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America gets taste of Israeli politics in debate – analysis


Around the same time that moderator Chris Wallace lost control over US President Donald Trump, the top anchor of the top-rated Channel 12 nightly news in Israel, Yonit Levi, tweeted her sympathy.Levi, who would likely moderate a debate between candidates in Israel if there would ever be one, woke up at 4 a.m. to watch, and she was clearly not impressed.“This is the presidential debate that is the least presidential ever,” she tweeted. “It is hard to stoop lower than this. And there are still two more like this before the finish line. My condolences to America.”There was not a lot of content in the debate that would interest Israelis, except for Democratic challenger Joe Biden chiding Trump for enabling “the bile of antisemitism” and Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists.There actually was not a lot of content at all.And that is why Israelis would have felt right at home at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where the debate took place.Since the days of the Popolitika program 30 years ago, Israelis have been used to seeing their politicians sling mud at each other without really getting a word in edgewise or elaborating on any plans or policies.For many years, Israelis thought they would adopt elements of American politics. To that end, they tried direct elections for prime minister and whittling down the number of parties. They even had debates for prime minister in 1996 and 1999.But all of those adventures were unsuccessful and short-lived. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lived in the US for many years and started the tradition of hiring American political strategists, ended debates in Israel by losing the 1999 debate. Since then, no front-runner has agreed to a debate challenge from his opponents.Instead, it went in the opposite direction. Israel sent its own version of politics to the United States. Lehitraot (goodbye) to the issues, the meaningful political platforms and politely yielding the floor to the next speaker.Bruchim habaim (welcome) to the endless bickering, interruptions and disrespect.It is no wonder that as the debate was starting, the chairman of Netanyahu’s coalition was insulting a minority lawmaker from the previously statesmanlike perch of the Knesset speaker’s rostrum, after which the Knesset voted to limit political demonstrations against the prime minister.As Levi said, two debates remain. Before that, the moderators should study what is happening in Israeli politics and do their best to avoid following our negative example.

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