Friday, September 11, 2015

The Best of the 2015 AJC Poll of the Jews

The AJC has released its 2015 poll of Jewish political attitudes. There's a lot to unpack here.

Some of it is very topical and gotten a lot of coverage, like the fact that a narrow plurality of Jews support the Iran Deal.

Some of it is very unremarkable, such as the finding that -- as is always the case -- the most important political issue for Jews is the economy (41.7%), not U.S.-Israel Relations (7.2%).

Some of it reflects the positions I hold, like that anti-Semitism is "somewhat of a problem" in the United States (64.2%).

Some of it does not reflect the positions I hold, like that more people approve of how Netanyahu is handling the US/Israel relationship (55.4%) than of how Obama is handling it (48.9%).

Some of it is reassuring, like that 58.9% of American Jews would support dismantling some or all West Bank settlements as "part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians".

Some of it is deeply alarming, like that 39.2% of American Jews would not support dismantling any settlements as part of a permanent agreement.

But by far the most important finding comes in the "temperature" question that rates countries on a 0-100 scale of "cold" versus "warm" sentiment. As it turns out, while America receives a stellar 84.64 rating, it is not the country American Jews feel most warmly towards. Beating it out with a 84.73 -- less than .1 degrees! -- is, of course, Canada.

Frankly, I think we all knew that even the most patriotic-seeming American Jew secretly bleeds maple syrup. Is it any wonder that Ottawa effectively pulls all the strings in Washington?

The Inevitability of the Jewish Lobby

Walter Russell Mead argues that the passage of the Iran Deal (indeed, the failure of opponents to even overcome a Senate filibuster) should signal the ned of the myth of the omnipotent and univocal "Israel Lobby". It won't, of course, because the myth is predicated on a series of anti-Semitic assumptions that ignore pluralism within the Jewish community, misattribute which positions are dominant, which are contestted, and which are marginal within the community, and ultimately lead to the "78% of Jews are very confused" problem.

Yet it was always obvious to me that the outcome of the Iran Deal debate would have precisely no impact on popular understandings of the Israel Lobby and/or Jewish power. For any issue which has a side coded in the public imagination as being supported by the "Israel Lobby", there are one of two possible outcomes:
(1) That side wins, thus demonstrating the impossibility of everyday Americans to overcome the overwhelming power of the Israel Lobby; or

(2) That side loses, thus demonstrating that the position is so obviously righteous that not even the overwhelming power of the Israel Lobby can stop it.
In the case of the Iran Deal, I ultimately came down in support of the agreement -- a position which puts me at odds with much (though not all) of the Jewish establishment but in line with a narrow majority of Jews overall. And it should be the case that Jews -- whether in our individual or institutional capacity -- should be able to advocate for their preferred positions without it being viewed as a form of domination.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Turkey Inches Towards Entering the Adult World

Like a spoiled teenager who refuses to admit they can do anything wrong (or a southern bro who insists that the Civil War was a "states' rights" affair), Turkey is rather notorious for throwing a temper tantrum whenever someone tries to acknowledge basic historical facts about its WWI-era Armenian genocide. But perhaps we're seeing a baby step in the right direction, as Ali Haydar Konca, Turkey's minister to the EU, has taken a big step towards actual acknowledgment of the atrocity.
"The fact that massacres happened is explicit and clear and everybody accepts that. Right now, the issue is what it should be called. We will make a decision in our party about that,” Konca told the press, becoming the the Turkish official to admit that, in fact, a Genocide had occurred.
Now before we get too excited, Konca never actually used the term "genocide". That omission is noted later in the piece, although its belied by the last sentence of the block quote (and the title of the article: "Turkey’s New EU Minister Admits to Armenian Genocide"). And the article also has the usual array of charming quotes from other Turkish leaders, including the President's declaration that any EU statement on the subject will "go in one ear and out from the other because it is not possible for Turkey to accept such a sin or crime."

So perhaps not a seismic shift. But maybe a tiny, tiny breakthrough in the long process of becoming a mature democracy that honestly reckons with its past.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Everybody's Terrible ... But Maybe Not THAT Terrible

The Huffington Post has a new story up on how altering who is said to support a given policy changes how persons of different partisan persuasions register their opinions. So saying that "universal health care" is a Donald Trump-approved position makes Democrats less likely to support it and Republicans more so; attributing it to Barack Obama has the opposite effect.

For someone like me who is interested in how cultural affinities construct political beliefs, this is an important topic. That notwithstanding, I think the HuffPo article is potentially misleading in at least two respects. The first is the title -- "Republicans Like Obama's Ideas Better When They Think They're Donald Trump's" -- which implies this is a Republican problem when in reality (as the article makes clear) it is true of partisans of either party.

The second problem, though, challenges just how far we can take the implications of these findings. The issue is that while saying someone supports "universal health care" or "affirmative action" does tell us something, it doesn't tell us all that much. There are, after all, many different ways one might operationalize support for universal health care or affirmative action. And it is reasonable for a conservative to believe they are more likely to favor a Donald Trump-style instantiation, and are less likely to find Obama's version amenable (and vice versa). So for that reason, it is not entirely odd, or purely a matter of partisan hackery, that party identity affects how one responds to a question like "Do you agree or disagree with [Obama/Trump] about universal health care?"

None of this is to discount the point that cultural identity (here taking the form of party allegiance) plays a substantial role all its own. The literature supporting such an inference is robust, and this fits nicely into that puzzle. But it is worth taking this particular article with a grain of salt -- two grains, since its conclusions line up with those I generally share.