There has been a distinct sense of schadenfreude here in Israel with Obama and the Democratic Party getting trounced in a statement of absolute rebuke in the recent midterm elections.
The intense interest in the United States elections here in Israel was predictable for a variety of reasons. The U.S.-Israel relationship is historically close, with generally little light between the decisions of the two great democracies. Annual U.S. military support in excess of $3 billion definitely keeps the attention of the nation in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, last summer’s costly war.
It is estimated that there are 180,000 Americans here in Israel eligible to vote in U.S. elections. According to iVoteIsrael, the leading voter assistance organization for Americans in Israel, internationally, American ex-pats typically have less than a 1 percent voter turnout rate in non-presidential elections and only 5% in presidential elections. In the 2014 elections, 18 percent of eligible Americans in Israel voted, likely continuing the trend of American ex-pats from Israel leading the world in voting in American elections (data for international voter participation in the 2014 midterms is not yet available). Even more dramatically, in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, the 80,000 Americans who voted from Israel represented more than 25 percent of all overseas voters, representing over a 50 percent turnout rate for eligible U.S. voters in Israel. iVoteIsraelattributesthe unique nature of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, which is not limited to the diplomatic and strategic levels but also, at the grassroots, electoral, and deeply personal level, to this remarkable turnout.
In contrast to the unique and robust relationship shared between the citizens of America and Israel and the government of Israel with the U.S. Congress and Senate, the relationship between Israel’s political leadership and the White House and State Department has been at an historic nadir as discussed in several of my most recent columns. Immediately prior to the midterm elections, the U.S. tried to humiliate Israel in print and in person. Vulgar insults against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu were leaked to the press by an “anonymous” source and Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon was publicly denied meetings with the vice-president and the secretary of state shortly before the midterm elections. By painting Netanyahu and Ya’alon as personae non gratae and obstructionist to sacrosanct tenets of the Obama Foreign Policy — developing better relations with the Arab-Muslim world, Palestinian statehood, and a nuclear agreement with Iran — Obama tried to cast the onus of his abject failures in the Middle East on Israel.
For the reasons mentioned above and many others, the Obama administration’s popularity descended rapidly. And the consequence was historic.
The House of Representatives, already in Republican control, became even more tilted to the Republicans, with at least a dozen seats shifting to their side. There are seven remaining districts that are still too close to call, five of which have a strong possibility of changing from Democratic to Republican. If the Republicans pick up just one of these seats, they will establish the largest Republican majority in the House since 1928, the year Herbert Hoover took the White House.
Prognosticators were expecting the Republican Party to overtake the Democrats for the control of the Senate, and they did. Needing a net gain of at least six seats to obtain a majority, thereby regaining control of the Senate for the first time since 2006, the Republicans successfully defended all of their seats, and picked up at least seven Democratic seats, with the possibility of two more pick-ups in races not as yet decided (Alaska and Louisiana). If Republicans prevail in these two races, Republicans will have made the largest Senate gain by any party in a midterm election since Pres. Eisenhower sat in the White House.
There are two lessons to take away from this seismic shift: 1) With Republican control of both Houses, Obama will face a monumental task in forwarding his agenda through legislative means. 2) President Obama has never let the legislature interfere with his plans, even when his minions were in control of both Houses; now he will feel completely free to avoid law-making standards and niceties and enshrine his legacy via fiat. He will invoke executive powers whenever possible. This will occur most frequently, and to Israel’s great detriment, in the realm of foreign affairs, where presidential powers are least encumbered.
This state of affairs calls for some old joke or adage that would perfectly encapsulate the irony of Obama and the Democrats getting trounced, yet somehow Israel may yet lose. I do fear that the two remaining years of Obama’s reign will be anything but short and sweet for Israel.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst, and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at