September 16, 2019

Can Jews Agree on Anything?

It’s almost a boring thought these days to observe that we are bitterly divided by our political tribes. Democrats hate Republicans, Republicans hate Democrats. Need we say more?

We no longer want to win arguments — we want to crush our political opponents. It’s not enough to disagree with you, I must reject you, as well.

Jews have gotten sucked into this tribal warfare, where loyalty to our political tribes has replaced loyalty to our Jewish tribe. For too many of us, “What’s good for my party?” has replaced “What’s good for the Jews?”

In our cover story this week, Dan Schnur argues that our community is paying a steep price for this.

“Regardless of party registration or ideological preference,” he writes, “each of us must make a compromise when we cast our ballots. Most Republicans do not support the anti-Semites who marched in Charlottesville, Va., but voting for a GOP candidate enlarges the platform on which alt-right haters stand.” 

Similarly, “Most Democrats do not believe Jews control the world economy, but electing a Democrat of any ideological stripe furthers the reach of those who stand against Israel and its children.”

Elevating those who hate us — from the far right or the far left —  has become “a necessary evil to thwart the even more despicable haters among the opposition.”

As Schnur explains it, “There’s no intellectually honest way for a Jewish Republican to defend Steve King (R-Iowa), or a pro-Israel Democrat to stand up for Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). So why bother trying? It’s much easier and much more cathartic to direct our anger toward those who both hate Jews and disagree with us on health care reform or offshore oil drilling.”  

“Who wants to produce a CNN show on pragmatic compromise when you can have a show on the battle royal between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi?”

As a result, “the Jewish community has become just as polarized as the broader electorate, even though such balkanization works against our own interests as a community. We allow both parties to exploit our support when we can be helpful and marginalize us whenever the loudest and angriest voices on the far left and far right make demands at our expense.”

This extreme polarization has blinded Jewish voters to areas of potential agreement where it would behoove us to put party labels aside for the greater good of the community.

Ironically, one example of this higher aspiration is happening inside Congress itself: The Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of Democrats and Republicans seeking to create bipartisan cooperation on key policy issues. 

You won’t hear much in the media about this group because “problem solving” doesn’t sell as well as a good fight. Who wants to produce a CNN show on pragmatic compromise when you can have a show on the battle royal between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi?

Despite its minimal media exposure, the Problem Solvers Caucus, which has the backing of the No Labels movement, has been forging ahead.

Its latest initiative is a resolution to combat the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. The resolution states that the House of Representatives opposes the BDS movement; affirms that the BDS movement undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; urges Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct negotiations; supports the full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014; and reaffirms support for the two-state solution.

“If Democrats and Republicans can come together in Congress over a Jewish cause, why can’t Jews do the same?”

Read the words of Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a Democratic co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus:

“BDS is anti-Israel, anti-peace and harmful to America’s interests. I’m proud that all members of the Problem Solvers Caucus are committed to opposing BDS and standing up for the U.S.-Israel relationship because these should not be partisan political issues. Thanks to the leadership of Congressmen Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and Steve Watkins (R-Kan.), this bipartisan resolution has even more momentum for a vote on the House floor.”

Here are the words of his Republican co-chair, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.):

“Israel is an unwavering ally of the United States and one of our most important strategic partners around the globe. I am proud of our Problem Solvers Caucus members who have to stood up to ensure Jewish people are treated fairly and spoken out to show we care about this great nation.”

If Democrats and Republicans can come together in Congress over a Jewish cause, why can’t Jews do the same? Why are we not making more noise to try to solve our common problems?

We have become so accustomed to political warfare and communal infighting that we find it hard to rally around a reasonable and bipartisan initiative — even one that is good for the Jews.