Alongside the upheaval in the existing world order, in recent years we have also witnessed an erosion of the stability of the political order in the West as the doubts surrounding the validity of its foundational values grow: the liberal-capitalist economic system based on free markets and globalization.
The continued effects of the 2008 economic crisis, combined with free-market capitalist forces and globalization trends, new technologies and robotics, have diverted many blue-collar jobs overseas, hurting mostly the working class and leading to growing economic polarization. Migration, from Latin America to the United States, and from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, including illegals, has exacerbated frustrations as many fear these immigrants will compete for scarce jobs. Beyond this, the immigration and resulting demographic trends have fed into a sense of cultural displacement among white Christians, who feel increasingly like a minority “in their own country.” As Muslim minorities expand demographically and become more assertive and integrate into local politics, so does the fear and concern in Europe. The wave of refugees, the largest since the end of World War II, is seen in Europe as a demographic, cultural, and security threat. At the same time, the wave of terror rooted in radical Islam is striking at the heart of Europe and adding to a sense of fear and disorientation. The formation of ISIS, and the thousands of young Muslims from Europe who have gone off to join its ranks, signaled to many Europeans the failure of the open border, multi-cultural system, and the failure of current political structures to deal with the threat.
These issues have strengthened “fear based politics,” turning people against the other, those who are different (nationally, socially, economically or religiously).
The social media discourse encourages short, blunt and violent messages that attract attention. In many cases, information reaching the public is biased or twisted to serve a specific agenda. Even worse, the lines between “real” and “fake” news have been blurred and “alternative facts” are widely disseminated and often left unchallenged. Social media based information sources and partisan news outlets do not allow adequate filtering, fact checking, or balanced reporting. Dialogue has become over simplified. Nuanced discourse has been replaced by simple messages powered by emotional rather than intellectual forces. Political rhetoric has evolved into a repetition of black and white slogans aimed at the lowest common denominator.
There is a feeling in the West that traditional elements of governance – the political system, parties, parliaments – do not represent the interests of a significant segment of the population that feels alienated from political elites and traditional political structures, and powerless to effect change, even through elections. The fact that political leaders can speak to tens of millions instantaneously and gauge their responses immediately, contributes to a weakening of the institutions of representative democracy.
This, combined with a general frustration and disappointment with the traditional ruling classes, seen as corrupt or out of touch, has fueled the rise of populist parties and politicians seeking to take on the ruling elites. One trend we are watching is the rise of nationalistic right-wing political figures and parties espousing – with an Islamophobic soundtrack – populist economic, immigration, and security policies.
Potential Impacts on Israel and Diaspora Jewry
- Israel’s strategic standing improves due to the rise of the new U.S. administration, which publicly proclaims its support of Israel and expresses hostility toward Israel’s enemies.
- At this stage, the U.S. has blocked the political impulse of some of Israel’s right wing elements to take advantage of what they consider a “window of opportunity” opened by Trump’s election: to annex West Bank territory – in part or in its entirety – and foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution. However, only time will tell if Washington keeps this “window” shut.
- Rise in support for Israel given the strength of right-wing populist parties in Europe that mostly support Israel (not Le Pen’s party, which lost the presidential elections, and supports banning, for example, external Jewish symbols such as the kippa from the public sphere).
- Increased support for Israel based on the growing fear of Islamic terror and immigration. Increasing openness to Israel’s claims that there is no difference between terror aimed at Israel and terror aimed at the West.
- Increased legitimization of nationalistic trends in Israel.
- Radicalization among the most liberal elements of the Democratic Party in the U.S. (minorities, millennials) accompanied by a negative approach to Israel. It must be noted that this group increasingly includes many young American Jews likely to choose their allegiance to liberal democratic principles over a commitment to Israel.
- Continued erosion of Israel’s bi-partisan support in the United States (based on domestic polarization in the U.S. on one hand, and the strengthening Israeli right on the other).
- Societies that shy away from liberal and cosmopolitan values, tilting instead toward nationalism and the development of their internal identity, could evince hostility toward minorities including the Jewish community.
- Economic pressures on the middle class (in the U.S. and Europe) could strengthen anti-Semitic outbursts and turn the Jews, who are relatively successful economically, into scapegoats.
- The preferential treatment Jews have received in Europe since the Holocaust (additional rights, direct access to political leaders, increased economic support) could be threatened.
- The continued undermining of Israel’s bi-partisan support, and the growing gap between Democrats and Republicans with respect to Israel, could further erode the influence of American pro-Israel organizations (despite this, support for Israel continues to remain one of the few bi-partisan issues).
- The deepening the divide between parts of the liberal U.S. Jewish community and Israel, which is becoming more right-wing, nationalistic, and religious.
- A decline in the political power of American Jews, given their lack of unity and the internal Jewish polarization with respect to Israel.
- A potential decrease in the power of U.S. Jewish organizations – on both the local and national levels – given the general disappointment with the current leadership and systems. Alternatives posed by social media help propel this trend and create space for virtual dialogue communities, which tend to self-isolate.
- Given the general increased political and social polarization, the potential exists for a similar polarization within the U.S. Jewish community.
- A widening divide between parts of the American Jewish community and the Jewish organizational leadership that must cooperate with the Trump administration.
- Most of American Jewry (about 70 percent) has historically been affiliated with the liberal Democratic base and the values of human rights, equality, and opposition to racism and discrimination. This means that most American Jews are firmly on the losing side of the last election cycle. This creates a double dilemma for some Jewish leaders: first, how to oppose Trump and his ideas but maintain the identity of a loyal minority; and second, how to oppose Trump and his ideas without harming the interests of the State of Israel, which sees him as a close friend.
- The 20-30 percent of U.S. Jews – mostly Orthodox – that supports Trump are offering a new strategy for Jewish American integration into the larger society. For the last 200 years, the model was based on the internalization and affirmation of civic values – pluralism, tolerance, and egalitarianism – while erasing outward cultural markers that had signified the Jewish community (today identified with Orthodox Judaism). The changing characteristics of the new American Christian right and the growing population proportion of the Orthodox change the rules of the game: rather than the civic creed these add a new moral, religious component, which is thicker. Conservative Judeo-Christian morality, which to Orthodox Jews includes such principles as fairness (reward and punishment), loyalty, sanctity, and authority, which are generally less emphasized by liberal America and liberal Jews. (Interestingly, this development has led to potential alliances on specific issues between Jews and Muslims in the U.S.).