Article Library / 2017 Conference on Shifting Trends

Shifting Trends in the West and their Impact on Israel and the Jewish People

Alongside the upheaval in the existing world order, we have also witnessed an erosion of the stability of the political order in the West in recent years, as the doubts surrounding the validity of the values at its foundation 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, have funnelled 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 more integrated 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, signalled to many Europeans the failure of the open border, multi-cultural system, and the failure of current political structures to deal with the threat.

Social media based information sources and partisan news outlets do not allow adequate filtering, fact checking, or balanced reporting. In many cases, information reaching the public is biased or twisted to serve a specific agenda. 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 ultra-nationalist right-wing political figures and parties espousing – with an Islamophobic soundtrack – populist economic, immigration, and security policies. In the United States, the phenomenon has manifested itself with the election of Donald Trump; in the UK with “Brexit” and the popularity of Nigel Farage; in France, with the rise of Marine Le Pen; in Germany, with Frauke Petry and the AfD (Alternative to Germany); in the Netherlands, with Geert Wilders; and in Austria, with the Freedom party – and more.

Potential Impacts on Israel and the Jewish People

Israel

  • Israel’s strategic standing improves due to the rise of the new US administration, which publicly proclaims its support of Israel and exhibits hostility to Israel’s enemies.
  • An increased sense of political urgency in Israel to take advantage of the “window of opportunity” that may have opened with Trump’s election to dispel the doubt hovering over the legal status of Judea and Samaria: eradicating the two-state solution from the agenda and annexing the territory to Israel – in part or in its entirety.
  • 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 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 nationalist trends in Israel.
  • Radicalization among the most liberal elements of the Democratic Party in the US (minorities, millennials) accompanied by a negative approach to Israel.
  • Continued erosion of Israel’s bi-partisan support in the US (based on the domestic polarization in the US on the one hand and the strengthening of the Israeli right on the other).

Diaspora Jewry

  • Societies that shy away from liberal and cosmopolitan values and tilt toward nationalism and the development of their internal identity, could evince hostility to minorities including the Jewish community.
  • Economic pressures on the middle class (in the US 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 under threat.
  • A decline in the political power of American Jews, given their lack of unity and the internal Jewish polarization with respect to Israel.
  • The continued undermining of Israel’s bi-partisan support, and the growing gap between Democrats and Republicans regarding Israel could further erode the influence of American pro-Israel organizations (despite that support for Israel continues to remain one of the few bi-partisan issues).
  • A potential decrease in the power of 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 US Jewish community.
  • A widening divide between parts of the American Jewish community and the organizational Jewish leadership that has to 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 the majority of American Jews are firmly on the losing side of the elections. This creates a double dilemma for some Jewish leaders: the first – how to oppose Trump and his ideas but maintain the identity of a loyal minority; the second – how to oppose Trump and his ideas without harming the interests of the State of Israel, which sees him as a close friend.
  • Deepening the divide between parts of the liberal Jewish community in the United States and Israel, which is becoming more right-wing, nationalistic, and religious.
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