Like most liberals, I'll be devastated if President Obama loses the election next week. But, living in Israel, part of me will be happy, in a Schadenfreude kind of way.
It's always hard to be a liberal in Israel, but for the past four years, it's been torture. We have opened the morning paper every day to more headlines about Netanyahu's lack of interest in the peace process, the erosion of the middle class, the dire state of Israeli education, and, most recently, the increasing numbers of Israelis who express openly racist opinions. Meanwhile, we jealously look over the metaphorical garden fence at our American counterparts, and go green with envy.
- Carlo Strenger / No Hope on the Horizon
- Chemi Shalev / NYT: Israeli Values Eroding
- Alex Sinclair / Is Birthright Truly Apolitical?
It's not that Obama has been the perfect liberal president, and some commentators have argued that his initial desire for bipartisanship led him to dilute some of the policies that his base had expected. He's made some great achievements, not all of which he has been given enough credit for, but he's not been perfect. But he's never been embarrassing. He's never made you feel like you need to apologize for him. He's never made you feel so appalled with your leader that you don't know where to bury yourself.
The same cannot be said here. As an Israeli liberal, I try to navigate that increasingly difficult path between having respect for the Office of the Prime Minister, and being utterly mortified that this is the man who leads and represents our nation – and utterly mystified that vast numbers of Israelis are all too eager to give him yet another term.
And so if Mitt Romney does win on November 6th, part of me will be secretly happy. Shared sorrow is half sorrow, as a Swedish proverb puts it. American liberals and Israeli liberals will be able to be united again, as in the good old days of the George W. Bush administration. We can bond over our mutual astonishment that people actually voted for this person. We can despair over our fellow citizens, who seem to live in a different world from us, with different values, and different visions for our country. And if Romney really does pass some of the laws that he's threatened to do (making abortion almost illegal, tax cuts for the very rich, abolish Obamacare), then we can one-up our leaders' insane policies in a bizarre commiserative poker game: you think your guy's crazy? I'll raise you: Listen to what our guy just did!
Of course, if Obama does manage to squeak to victory, I'll be delighted. I'll hope that in his second term he might cast off some of his inhibitions and put forward a liberal agenda which might inspire and even change the world. Maybe he'll even come and visit us here in Israel. But if he does, beneath my silver smiles will be a lining of cloud. Another four years of the what-ifs, if-onlys, and why-on-earths. Another four years of looking across the ocean and thinking, why can't we elect someone like that? Another four years of embarrassment, apologetics, and bafflement at the millions who vote for Netanyahu, Yishai, Lieberman, and worse.
If Obama wins, we Israeli liberals will be doing it on our own. At least if President Romney is smiling at us from the White House, our sorrow shared will be some consolation.
Dr. Alex Sinclair is Director of Programs in Israel Education for the Jewish Theological Seminary. He runs Kesher Hadash, the Davidson School of JTS’ Semester in Israel program. He lives in Modiin, Israel. The views expressed in this article are his own, and not necessarily those of JTS.