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Tel Aviv Diary: Is Bibi Israel's Donald Trump?

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Many Israelis seem to share a trait with Trump supporters, the author writes. There continues to be a sweeping sense of unease here, a fear that, despite the overwhelming economic, military and social advantages Israel has over all of its neighbors, something is going very wrong and only a strong leader is capable of protecting them. Reuters

Much of the talk in Tel Aviv last week was about Donald Trump's primary victories. Word of Trump's triumphs have led even the Israeli morning news.

Israelis have always had a keen interest in American politics. Although their understanding of the process is limited, and until now the "Trump phenomenon" has been looked upon with the sense of "look what the crazy Americans are doing now."

Now people appear to be taking Trump seriously. Most people I have spoken with in Tel Aviv have gone from a sense of curiosity about this unconventional candidate to being convinced Trump will be the Republican nominee.

Tel Aviv residents, who by-and-large dislike Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made immediate comparisons between Netanyahu and Trump. Both, they said, are authoritarians and appeal to people's fears. Each of these leaders has their own bogeyman. For Bibi, it's the Arabs. For Trump, it's the immigrants.

Most people here believe that in the end Hillary Clinton will beat Trump. Though, of course, those same people all believed MK Yitzhak Herzog was going to defeat Netanyahu in their recent race to become the Israeli prime minister.

Overall, many Israelis seem to have a common trait with Trump supporters. There continues to be a sweeping sense of unease here, a fear that, despite the overwhelming economic, military and social advantages Israel has over all of its neighbors, something is going very wrong and only a strong leader is capable of protecting us.

Undoubtedly, in Israel's case the enemies are real. Instead of turning to an outsider to take on these enemies, the Israeli public has turned to Netanyahu, "a tried-and-true leader" who aims to become the longest serving prime minister in Israel's history.

Another shared trait among Trump and Bibi supporters appears to be a hatred of the media. In Israel's case it's the foreign not the domestic media.

Israelis seem comfortable with their domestic media, whose criticism of the government comes mostly from the left-leaning Ha'aretz newspaper. The most widely circulated newspaper in the country, Israel Hayom, is owned, indirectly, by Sheldon Adelson, the American casino mogul and close confidant of Netanyahu, and is considered the voice of the prime minister.

However, the foreign media has been the target of increasing criticism in recent weeks—including an unexpected tongue-lashing during an extraordinary Knesset hearing in which representatives of the journalists and publishers were called to task.

The nexus of the Knesset's criticism of the media focused on a majority of headlines printed after many of the past several month's recent terror attacks. These headlines generally lead with "Palestinian slain…" the subhead, or continuation, of course states, "after attacking and wounding (or killing) Israelis." To many, starting off by highlighting the dead terrorist creates a false equivalency.

Local ire toward the media often gets directed at the foreign correspondents on the ground. Tensions have escalated to the point that last month a reporter for The Washington Post was briefly detained at the Damascus Gate. This seems to be another example of the Israelis' thin skin when it comes to criticism.

Recently, Israelis have had the luxury of dwelling on the news from America, after a relatively quiet few days of domestic news. Daily attacks continue in the West Bank and to a lesser extent in East Jerusalem—with two locations constituting the nexus of most of the attacks, i.e. the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc (where an attack the previous week took the life of one young soldier on leave).

Yet, for Tel Avivans, these attacks are all happening "over there." The everyday violence is a mere 50 miles from here, but to many it's a world away.

The big news in Tel Aviv was the latest buyout with Oracle—announcing the purchase of Revello Systems for $500 million—another in a long list of Israeli startups that have been purchased in the past year, for a total of over $7 billion.

This week, Amazon's Web Services division is setting up a pop-up loft in the middle of Tel Aviv's most popular thoroughfares: Rothschild Boulevard. So, while many in Israel worry about the future, and our enemies to the North, to the South, or to the East…most in people in Tel Aviv are busy thinking about how they can come up with "the next big thing" and join the list of successful new Israeli entrepreneurs.

Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com.

Tel Aviv Diary: Is Bibi Israel's Donald Trump? | Opinion