Why US Liberals have a head start on the fight back

This article appeared in the Forward 

As the endless autopsies of the 2016 election continue to pour in, what is clear is that the left needs a new organizing message. Luigi Zingales warns us against attacking Trump in order to focus on his policies, and Mark Lilla decries the end of identity politics for the progressive movement, but what is the foundational message that can serve as the cornerstone of the liberal comeback?

As a newcomer to America, it appears obvious to me that American liberals have an inbuilt advantage over their European counterparts. As a born and bred British citizen, I remember well the debates that Gordon Brown faced when trying to define British values. Coming in after the failure of the multiculturalism, a tactic that did not seem to create a cohesive society, Prime Minister Brown decided to call for community cohesion. What the community was supposed to unify toward became a national conversation about what British values are today.

America does not suffer from this problem. The civic-nationalism that is America’s founding creed, and its populace of hyphenated identities, allows for an inclusive patriotism accessible to all. The Irish-American, Jewish-American, African-American and Muslim-American can look to the second part of their hyphen and see a commonality. The Constitution and Bill of Rights lay out a doctrine that is fundamentally inclusive. The universal nature of the American experiment, its civil religion, is the core of American exceptionalism. What makes America the shining city on the hill is its openness to all those striving toward the values to which we all hold dear.

These values are what allowed Hamilton, the musical, to be beloved by Vice-President Dick Cheney and President Obama. It is what enabled Captain Humayan Khan to serve the nation. It is the centerpiece of America’s soft power around the world.

In the most recent election, Donald Trump’s campaign carefully turned American patriotism into nationalism. For most, it was economic nationalism, for others, it was white nationalism. In each case it was a zero sum game- if you were not gaining, it was the fault of an “other”. Those “others” could be the countries, like China and Mexico, that Trump says saw us as an easy mark. But they could be American immigrants and minorities that some felt received unfair help from the Federal government, enabling them to leapfrog “real Americans” in social advancement. The rallying cry was America First, and he convinced his voters that they were the real America; the “others”, including other Americans, were responsible for keeping them down.

The key to gaining back the narrative is to reclaim the patriotic mantel. Baked into our social values is a pride in being American. There is a reason why E pluribus unum has been the unofficial motto of the United States.

Democrats searching for an organizing philosophy that can rebuild the party, from the local to the federal level, do not need to start from scratch. The American base setting is one of optimism. It is one of faith, service and the belief that anyone can rise to the top. If a Trump administration aims to turn Americans against each other in a national Apprentice competition, Democrats can rebuild through an appeal to civic service and belief in community.

This does mean a reorientation. We must move away from messages implying that the state has the only answer to inequality. American fear of the federal government goes back to the founding of the nation. A return to communal resilience and a re-creation of social capital can be the fertile ground where red districts become purple or even blue. Promoting programs in the community, dealing with common problems, and linking those left behind by globalization can be a far more effective than speaking about tax credits.

We also need to find ways to link communities of faith around common service projects. As the evangelical community, which overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Trump, continues to define their political identity in these changing times, where public morality is no longer their touchstone, the left should try engaging with them in service projects that link black and white churches, multi-faith projects and those that serve the poor. Not only will these provide new avenues to help bridge cultural divides, but they will also provide opportunities to campaign on common causes and enable a less partisan divide.

Finally, and this has been written before, we must concentrate on what we share as a nation, rather than the identities that divide us. We cannot and should not descend into demography and think that it ensures a democratic future. The hard fought wins for communities of color and others who have been historically discriminated against must never be given up. But we must be for more than just battles for minority groups. The American values that immigrant groups accept so proudly should give the native population a great comfort. It’s those values, and the proponents of them, that are the best messengers to a socially anxious population. Whether the Islamic gold star family or the job-creating first generation immigrant CEO, these are the leaders that can reframe the debate away from a narrow nationalism and towards a civic patriotism.

2016 in general has shaken liberals the world over to our core. Being a new immigrant to America, I truly believe that we have a head start that no liberal democratic party has. We have as a nation agreed upon what our shared values are. We now just need to live up to them.

