Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why Pro-Israel Domestic Liberals Have a Sophie's Choice

Sar Shalom

While much of the core Israel-supporting community leans to the right on domestic issues as well as on foreign affairs and much of the community is less concerned about domestic issues, there remains a portion of the pro-Israel community that is solidly committed to a domestic agenda that leans to the left of the spectrum. For such voters, the choice between an Obama-like Democrat and whoever can win a Republican primary represents a choice of on one hand sacrificing not one or two domestic priorities, but one's entire domestic priority-set, and on the other hand selling out Israel. Without getting into the mechanics of the intra-party struggles that result in the Democrats being well-represented by those who swallow the Palestinian narrative hook, line and sinker, or why the Republicans are uniformly dismissive of nearly every liberal domestic priority, I would like to suggest two changes that, if enacted, would change the choices available to pro-Israel domestic liberals.

The first change would be to eliminate plurality voting. It might seem that voting methods are irrelevant to Israel's prospects in the American government, but a counterfactual would demonstrate why this is mistaken. Suppose that in 2004, Democrat Joseph Lieberman had decided to disregard the choice of the Democratic primary electorate and run in the general election for president, what would have been the result? Simply put, he would have taken some votes from Bush and some votes from Kerry with the result that neither Bush nor Kerry would have gotten 50% of the vote, but Bush likely would have won as first past the post. If Bush wound up winning with less than 50% of the vote, Lieberman would have been branded as a spoiler.

That last line is entirely due to plurality voting under which any voter who voted for Lieberman would have forfeited his or her right to express a preference between Kerry and Bush. Consider as an alternative voting method in which voters rate all candidates on the ballot on a scale of negative 10 to positive 10 with the winner determined either by averaging the voters' ratings or through a series of pairwise contests among all the candidates. Under such a voting method, all voters would have been able to express a preference between Bush and Kerry as well as a preference for Lieberman in relation to both of them, with any voter's vote for Kerry over Bush or vice versa having the exact same effect whether that voter rated Lieberman highest among the group, in the middle, or lowest.

Returning to the concerns of the pro-Israel community today, replacing plurality voting with either score or pairwise-ranked voting would have two effects that would benefit pro-Israel domestic liberals. One is that a pro-Israel Democrat would be free to disregard the results of a Democratic primary and the other being that a Republican challenging the dictates of CPAC would be free to disregard the results of a Republican primary. Breaking apart the electorate, pro-Israel domestic conservatives (PI/DCs) would vote PI/DCs above pro-Israel domestic liberals (PI/DLs) above anti-Israel domestic liberals (AI/DLs); AI/DLs would vote AI/DLs above PI/DLs about PI/DCs while PI/DLs would vote PI/DLs above both and split their next choice votes between AI/DLs and PI/DCs. While in theory, this arrangement would give anti-Israel domestic conservatives a greater voice that they currently have, they currently constitute a small enough part of the electorate that we do not need to be concerned. The result is that a PI/DL, instead of having to cobble a majority of liberals to win a Democratic primary or somehow win a Republican primary, could win by building a coalition of PI/DLs and PI/DCs against the AI/DLs and a coalition of PI/DLs and AI/DLs against the PI/DCs.

A second change to ameliorate the choices facing pro-Israel domestic liberals would be to fill the chairmanships of a subset of congressional committees by national election instead of just giving them to whoever's in line from the party that is in the majority in each chamber. The subset I propose is Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, and Ways and Means/Finance. The result of doing so would be that pro-Israel domestic liberal voters could go to the polls and know that when they cast their votes for chair of the Judiciary and Ways and Means/Finance committees that no matter how anti-Israel a candidate is for the position, putting that candidate there would not help him or her advance that position. Similarly a voter could cast a vote for chair of Foreign Affairs and know that no matter how reactionary the candidate is on domestic issue, becoming Foreign Affairs Chair would not help that candidate throttle a single item of the domestic liberal agenda.


  1. I'm not an American, but I try and follow US politics as much as possible.
    Would someone explain what the Republican domestic policies would be that would be so difficult to vote for.

    What are the "liberal domestic priorities" that make them deal breakers?

