Israelis stump for Trump and feel the Bern

The World
Asaf Yusufov, who started the "Bernie in Hebrew" Facebook page, holds a Barney the Dinosaur that a friend gave him as a gag gift. (Bernie and Barney are spelled the same in Hebrew.)

Asaf Yusufov, who started the "Bernie in Hebrew" Facebook page, holds a Barney the Dinosaur that a friend gave him as a gag gift. (Bernie and Barney are spelled the same in Hebrew.)

Daniel Estrin

Asaf Yusufov, is a 27-year-old political science student in Israel who is an ardent supporter of US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

Yusufov heard about Sanders on an evening news show, went on YouTube, and watched Sanders videos for hours.

“When I saw Bernie, I saw a political address I can relate to,” Yusufov says from his apartment in Tel Aviv. “This is something that it’s really hard for me to find in Israel.”

Yusufov can’t actually vote for Sanders. He’s not American, though you wouldn’t know that by looking at his music collection. He's a big fan of REM, Cindy Lauper and Neil Young. He says Israelis like him are deeply influenced by US culture.

“The picture we see is the American dream: American wealth, American way of life. The more you talk to people, you realize that is not the reality in the United States. That is tiny piece of reality,” Yusufov says. “Israel [has] got enormous problems, I think, really similar to the United States.”

Yusufov worries about big business in Israel, and about a free market economy ignoring people’s social needs. And he believes Sanders addresses those issues in a way no politician in Israel does.

So he started a Facebook page called “Bernie in Hebrew,” where he posts Bernie Sanders YouTube videos that he’s subtitled in Hebrew.

One Israeli who’s argued with Yusufov on his “Bernie in Hebrew” Facebook page is Nimrod Zuta, a 25-year-old economics student.

He likes Trump.

“Israelis have this image of being straightforward and very down to business. We don’t like this going in all directions. We just love to say as it is. We have the chutzpah. And I think Trump is very much like that,” Zuta says. “I think if [Trump] was in Israeli politics he would succeed.”

Zuta started his own Facebook page, “Trump Blue and White,” which are Israel’s national colors. He’s posted a few articles about Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, and about Trump calling himself Israel’s best friend.

The “Trump Blue and White” Facebook page has about 300 likes — not yet as popular as the “Bernie in Hebrew” page, with about 3,000 likes.

Zuta wants Israelis to know who Trump really is, he told me, and not the way Trump is portrayed in the local media.

The Israeli Trump supporter says he supported Trump’s comment that the US should prevent Muslims from entering the country until leaders can “figure out what is going on.”

“This is a population that is not entirely on the side of the enemy, but you know, they identify with it to some extent or another,” Zuta says. “They were born there. So obviously if there is a war between the States and radical Islam. We need to check these guys out, you know?”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Trump’s remarks on Muslims.

Among many Israelis, there is suspicion about both Trump and Sanders, according to Eytan Gilboa, an Israeli expert on US affairs who says Israelis are confused by this presidential election.

“They can’t understand how candidates like Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders could even win one single primary,” Gilboa says.

Trump is seen in Israel, Gilboa says, as an “arrogant person who cannot be trusted, who does not have a commitment to any particular position.”

As for Sanders, many Israelis find two main problems with him, according to Gilboa. First, they think he is trying to conceal his Jewish heritage.  “Second thing is his attitudes about Israel. He’s not saying anything about Israel,” Gilboa says. Israelis don’t hear him voicing strong support for their country, the way the Republican candidates do.