Tribal classrooms lead to a tribal society

This appeared in the print edition of the Jerusalem Post 12/15/16

Israel’s population is a mishmash of Jewish communities from around the globe with a healthy dash of the local Arab population. Like any society, Israel struggles to find a way to create a healthy shared society between the disparate parts of the community that came to the land with their own customs, cultures, emotional baggage and expectations.

The conflicting nature of the tribes of Israel- the secular, the national religious, the ultra-orthodox and the Arabs- has best been captured by President Rivlin who has made his presidency about promoting true community cohesion and anti-racism.

In most societies, the place where a sense of civic identity is created is in the public school system. Coming from different backgrounds, the children of a nation are socialized together learning common themes and values, helping to overcome the differences that make up part of their home life.

In Israel however, the segmented nature of the education system means that public schooling is the foundation of the walls between the tribes, rather than the melting pot to mix them up. Israel has separate tracks for secular, religious, Arab and ultra-orthodox education. Though the Education Ministry is the second largest government department (after defense), the Minister finds it hard to affect the classrooms of children not from his constituency. Just ask Minister Bennett about the teaching of english and mathematics in the Ultra-Orthodox schools at the moment.

The divided nature of the school system means that there is no place where Israelis from different religious, and in some cases ethnic, backgrounds meet one another. Instead, the fulcrum of civic patriotism moves from the classroom to the battlefield with universal conscription being the birthplace of a unified society.

There are two obvious problems however. First, Ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens don’t serve in the military, meaning that they miss the access point to civic-national identity that bonds the nation across socio-economic, religious and ethnic boundaries. Second, unlike the classroom, where free expression and critical thought are the backbone of educational instruction, the Army is a place for order, authority and militarism. The national values of Israeli society are not coming from the public school, but from the IDF, which further divides society within the context of the ongoing conflict.

The exclusionary nature of conscription within an ever-diversifying state of Israel means that citizens are finding less and less common cause with one another. The divided nature of public education leads to a social anxiety for each segment, each believing themselves a minority within a system where the other tribes have advantages or are burdens upon them.

There are some phenomenal efforts to try and mitigate the worst aspects of the systemic educational separation. Groups like Givat Haviva try and ensure that pupils from the different schools meet, the Abraham Fund ensures that each school sector prioritizes the others’ language, Merchavim look to place Arab teachers in Jewish schools. The biggest challenge to the separation of the schooling system is the Hand in Hand school system, whose national network of seven schools looks to create a true bilingual environment for its students.

Yet despite these efforts, the root cause of the continuation of the tribes of Israel are the divided schools of Israel. As Israel becomes more religious and more Arab each passing year, how much longer can the divided school system prop up a society with such deep fissures within it?

As Israeli patriots like President Rivlin look to try and create a truly integrated, inclusive society, a radical idea might be to start re-examining the anachronistic nature of public education in Israel, find ways to try and change it root and branch.

We will never find our synthesis

Times of Israel 12/9/16

Of all the wrap-ups of the 2016 US Presidential election, Prof. Yehuda Mirsky’s essay on ‘the new Jewish Question’ has had the most profound impact on me. In a sweeping historical overview, Professor Mirsky comments how the new global populist waves bring Jews back into the passion plays of the right and the left. The tension between Jews as a particularist tribe and Judaism as a universalist creed gives both liberal democrats and ethnic populists something to admire and something to attack.

Mirsky’s diagnosis leaves no instruction other then to safeguard the freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of worship and utilize them to help create the new intellectual underpinnings for global politics.

Reading through his essay, I was struck by the systemic view with which he perceives the Jewish people. Here is a tribe, a particular people with familiar links- the Jews. The Jews, however have a universalist mission, Judaism. Jewish values are not distinct to Jews, it is in fact the Jewish mission to bring our values to the world. What we are is a particular delivery system for a universalist message.

