Israeli Arabs, U.S. Hispanics Have Something Painful In Common: Bibi And Trump

Sep 19, 2019

COMMENTARY

If you’re Hispanic and still need to be convinced your vote can actually swing a general election, I could point you to Florida or Nevada or Ohio.

But I think Israel is a more convincing place for you to look to right now.

On Tuesday, Arab voters made a swinging difference in Israel’s election. Their estimated turnout topped 60 percent, higher than any pundit projected, helping their coalition score the third highest number of seats in the Knesset.

That may also have helped thwart the re-election of their chief nemesis, conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, aka Bibi. He failed to secure a Knesset majority and looks unable to form a government for the second time in six months.

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My point here isn’t to take sides in Israeli politics. Rather, it’s to take note of a political scenario in Israel that has a strong parallel in the U.S., which is girding for its own divisive general election next year.

Turns out Arabs in Israel and Hispanics in the U.S., both of whom are their countries' largest minorities, share an ordeal. Mainly: each group feels itself a racist target of its current national leader.

Turns out Arabs in Israel and Hispanics in the U.S. share an ordeal: each group feels itself a racist target of its national leader.

Israeli Arabs say Netanyahu makes scant effort to hide his contempt for them. They point to his push to let Jewish Israelis settle West Bank land Palestinians consider the heart of their would-be state, to his claims that Arabs would “steal” this week’s election via voter fraud. U.S. Hispanics say they’ve felt President Donald Trump’s denigration from the moment he launched his candidacy four years ago calling Mexicans “rapists” and “drug traffickers,” and in the countless occasions since then when he’s made his own bogus claims of undocumented immigrants voting illegally in U.S. elections.

Bibi and Donald, who not surprisingly share a political bromance, dispute those charges. Trump even said this week that “no one loves Hispanics more” than he. But Arabs insist the second-class-citizen status they say they feel under Israel’s Jewish state has fallen to third- or fourth-class during Netanyahu’s rule. And many if not most Hispanics say Trump’s inhumane treatment of Latin American migrants is part of a demonization of all brown people meant to rev up his nativist voter base.

PARIAH 'OTHER'

Granted, it’s no secret the Palestinian-Arab leadership in Israel can be as bellicose as Netanyahu. Or that the U.S. southern border is overwhelmed these days by Central American asylum-seekers. Still, Israeli Arabs and U.S. Hispanics remind us that’s a bad if not bigoted excuse for branding the average citizens among them as the pariah “other.”

Especially average citizens who can vote – as exit polls suggest Netanyahu found out this week, and as opinion polls suggest Trump could discover next year.

A "dangerously overcrowded" U.S. border detention facility for undocumented migrants seeking asylum, one of a number federal inspectors criticized this year for their squalid conditions.
Credit Department of Homeland Security

Again, my point here isn’t to tell Hispanics to vote for or against Trump, who is almost certain to be the Republican candidate again in 2020. Then again, neither I nor anyone else really needs to: according to a raft of recent polls, they appear at the moment to be voting against him.

A Univision poll this month shows almost three-fourths of Hispanics plan to vote Democrat or are leaning that way. Ditto a Washington Post-ABC News survey, whose approval rating for Trump among Hispanics is just 25 percent – and one by the Pew Research Center, which has Trump’s Hispanic disapproval at 79 percent.

The Univision poll even shows Democrats winning the deep red state of Texas, where 69 percent of Hispanics say they oppose Trump.

Here in Florida – where half the large Cuban bloc still votes Republican to preserve a hard line on communist Cuba – a poll by the liberal Equis Labs firm indicates half the state’s Hispanics back the eventual Democratic presidential candidate, while a third support Trump.

But the big question: will Hispanics shake off their reputation for lax turnout and emulate their Israeli Arab counterparts robustly enough to make these new polls really mean anything come November 2020?

That matters because Trump and the GOP don’t need as many Hispanic votes to tip a swing state like Florida as the Democrats do. In fact, Trump won the 2016 election with less than 30 percent of the national Hispanic vote.

In the end it depends on whether U.S. Hispanics decide Donald is as much their nemesis as Israeli Arabs considered Bibi to be.