    American politics is so tribal it seems many people who identify as Democrats would almost believe that voting Republican makes them horrible people. And stupid, apparently.
    The Republican party is very fragmented and not well thought of by many conservatives.
    However, looking from the outside, I am slightly unsure as to what it is the Democrats actually do as opposed to what they claim to be that makes them effective in helping people. Or in running the government.

    Millions more people on food stamps under the Obama administration.
    Inner- cities governed by the Democrats for half a century; social and economic wastelands, which cause immense harm to the most vulnerable, generation after generation.
    Race relations under the Obama administration worse than for many years.
    Abortion laws in many states are more relaxed than in most European countries.

    Minimum wage: see Seattle restaurants, latest.
    Public school system seems appalling. Wouldn't it be better to not allow the teachers unions to insist on tenure for inadequate and bad teachers? Or to allow freedom of choice for parents who understandably wish to educate their children elsewhere?
    Etc. etc.
    Am really interested as the political landscape seems so full of people who make the assumption that conservatives are
    greedy, horrible people who want to be appallingly mean to vulnerable people. Oh, and that voting Republican means you're racist.
    Democrats say that a lot.

    1. As far as domestic priorities go, the point is not to convince you to accept them, but that you should be aware that there are members of the pro-Israel coalition who have them and that we should have a goal that such voters would not have to make a choice between those priorities and support for Israel.

      A brief observation: your description of American politics seems like your sources are entirely from the right. Without getting into a rebuttal, it reads like how the left would describe the right's track record in waging war.

      As to minimum wage, would you consider it worthy of making a constitutional issue? If a judge like Janice Rogers Brown were to be elevated to the Supreme Court, there is a real chance that all minimum wage laws, whether federal or state, could be declared an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of contract.

      Financial regulation: one of the things the Democrats did when they had full control of the government was pass Dodd-Frank which created a chance to put a stop to the shenanigans that led to the financial market meltdown and subsequent lesser depression. As things stand now, Republicans are doing everything they can to undo Dodd-Frank and all indications are that their views are the same as when they pushed the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

      Environment: while rejection of science that contradicts their preferences is not unique to conservatives, when it comes to climate science, conservative denial of the science is fairly bad.

      Fiscal policy: Republicans like to complain about deficits being out of control when there's a Democratic president, but the only spending cuts they like are on social welfare programs and they are always eager to cut taxes for the top 2%. Before Grover Norquist took control of the party, you could find Republicans who were not that way, but anyone seeking a Republican nomination today will toe that line.

      I would also point out that there are conservatives who are not out to hurt the vulnerable, or even stop public assistance to the vulnerable. There are conservatives who care about being efficient with public funds to actually carry out what public assistance is supposed to achieve. The problem is that they are in a weaker position within the Republican Party today than Israel supporters are within the Democratic Party. My suggestions about changing voting methods help that type of Republican as much as it would Israel supporters within the Democratic Party.

    2. Sar Shalom

      I think it is a matter of great interest as to how it might be possible to help pro-Israel voters who are committed to a domestic liberal agenda to have more choice. And to not feel that they should have to sacrifice something that is central to their view of the world, and their identity.

      I freely admit that I, unfortunately, am not sufficiently informed about the voting changes you suggest to be able to offer comment on them. I will go off and try to understand more about those possibilities, to get better informed.

      My sources are from right across the spectrum of opinion. From the NYT and WaPo to the WSJ and the NRO.
      ( Here in UK, the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph etc.)
      And both the left-wing and centre/ right- wing journals and blogs. I was brought up firmly on the left. My entire family is, and always will be, ' on the left'. Up until quite recently, I did not question it.
      Being on the left, meant one was committed to a fairer society. That you were voting for things that would make people's lives better.
      It seems to me that some of the ideas and policies that I have always believed in may not have had the actual outcomes that one would have expected. Sometimes one can be ideologically driven, and fail to enquire whether what one supports is really helping the people it is supposed to help.
      That is true on either side of the political aisle, of course.
      Many things which are complex are presented as if they are not.
      Most people would wish to see the worst excesses of Wall Street curbed. However, although there certainly are bad practices and behaviour in the financial sector, some of what caused the recent financial crash was government intervention by both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Some of those interventions were authored by Dodd and Frank, in their previous roles.

      I have never voted for a right-wing party.
      And am not sure I could.
      However, over time I have become much more interested in what it is that actually works and less concerned with what something sounds like.