That contradiction is what is motivating so much of the Jewish communal angst on so many different levels. For the majority of American Jewry, the liberal Jews who form a key part of the Democratic party, Tikkun Olam is the guiding philosophy. Social justice, repairing the world, the expression of Jewish values writ large, is what we are about. What happens in the shul is less important than the work we do outside of it. It is no surprise that Zionism, the ultimate expression of the Jewish people as a tribe, is causing such heart ache with liberal Jewish America, that is struggling to come to terms with the particularism that liberal nationalism demands.

While the world outside the synagogue walls motivates the majority of US Jews, to the minority that voted for the Republicans it was overwhelmingly the world inside the Shul that mattered. The strong bonds of community, faith and tribe, the particularism of Jews and the needs of Jews as a people link this community far closer to the mindset of the Jews of Israel, where the particularist part of their identity shares more in common with the global populist wave.

While the polices of the government of Israel and the US might make up the foreground of the rifts within the global Jewish community, the background is the tectonic shifts and tensions between our universalist and particularist identities. The unending controversy of ‘who is a Jew’ alongside practice of reform Judaism within the State of Israel is part of the challenging of the paricularist shibboliths that are the bedrock of the tribal leaders of Israeli Jewry.

Reflecting on Mirsky’s writing, I was struck how the oscillation he described resembles a similar struggle that the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (the Rav) described in his seminal book, ‘The Lonely Man of Faith’. The Rav describes man as both majestic and covenantal. Majestic man is a master of the universe, imposing his knowledge, culture and technology on the world. Covenantal man feels alienation and seeks companionship to relieve him of the existential alienation of creation. The Rav famously describes how we oscillate between these two halves, both being an essential part of the human condition, but that we should not expect to find a synthesis between these two poles.

Looking at Mirsky’s essay I can see how our universalist mission can run alongside the majestic man of faith, global in scope self assured in its value to all. It is also easy to see how our particular instincts fall into the covenantal man, that the world is lonely, and that we seek comfort with others and with G-d as we go about our mission.

For the Rav. the Jews are a covenantal community that tries to bridge both parts of the human condition in their day in and day out activities. Neither aspect of the man of faith is superior. In Mirsky’s categorization, neither our universal values of Judaism nor our particular tribe as Jews takes precedence. Our job is to struggle between them.

In an uncertain world, one in which the political right and left will have their fetishes around Jews, our task is to carefully traverse the complexities of universal values as a particular people. If we manage to do this, without tearing ourselves to pieces, we will continue to be a light onto the nations as the world struggles to find its way forward.

Descent into demography

This appeared in the print edition of the Jerusalem Post 11/24/16

2016 has been a hard year for liberals and progressives around the Western world, but the election of Donald Trump, and the racist Alt-Right that have ridden in on his coattails, is the capstone on a year many of us would rather forget.

This election was not about common ground. It was not about compromises or progress. It was screaming “stop.” Stop to the rising healthcare premiums, stop to the disappearing jobs, stop to the changing demographic face of America, stop to social change that many found disconcerting.

It was a fearful cry.

One of the key characteristics of the Trump voter is social anxiety. Will their kids be as stable as they were in the country of their birth? Will newcomers get fasttracked to the middle class? Will someone listen to them if they are not a minority? Trump won because low-propensity white voters turned out in historic numbers in swing states, and the multiethnic Democratic coalition did not. America’s changing demographic face led Trump to campaign that “this would be the last election” in which a Republican would stand a chance, as amnesty for illegal immigrants would ensure a locked-in Democrat majority.

Demographic fears are something that should be familiar to Israeli voters. The now infamous statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Arabs voting in “droves” turned out his base to vote for the Likud in 2015. When given the choice between a prime minister that many might have issues with and a threatening demographic situation, Israeli Jews voted ethnicity first for fear of the others coming to get them.

It is not just the Right that has used demography in political campaigns in Israel.

Still today, many in the Center and the Left call for a two-state solution based on the demographic futures that they fear, and believe that this strategy will win over voters to their cause. This strategy has failed for the past decade and continues to create further obstacles to the political possibilities of the Arab parties in the Knesset needed to support a Center-Left coalition, something essential if the Center-Left ever wishes to form a government.

