all Israel's haters out there, who believe Israel is nothing but a blood sucking leech for the US). You can watch a short clip from the conference here.