The Aftermath of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections:Politics, Cyber and Strategy - Zoom Webinar

In the aftermath of the 2020 US presidential elections, there are many changes which are expected to come across multiple fields: foreign and domestic policy, cybersecurity and strategic directions. The implications of these elections lay amid a complicated year in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as its effects - such as concerns for the lack of global cooperation, and rising economic and social inequality. The United States, which for years served as an example of an advanced society, has gravely suffered from the pandemic, and had also experienced civil unrest caused by police brutality and extensive clashes between republican and democratic voters - all of these factors have impacted the result of the election.

This webinar was made possible by the collaboration of the Boris Mints Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions to Global Challenges, The Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, Check Point Institute for Information Security and The Center for the Study of the United States in Partnership with Fulbright Program at Tel-Aviv University, combining a variety of outstanding speakers to present their view upon the implications to follow the election, as well as opening remarks from Prof. Itai Sened, Dean of Social Sciences Faculty, TAU and Head of BMI; Prof. Mark Shtaif, Vice Rector, TAU and was moderated by Dr. Udi Sommer, Department of Political Science, TAU.

Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, Former Ambassador of Israel to USA and President Emeritus of Tel-Aviv University

Abraham Accords and their effect on the Biden-Harris Administration in terms of Foreign Policy

Preceding the coming in President and Vice-President elect, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris - the U.S. Foreign policy towards the Middle East in the recent years has to be divided into three main parts: (1) Iran and Nuclear Disarmament, (2) Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and (3) the Syrian Civil War. In both President Obama’s and President Trump’s administrations, the U.S. was shifting/pivoting away from the Middle East, reducing the U.S. commitment and reflecting the decline of the importance of natural resources in the region. The U.S. is currently more concerned with dealing with China, rather than the Middle Eastern states.

In the first aspect - the foreign policy of the Obama Administration is the controversial Iranian nuclear deal (JCPA), settling the issue diplomatically. President Trump, on the other hand, has revoked the deal, imposing tough sanctions on Iran, however stating that he does want to negotiate.

In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry tried to negotiate deals, yet with no success, while President Trump took a right-wing Israeli view on the issue, pressing Arab states to normalize their ties with Israel, resulting in the Abraham Accords (UAE and Bahrain), Sudan and Morrocco proceeding accordingly. Moreover, Jared Kushner, had - since the beginning of his work in the White House - worked on maintaining the good relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which also influences the region.

President Obama was rather unsuccessful in Syria, since he drew the red line to the Syrian Government and did not respond to Bashar al-Assad crossing it, while President Trump did not really get involved, neither there, nor in Libya, where Russia is becoming a more influential player.

Coming back to the recent deals: according to Prof. Rabinovich, President Trump saw these accords as a way to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, where the only foreign policy achievement is the combination of the willingness to sell F-35 to the Arab States and identifying the opportunity of Israeli pressure to annex parts of the West Bank. This significant change in the region has reflected on the Israeli-Palestinian Equation, since the Palestinians seem to have missed their window of opportunity, as the conflict is not high-ranking on the agenda of the U.S. foreign policy anymore. The incoming Biden-Harris administration will perhaps try to go back to the Iranian nuclear deal and negotiate concessions. While the Abraham accords did not push Iranians in the corner, pragmatic Sunnis and Israel are still impacted by the regional situation. In the Middle East, Turkey now possesses a much larger threat than Iran and has to be accounted for in the U.S. foreign policy. Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, Director, Blavatnik ICRC; Head, Yuval Ne'eman Workshop for Science, Technology & Security, Tel Aviv University

Integrity and Cybersecurity of the Election process

The 2020 U.S. Presidential election was declared to be the most secure in history by the officials, despite claims to the contrary raised by President Trump. There was a significant difference between previous elections and the last one, aimed to make sure that no mistakes are repeated. People used the technology of rumors in the past, during political campaigns, especially in the 20th and early 21st century, where some infamous examples include KGB and FSS spread of false information, as described by Prof. Ben Israel. These practices can be carried out more easily nowadays, due to the nature of cyberspace and the growth of the speed of transfer of information. Still, the idea is still to try and influence people, and the technological progress is merely the tool which facilitates that. What happened in 2016, according to Prof. Ben Israel, is that some collaborators in the U.S. pointed to some files in the set of given files that were deliberately put there, which were false files to emphasize health and corruption problems of Hillary Clinton. The same happened in the elections in France, however in that case an effort had been made to prevent the mistakes of the 2016 U.S. elections, as President Macron’s campaign manager was afraid of a hack to the elections. People are much more aware of the existence of fake news today, than they were a few years ago, and of the dangers it entails, and therefore make an effort to check facts for themselves. Prof. Lee Epstein, Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor, Washington University, St. Louis