The descent into demography, to looking at someone’s racial identity as political destiny, is a challenging phenomenon for liberal democracies. If racial minorities are seen as demographic threats, every interaction with the minority is threatening and every child born is seen as another solider in the battle for supremacy.

This type of social anxiety is difficult to combat. It assumes a zero-sum game where if one group is succeeding, another by definition must be losing.

It can’t be that the progressive communities answer this social anxiety by giving up on hard-fought wins for marginalized communities. If coming together and listening to each other is just a form of surrender of one community to the other, then the zero-sum game continues and the societal divisions are exacerbated.

Rather than just attempting purposeless dialogue, we need to seek out shared projects where each community has a stake in the success of the outcome. If our communities are hopelessly divided, we need to find the activities that can bond them and help deal with the fear of the other that is fueling so much of the anxiety that hit a boiling point in this past election in America.

The former UK chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, has written about a “home we build together” – the joint work of different groups in building shared institutions that form the backbone of a cohesive society.

In both America and in Israel, building inclusive projects, ones that have stakeholders from across the diverse communities that make up each society, are the foundation to realizing the equality that is promised in both Israel and America’s founding statements.

As the Left in both countries tries to examine their path forward, issues rather than demographics should be the rallying cry. Defending hard-won principles while finding common cause across people of different identity is the challenging but true path back to leadership.

If you are going to freak out – do it from informed position

So I posted this on Facebook but thought I would put it up here as well. Big thanks to Steve Schale the guru of Florida and Jon Ralston the guru of Nevada and Harry Enten of 538.

So for Brit friends who are freaking out over US election – I’ve done deep dive over past few days and some data points to keep in mind.

1) 538 odds are so different as they take into account systemic poll failure – so if polls are off in one state they are off in all states by same amount. Despite this every model has Clinton up across the board. If the NV EV is correct (see below) and the affect is systemic failure across the board in polling in every state, Clinton chances jump to 88%. If it is localized she gets a 2.8% bump.

2) With laws changing early voting (EV) is through the roof with perhaps as many as 40% of the vote in before Tuesday. In NV it appears the Dems has built a HUGE firewall that is impossible for GOP to overcome so can add that to HRC column. In addition CO EV 70% is in and things look good.

3) In FL the EV shows both sides neck and neck but record turnout from Hispanics who are making up 15% of electorate (up from 9% in 12). African Americans are at around 12.5% which means the FL electorate is less white then ever. It’s still tight but in the demographic charts far better to be Clinton then trump ATM. It appears that Miami-Dade county is 67% higher in turn out in EV then 2012. If they break for Clinton in same margin as they did for Obama – could be a blue wall of over 200k voters to run up the score. There is a chance that Miami-Dade could be the Clark County of Florida and the Hispanic vote could end the Trump run there.

4) The reason Clinton is finishing in Michigan and PA is because no early voting there. She is up 3-5 points but could be tight so makes sense to push there. She has built huge machines there and unlike in 08 when McCain pulled out of MI with four weeks to go or 12 when the auto bailout made it a lock for Obama it was always going to be tight. Trump decision to go to NV or weirder to Minnesota (to the most liberal district in the country) with 48 hours to go is bonkers.

None of this means it’s in the bag but taking NV off the table the Trump map gets harder and EV demographic data shows some good signs for Clinton in FL. Finally remember that even in states that Trump is ahead (OH, IA) he has to win, Clinton can afford to lose those. Trump has to have a perfect night, win every toss up and turn a big blue state – its a v hard thing to do.

The fact that he is on the ballot is already too close to be complacent but the one thing HRC does is plan and execute. So if you need to freak out so so from informed position (1 in 3 or 1 in 10 it’s still a chance) and know that we should have a clear picture early on if this is a blow out or will go to wire given the EV this year. As Sunday comes to close the polling averages shows a 3 point election for HRC as national base line.

