November 18, 2018

2016 Elections Blog Post #4: Rules to Play By -The Twelve-Step Model

As America approaches its “political season” advocacy groups and lobbying organizations see this as an opportunity to advance their agendas. In this survey, twelve political principles are introduced. These specific action steps demonstrate how policy organizations, in this case the pro-Israel community, play an essential role in political campaigns, permitting these advocacy institutions an opportunity to pursue their core interests:

  1. During election campaigns for Congress and the White House, the pro-Israel community has a unique opportunity to press candidates on their positions pertaining to the Middle East and to extract particular commitments. The election process represents a point in time when an interest group can promote its agenda as an essential tool in garnering support for its legislative and policy priorities.
  2. Candidates are particularly loyal to both their early supporters and to their donors who provide last minute commitments. As a result advocacy groups have often taken the opportunity to encourage their activists to be “<em>present”</em> both at the outset of a politician’s campaign as well as to be seen as financially supportive and committed during the closing stages of the electoral process. The motto “<em>Early, Often, and Late”</em> are key indicators of being politically successful with a candidate! Loyalty is a powerful and essential notion in politics!
  3. Symbolism in election campaigning is significant and as such candidates are trained and prepared to introduce key phrases and words in their stump speeches and interviews concerning their commitment to a specific cause; these code words are designed to “reassure” their political base while appealing to “undecided” voters.  For the pro-Israel camp various terms comprise a mantra of “Israel supportive language” that provides a framework for measuring a candidate’s credibility. Even a phrase as basic as “Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East” provides an entry point for growing that level of connection.
  4. Interest groups play off of existing public opinion in order to build their case with political candidates; the large pro-Israel support within the American public provides an important point of leverage in advancing the case for Israel with key political players, especially those who have yet to declare themselves on the American-Israel relationship.
  5. The fewer the number of competing challenges to a community’s primary interests is tied to the level of its success in garnering political support. Over time the pro-Israel community has greatly benefited in being able to take advantage of its high profile position, as it has encountered minimal domestic opposition to its core agenda and basic message.
  6. Realizing that all political power is local, it is essential to build support on the community level, and not alone on the national stage. In many ways the essence of political organizing must be seen as a bottom-up strategy. Local constituents are essential to the art of political engagement.
  7. The ability not only to deliver financial support but to also provide a voting base represents a double-barrel commitment. In specific elections and in key “swing states” this dual level of political activism may represent the difference in winning a national contest.
  8. Politicians with a favorable track record of support are to be rewarded; “remain loyal to those who have supported you!” represents a core value in politics. A longstanding rule of interest group practice, found within the pro-Israel community, is to render support to your friends. Loyalty is a central value in building political trust. Interest groups frequently rate elected officials in terms of their past support as guidelines for their supporters in assisting donors and voters to determine who have been “true friends”.
  9. Stay close with your allies, but don’t neglect your opponents! Never give up on someone who is currently not supporting your positions. Establishing and maintaining a dialogue can prove valuable. When political figures do the “right thing,” they need to be acknowledged. Everyone must be seen as potential “friend” to the pro-Israel community.
  10. Personal friendships go along way in building connections to politicians. The pro-Israel community has successfully understood this principle. “Access” is one of the essential tools for managing and growing an interest group’s political credibility.
  11. Coalitions and alliances are essential in interest group politics. Finding allies who share common interests or who understand the value of supporting a particular cause is crucial to the advocacy process. Building connections with key ethnic, religious, civic and business groups are vital to the success of the pro-Israel agenda. The case for a secure and safe Israel is not only being framed by the American Jewish community rather it must be seen as an expression that transcends political, ethnic, and religious boundaries.
  12. Candidates pay close attention to public opinion polls, editorial comments, ads and other forms of political expression. Understanding voter sentiment is critical in mounting a political campaign. Interest groups likewise monitor the flow of ideas and the levels of political support for specific issues or causes. In seeking to demonstrate the depth of American public opinion behind a strong American-Israel strategic alliance, the pro-Israel community seeks to share this data with political campaigns in order to demonstrate that embracing the Israel agenda can be a “win-win” scenario for those seeking public office. A key element for a minority community is its capacity to align its political agenda with the national strategic interests of the United States.

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. Elements of this article are extracted from his book The Quest for Power: A Study in Jewish Political Behavior and Practice (2014).