The U.S. Supreme Court and the 2020 Presidential Election

There are two possible places where the 2020 U.S. Presidential election has had an effect on in the Supreme Court: the composition of the court and its structure. In terms of composition of the court - there has been a major shift already, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, passed away on 18th of September 2020. The republican party already had a 5-to-4 majority in the court with President Trump’s two Justice nominations of 2017-2018: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. One of the republican nominated Justices, however, John Roberts, broke away from the conservative side to the democratic side on some of the issues, including abortions, one of Trump’s tax cases and others. The justices previously nominated by President Trump took 77 days from nomination to confirmation from the Senate, which is roughly the average. However, late Justice Ginsburg’s replacement took tremendous effort to be completed in record time. For the republicans, the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barett solved the problem of Justice Roberts breaking away from the conservative path. The shift towards more conservative rulings of the U.S. The Supreme Court is already happening: while the court previously ruled against permitting religious gatherings during the Pandemic, after Justice Barett assumed office – these gatherings were approved. This shift threatens to change the decisions made on such important issues of the U.S. as liberty of religion, abortion, affirmative action, gun control, LGBTQ rights, executive and legislative powers. The Democratic party is now demanding structural changes, marking the second facet of the effect of the recent developments, in order to dilute the size of the court. It should be noted that one of the studies conducted by Prof. Epstein in 2020 suggests that only 26% of Americans among all parties feel like such expansion is necessary. Nonetheless, should the extreme conservative justices make big changes - the expansion may happen.

View Presentation

Dr. Yael Sternhell, Department of History and Department of English and American Studies; Head of the American Studies Program, Tel Aviv University

The Biden-Harris Agenda on Race, Or: Where Do We Go From Here?

President Trump tried to undo President Obama’s legacy regarding the improvement in the fields of social justice and racial equality. President Trump’s legacy, according to Dr. Sternhell, are protests concerning social justice and systemic racism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out the ideas that the problem of race discrimination cannot be solved unless the whole society takes a new turn toward greater economic justice. The question now is whether the Biden-Harris administration could make a significant change in racial inequality in economic terms? Wealth is considerably a good indicator of economic equality, where things for African Americans are not getting much better over time, proving that time itself is not the solution to inequality. The difference between whites and African American is tremendous no matter, with or without education, single or married, at different ages and income levels. African American areas of population see a significant drop in real estate value. The figures of median wealth are objective, but then there are intangible assets - white people have a 36% higher chance than African American to get a job with the same qualifications. There needs to be a crucial set of policy tools, plans and stratigies, that will make a real change and jumpstart the reduction of inequality. Encouraging home ownership is key in reducing the wealth gap, as well as dealing with housing segregation, putting real penalties on communities, reducing people’s debt (as African Americans have more expensive debt) and improving access to retirement savings. What can the Federal government do? Give African Americans improved access to banking and to financials. Whenever the topic of economic inequality comes up - the word reparation pops out, however the reparations that are needed here are indirect, they need to come in a form of structural Federal policy reforms. The hope is that the Biden-Harris administration will succeed in that.

View Presentation Prof. Mark Shtaif, Rector, Tel Aviv University Prof. Itai Sened, Head of BMI and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Tel Aviv University Moderator: Dr. Udi Sommer, Department of Political Science and Head of the Center for the Study of the United States in Partnership with the Fulbright Program, Tel Aviv University

Concluding Remarks

2020 has been a challenging year for the American politics, with civil unrest, a divided nation and a devastating public health and inequality crisis in the face of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The analysis hts provided by the speakers of this panel provides generous insight towards a better future in the fields of foreign policy, judicial decision making, cybersecurity and social and economic equality with the incoming Biden-Harris administration. Perhaps they will not be able to fully resolve each and every issue at hand, as the implications of 2020 posed through the Pandemic and other challenges are rather long-standing, however there is hope for a more sustainable living environment, as well as a rise in equality on all sides.