Hope is not a strategy

This appeared in the print edition of the Jerusalem Post on Oct 9th 2016 and is co-authored with Jeremy Saltan 

When asked about the future of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the White House press pool, Former United States President Bill Clinton, who had just returned from the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, stated that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal will happen at some point because the young people in the region will demand it.

The assessment made by Clinton has been made by countless others in the past and is a mainstream position among policy makers –young Israelis will be our saviors. However, if one looks at the data, statistics, and polling of young people in Israel, it is quite clear that the next generation in Israel has a different view than many policy wonks.

A Smith poll published by The Jerusalem Post on July 17, 2016, found among the 18-29 demographic only 35% supported the principle of ‘two states for two nations’ as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compared to 53% against it. The youngest voters were the least supportive of the two state solution. The poll results countered Clinton’s argument and found that the older the voter the more likely was voter support of a two state solution.

A Smith poll published by The Jerusalem Post on the August 31, 2016, found a majority (54%) among the 18-29 demographic considered Haredi control over religion and state issues acceptable compared to a minority (43%) among the 50+ demographic.

The latest Pew poll conducted in Israel, arguably the most comprehensive polling ever conducted in Israel, found the younger age bracket (in this case 18-49) was more religiously observant and less supportive of two states than their elders. The younger demographic is more inclined to be supportive of settlements, believe that Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, believe that security is Israel’s biggest threat, believe that Israel was given to the Jews by G-d, favor gender segregation on public transportation, favor Halachah as a basis of law in Israel, and view the US as not supportive enough of Israel.

The policy positions of young Israelis trickle down to party affiliation and Prime Minister preference. A Midgam poll broadcast by Army Radio in 2015 found 18-29 year olds were the most likely to choose Netanyahu as Prime Minister (57%) and least likely to choose Herzog (19%). Midgam found the older the voter the more likely was support of Herzog over Netanyahu. A Teleseker poll published by Walla in 2013 found 67.6% of Bayit Yehudi voters were between the ages of 18-49, compared to 32.4% over the age of 50.

There is a clear trend that the younger generation is more religious and more right-wing than previous generations. While in most countries the younger population represents a more left wing and socially open constituency, in Israel the trend is actually the opposite.

It is our belief that this is due to at least two factors.

The changing demographics in Israel mean that the next generation is more religious. The official Israeli Social Survey of the Central Bureau of Statistics found the 18-29 demographic is more religious than the older demographics. The Haredi share of the 18-29 population is 12%. The national religious share is 13%, and the traditional share is 31%. Although secular Israelis make up a majority of the 50+ demographic (52%), they make up 44% of the 18-29 demographic. This trend is set to continue in the coming years as 28% of Haredim aged 40 or older have 7 or more children compared to less than 1% of secular Israelis.

These long term demographic changes adjust the make up of the younger generation and, given the separation within the Israeli education system, carries forward their communities’ belief systems in separate tracks.

While the demographics can help explain the religiosity of the younger cohort, their support for the right is not mere biological determinism. This is a generation that came of age during the second Intifada and its aftermath. The hope and promise of the 1990s means little to nothing to young Israelis. The political horizon of young Israelis has been one of stunted visions and conflict management. Given that reality, young Israelis’ skepticism of everything other than what they have experienced is understandable.

The purpose of this snapshot is to ground in reality the current situation of young people in Israel today. To believe young Israelis will demand a future that is different from their current experience, with all things being equal, does not bear out in the data. As time goes on the demographic realities of young Israelis manifest in overall poll numbers, such as a Panels poll in May that found 53% of Israelis in favor of applying Israeli law to at least some settlements in Judea and Samaria/West Bank.

Israeli youth differ from the progressive left wing wave of change that we see elsewhere in the world. The majority of young Israelis resemble and identify more with the governing right-wing religious coalition of Israel, not the left-wing secular opposition.

The hope of a rising youth that will demand the change President Clinton hopes to see coming from Israel is against all trends in the data. Rather than trusting gut feelings and being disappointed when the results don’t bare out, a realistic assessment of the current state of play should drive policy making and strategic considerations. Only with an eyes open approach can those who wish for a change in the status quo begin to build a strategy to achieve it.