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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Jews, politics, and the next generation

I take no position on this opinion about the policy and politics of Bernie Sanders' appointment of Simone Zimmerman, a sharp critic of Israel's West Bank policies and supporter of the BDS movement, as director of Jewish outreach. Instead, let me offer the following:

Update: On Thursday, the campaign suspended Zimmerman, so it could investigate a year-old tweet in which she lambasted Netanyahu, then closed with "Fuck you, Bibi . . ."

1) It strikes me as surprising that the first serious Jewish presidential candidate (let's stipulate that Barry Goldwater no longer self-identified as Jewish) needs a director of Jewish outreach. Did Obama have a director of African-American outreach or Bush a director of Christian outreach? But Sanders' identity has not alone rallied the Jewish vote the way Obama's identity rallied the African-American vote. (Full disclosure: I am supporting Clinton because my desire to win the general election trumps both my religio-ethnic identity and my purest policy preferences).

2) It strikes me as even more odd (if not ironic) that there is a belief that a Sanders presidency would be bad for the Jews. Moreover, it seems entirely because of Sanders' apparent policy preferences with respect to Israel. This reflects what I believe is an unfortunate conflation of Judaism, Israel, and the policies of the Israeli government.

3) Michelle Goldberg's Slate piece argues that hiring Zimmerman reflects a division of policy and politics. It jibes with the preferences of the younger voters, including Jewish voters, who support Sanders and who are likely to oppose the Netanyahu government and its policies. It does not jibe with the preferences of older (and more numerous) Jewish voters, who tend to support Israel's policies, aligning more closely with AIPAC's positions on Israel (even while largely voting Democratic).

The dynamic feels roughly analogous to a similar evolution with respect to Cuba here in Miami. An increasing portion of the younger generations of Cuban-Americans (many of them first- and second-generation) are less hawkish as to Cuba and the Castro regime, and more open to normalizing relations, than their parents and grandparents, many of whom lived and suffered under that regime.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 13, 2016 at 07:29 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


I don't see any particular reason Sanders should want to reach out to older Likudnik Jews. A surprising number of them aren't even Democrats anymore -- something that would have been shocking 30 years ago. Among those that are it is hard to see how he could appeal to them without totally alienating his present base; a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

The larger and more interesting story here is that we are looking at the future of American Jewery as a political influence. The non-Orthodox younger generations are literally and figuratively melding into various parts of the general US public. In another generation as a political group "Jewish Americans" will be no more relevant than "Irish Americans" are today. Orthodox Jews, moving ever more isolationist in their quest to be more stringent than their parents, will continue to exist as a cohesive group. By they lack the engagement with the world and passion for politics that allowed us to punch above our numbers to begin with. The (ultra)orthodox will continually to be solid voting blocs that exert significant control in relatively small areas -- think Brooklyn or East Ramapo -- power that will be used for small bore issues of local concern. Mostly pork (pun intended).

The birthright program was and is a fairly brilliant attempt to mitigate the consequences of these demographic realities on attitudes towards Israel, and I think it is helping somewhat, but not nearly enough to turn the tide in any significant way for very long. The time is rapidly approaching when Israel will not be able to rely on unconditional bipartisan support in the US no matter how right wing a government they put in place.

Posted by: Brad | Apr 15, 2016 9:45:48 AM

I didn't mean to suggest that he ever self-identified as Jewish--only that he wasn't, whatever his family background or ancestry.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 14, 2016 9:43:23 AM

Furthering to Orin's point, the Hillary Clinton campaign has a director of Women's Outreach, Mini Timmaraju.


Posted by: arthur | Apr 14, 2016 9:31:21 AM

Howard, I believe your description of Goldwater as having once identified as a Jew but no longer at some point is not correct. He was raised as an Episcopalian by his mother. More importantly, growing up in a small desert town at the beginning of the twentieth century, which Phoenix most certainly was at that time probably meant there were almost no Jewish residents. with which to identify.

Posted by: PaulB | Apr 14, 2016 9:03:04 AM

My understanding is that Zimmerman (who -- speaking as a millennial Jew -- I've actually found somewhat alienating when reading her work) is not a supporter of BDS herself, but rather only supports the inclusion of pro-BDS groups under the umbrella of larger communal Jewish organizations (like Hillel). Whether or not Hillel should continue its effective "no platform" policy for BDS orgs is open for debate, but obviously one can support including such groups without supporting the underlying policy stance.

I also think there are other reasons why one might worry about a Sanders presidency being "bad for the Jews" that have little to do with quibbling over his Israel policy. One might be simple worries that Jews will be blamed for anything that may go wrong or be controversial in his administration (a particular concern for Jews since a common instantiation of anti-Semitism is something of the form of "Jews control the government". Alternatively, Jews might worry that his election would strengthen too-quick "anti-Semitism is over" narratives (much as the Obama election strengthened "racism is over" narratives), disrupting Jews' ability to gain attention or support in areas of ongoing marginalization. And the third reason is that, just as Obama has been constrained in his ability to directly tackle racism or "Black issues" because opponents will cast it as a form of special favoritism, so too will Bernie be restricted in his ability to go to bat for "Jewish issues" for the same reasons.

I don't take any opinion on these -- and I like Bernie just fine and would be happy to have him as President. But I think they're worth noting in the context of this discussion.

Posted by: David Schraub | Apr 14, 2016 2:48:06 AM

"Did Obama have a director of African-American outreach or Bush a director of Christian outreach?"

Interesting question. Based on a big of googling, I think the answer is "yes." Obama's director of African-American outreach was Stephanie Brown. See the HuffPo story from 2012, "Obama Campaign Picks Stefanie Brown To Lead Black Voter Outreach." As for the Bush campaign, I believe they expressed the role as being head of outreach to social conservatives instead of Christians, a role according to some websites I came across was filled at least formally by Gary Marx.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 14, 2016 2:03:39 AM

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