      I am very concerned about the movement of the Democratic party towards an anti- Israel agenda. Also, their increased acceptance of ( or lack of interest in) anti-Semitism. And their refusal to acknowledge that their own ideological standpoint and their very vocal denunciations of Israel add to that culture.

      I do not believe that politics should have to be about ' waging war' on your opponents. But, rather, an attempt to argue a case for why a particular idea or piece of legislation will actually be a good thing. In outcomes.
      When policies which are devised to help people, particularly the most vulnerable, do not help people, then I think it is entirely reasonable to question them. Regardless of how 'well- meaning ' they are.

      I would suggest that the Democratic party's more entrenched anti- Israel stance, is not unrelated to the rest of their overall ideological view of the world. Including parts of their domestic agenda.
      That mirrors the situation here in the UK.

    3. k,

      Speaking for the situation in our inner cities, that's a combination of corruption enabled by the two-party system, and state and federal policies in which we generally have not much say -- our good jobs moving South, and then overseas, to be replaced by a handful of low-wage 'service' jobs and physical decay and abandonment -- again, partly enabled by the fact that too may of 'our leaders' represent their personal interests and ambitions, more than they represent us.

      I live in an inner city Irish, Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhood in North Philadelphia. Even here in the only part of North Philadelphia that still has a handful of white voters, you probably couldn't even build a complete (American) football team with the number of Republicans in the neighborhood. And the Republicans largely gave up on representing or attracting African-Americans decades ago. The Republicans can still compete on Hispanics elsewhere (though this seems to be on the wane, too), but they're also solidly Democratic here.

      But even if you wanted to vote for one, there essentially is no Republican Party here in Philadelphia, aside from what little bit of it which exists solely to run the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which is the one city patronage trough they've been given. The corrupt Republican machine ran this city until the 1950s, and once the Democrats took a few years to become entrenched, they've been the corrupt machine running this city ever since. Some particular administrations and some particular council members are better than others, but the rot within the system itself runs deep.

      The fact that there is no Republican Party here is why it was so easy for my neighbor, a gay mostly-liberal independent, to switch his registration and get on their party's ballot for Sheriff. Despite what its name (and our current sheriff's fetish for proto-fascist uniforms) might lead you to believe, Philadelphia Sheriff is not a law enforcement position, but rather mostly deals with acquiring and selling vacant lots and abandoned properties. He's going to be the first Republican I'll ever vote for, and it'll likely remain that way for the foreseeable future, for reasons Sar Shalom notes above.

      Locally, I'd note that one of Pennsylvania's progressive Democratic leaders, Daylin Leach, is a strongly pro-Israel Jewish Democrat. At our Center City rally here back during the July war against Hamas, we had plenty of elected Democrats speaking and in attendance at our 2,500-strong rally; the counter-rally consisted of 100 or so anti-Israel freaks jeering at us from across the street.

      My Congressman, Bob Brady, and my Democratic US Senator, Bob Casey, are pro-Israel.

      That's the local situation I come from. There is no Israel problem with local Democrats. If there was, I might be singing a different tune. I don't deny that it's an increasing problem nationally, but I'm fortunate enough to not have it be a problem where I live. So I don't really know if there's a way for me to reasonably help fight it? Aside from doing what little I can in exposing it on the internet, I guess.

      Fully agreed on this -

      "I do not believe that politics should have to be about ' waging war' on your opponents. But, rather, an attempt to argue a case for why a particular idea or piece of legislation will actually be a good thing. In outcomes."

      Unfortunately, both sides here are horrible about extreme partisanship. I was guilty of it myself until a few years ago.

    4. Jay

      Thanks for writing about situation in Philadelphia. It is really interesting to read about the political complexities - both contemporary and historical - of different parts of America
      I have no doubt that the extraordinary levels of corruption ( both parties) are utterly defeating. Philadelphia seems right up there with Chicago et al.

      It is desperately sad, I think, that politics, both local and national, has become so polarised. The "extreme partisanship" you refer to is so destructive. And works against the interests of the people. And ruins the possibility of having a landscape in which ideas and policy can be debated properly.
      Interesting that your local representatives are pro- Israel. Casey seems interesting as a Democrat, as he appears to be pro- life. And supports the Second Amendment. Unusual.

      The racial divide in US politics is seemingly insurmountable. But I would like to hope that it might someday be less entrenched.( I say that in hope rather than expectation.)

      Good luck to your neighbour in his run
      for Sheriff.
      ( It's not everyday an English person gets to say that.)

      We have a general election coming up here in May. It is looking extremely close at the moment. Maybe another coalition is looming. The election campaign so far is dismal. There is little on policy, and much on 'gaffes' and general denunciations. Recently, the media has been much taken up with which of his two kitchens, Ed Miliband actually uses.
      This is the sort of thing about which I do not care.

    5. There is an element of truth to your statement that there is a connection between the Democrats' domestic agenda and their anti-Israelism. The connection between the two is in the motivation of promoting fairness.

      For someone who views the chief function of public policy being the promotion of fairness, there are two ways of looking at the Middle East conflict. The simple way is to look at the current situation, see that Palestinians are currently dispossessed and the weaker party, and conclude that fairness requires this situation be undone. The harder approach is to take history into account, see that the Palestinians are heirs to impose the opposite situation on the Jews and seek to reimpose the old social order of the Middle East, and conclude that unless they give up on restoring the old social order, the Palestinians should get nothing. A large and growing number of Democrats are taking the easy route.

      For those who do not care about fairness, it is simply a matter of choosing one side over the other. There are a few whose identity is shaped by Jew-hatred more than anything else and thus support the Palestinians. For those not among this exception, they tend to favor Israel.

  2. Don't know what it takes to mend the rifts.

    Maybe a president for 6 years and term limits on Congress. There are lots of people in America that can do the job, and who do not have such negative feelings to project into the public arena.

    I can say what does not promote people acting together, a president that does not act as representative of ALL the people. As compared to one that is selective, sometimes mocking in what can seem a purposeful way, toward large swaths of the population. Even if he or she does get love in return.

    1. Could you explain how we are supposed to have candidates getting nominated based on promises to steamroll over the constituencies of the other party and then turn around after the election and represent those constituencies that they promised to steamroll over just eight months before?

    2. Depends on the office. A president is the one person elected to represent all people and must wear that hat. One can choose to pursue policies by not impugning those that don't agree as bad people.

  3. The choice for me is way simpler than a discussion of electoral reforms that won't happen or a left-right debate on domestic policy. That choice is to vote for the prosemitic candidate if there is one (or only one), or to vote Democrat if both are prosemitic. And if that means bad (mostly Republican) domestic policy, tough titty.

  4. We don't have a Parliamentary system. There's an actual executive branch that exists outside the elections of the legislative branch.

  5. By comparison the Israeli system is chaotic and complex:,7340,L-4637326,00.html

  6. BTW has anyone else seen this?

    The US has not renewed a historic agreement under which it guaranteed a supply of oil to Israel in emergencies, that is, instances in which Israel might be cut off from its regular commercial sources of oil because of war or closure of sea lanes. The agreement expired in November 2014, and since then the US administration has done nothing to renew it, Washington sources told "Globes".

    The sources said that it was not clear whether this was a deliberate step by the administration, stemming perhaps from renewed friction between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the White House, or a matter of bureaucratic inertia in Washington.


    Israel has never invoked the agreement, but Israel sources say that its importance lies in its very existence. An Israeli source compared the oil supply agreement to the loan guarantee agreement between the two countries that enables Israel to obtain commercial loans at low rates of interest. "Israel used the loan guarantee agreement very sparingly, but it is important that the loan guarantees agreement should exist, and the same applies to the energy agreement that guaranteed a regular supply of oil," the source said, "We never used it, but it's important that it should lie signed in a drawer."

  7. I notice that my suggestion about electoral methods has garnered a few comments, but my suggestion about electing congressional committee chairs has not. Any thoughts about whether such a change would have the desired effect and/or advocacy for that change?

    1. It's an interesting idea which I'd be inclined to support unless there's a good case to be made against it. How's that for hedging my bets, eh?

      If we're going to make any changes to the electoral system, I think two I'd go for right away would be ending judicial elections, and making voting compulsory. Much more in favor of the former than the latter, but both are things I've long supported.

    2. Oh, and the most important change - implementing Oregon's system (100% vote by mail or drop box) nationwide.