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BDS, the Trade Protection Act, and Israel

6 Mar

Given the amount of ink that’s been spilled over toothless student council votes taken place in less than 1% of US college campuses, it’s surprising that the biggest BDS story of the year (if not the last several years) has gotten virtually no coverage.

I’m talking about the Trade Protection Act, a bi-partisan piece of legislation currently working its way through the US House of Representatives, that would make a free trade agreement between the US and Europe contingent on the latter taking no part in anti-free trade activities (i.e., BDS) directed against Israel.

This is the first major expansion of America’s anti-boycott legal regime since legislation punishing US companies participating in the Arab boycott of the Jewish state was signed into law by that Zionist stooge Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.

As noted by William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection (one of the few pro-Israel media outlets to cover the story in detail), there may be fewer teeth in this particular proposal than in earlier anti-boycott laws, given that a trade agreement between nations is harder to enforce than a legal regime within a nation.  And since any alleged violation of the new rules would have to travel through complex bureaucracies in the US, Europe and whichever international group would adjudicate between them, I don’t expect this bill – if passed – would lead to many violators facing consequences for participating in BDS activities in a timely fashion.

But, like anti-boycott legislation passed in the 1970s, the Trade Protection Act would be most significant with regard to symbolic and indirect consequences.

Starting with symbolism, remember that for your average BDSer “Sanctions” (states inflicting economic punishment on Israel) is the Holy Grail.  It’s one thing for student governments to pretend that their stacked votes represent campus opinion, or that boycotting hummus made in New Jersey demonstrates the impending triumph of their movement.  But if a national government decides to cross the line from criticism to punishment of the Jewish state, suddenly we’re talking about an event with genuine political significance.

Yet after decades of propaganda designed to convince the US public (and through them, their representatives in government) that Israel is the new Apartheid South Africa, we finally have US sanctions legislation speeding through Congress – legislation which sanctions not Israel but those participating in BDS.

In a country where 3:1 support for Israel over her enemies has been a constant for decades, I don’t expect the boycotters will be able to rally a citizenry hostile to their cause against the new trade rules.  And even during a period when relations between the Executive branch and Israeli leaders are so strained, I can’t imagine a scenario where the President would pull out his rarely used veto pen for this particular issue.  In fact – as we have seen in many previous situations (J Street’s official anti-BDS position comes to mind) – BDS is so loathed across so much of the political spectrum that taking a stand against it is a cheap and easy way to establish one’s pro-Israel bona fides.

On the non-symbolic front, the real power of this legislation is that it gives European governments and companies behind hounded by BDS activists telling them to “do something” (i.e., do what they say) an excuse to say no.

Keep in mind that in the few instances when Europeans took steps in the BDS direction, those steps were chosen to cause minimal local damage (by boycotting goods that meant little to the local economy, for instance, or divesting assets that could be easily replaced by ones not on the BDS blacklist).  In all cases, people making genuine economic decisions (vs. the BDSers who just demand other people do so and deal with the consequences), are looking for risk- and cost-free ways to proceed.  So the power of the new Trade Protection legislation is that it actually adds a cost to boycott and divestment decisions, meaning those who take them will now have to make genuine sacrifices for the privilege of becoming a bullet point Omar Barghouti’s next slide presentation.

Keep in mind that the most important impact of the original Carter-era anti-boycott legislation was also indirect.  Sure, some companies got hit with fines for signing onto the Arab boycott of Israel (a boycott that required companies to literally sign on – creating a paper trail for US prosecutors).  But these fines cost them a lot less than the difference between their income from Arab League customers and the Israel market they were foregoing.

What really hurt these companies was the PR hit they took when it became public that they were caving into demands to not do business with one Jewish state in order to line their pockets with revenue from many Arab ones.  And once the cost of participating in the boycott included making financial and reputational sacrifices in the huge US (vs. small Israeli) market, US corporations suddenly had an excuse to say “No” to the boycott office in Damascus.

The fact that this legislation would extend the dynamic we have had in place in the US since the ‘70s into Europe has caused some consternation in BDS circles. BDS loudmouth sites like Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, for instance, have complained that the new rules could become a “devastating weapon” to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions project.  And while they might not be thinking in the same terms outlined above of how these new rules would impact them (by giving weak-willed Europeans an excuse to turn them away), limited discussion of the Trade Protection Act within BDS circles seems to recognize the threat of such a move to their ever-flailing program.

Again, one has to contrast today’s BDS effort with the fight against South African Apartheid in the 1980s when governments, colleges and universities, churches and other civic institutions understood and agreed about the nature of the Apartheid system, proudly (and publicly) made economic choices (including sacrifices) that punished that racist nation, and were celebrated for doing so.

In contrast, today’s BDS “movement,” after more than a decade and a half of untold efforts, has only managed to unite the powers they have endlessly lobbied (the US government, the nation’s largest academic associations, college Presidents, etc.) against them, while their dream of replicating in the US the situation we saw in France last summer becomes more distant than ever.

Closing Argument(s)

18 Feb

It might be getting time to wrap up the debate/discussion I’ve been having with Mike Lumish over at Israel Thrives regarding Israel and the Left.  Not that there isn’t a lot more to say about this subject, but I suspect that our attempts to find major disagreements could devolve into a Narcissism of Small Difference destined to deliver a diminishing return on investment.

But to keep things going for just one more column, I continue to take issue with the core assertion that drives much of Mike’s argument (one he claims I agree with in his last piece) that the current President supports (or “supported”) the Muslim Brotherhood, if by “support” he means (1) agrees with the goals of that organization and (2) wishes it to succeed.

This might seem like a small linguistic point, but within it lies the reason I suspect Mike is having such a hard time getting his messages accepted.  For, simply put, the argument at the heart of his critique is not strong enough.

But fear not.  For the somewhat technical analysis you are about to read is designed to strengthen, rather than weaken, the argument of my friendly opponent.  So if you can stand a few paragraphs of logical dweebiness, read on.

For the few of you remaining, there are a number of techniques that allow you to determine the strengths and weakness of arguments delivered in normal human language (vs. machine code which is much easier to check for flaws).

If you want to go back 2500 years, Aristotle’s syllogisms still pack a punch, although I’ve developed a growing preference for so-called Toulmin Diagrams in recent years.  But since those would take too long to explain, I think we can get what we need through use of the simplest structure for an argument: a set of premises leading to a conclusion.

With this in mind, Mike’s key points can be boiled down into an argument that looks something like this:

Premise 1: The Muslim Brotherhood is a totalitarian organization with goals at odds with the US and the West, which is also the wellspring of Jihadi violence in the Middle East.

Premise 2: President Obama and his administration have made decisions and statements (especially when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power in Egypt) that involved helping and praising that Brotherhood regime.

Premise 3: Only someone who supports the Muslim Brotherhood would help and praise the Muslim Brotherhood regime when it ruled Egypt.


Conclusion: President Obama supports a totalitarian organization with goals at odds with the US and the West, which is also the wellspring of Jihadi violence in the Middle East.

Now there are two primary tests for determining the strength of an argument structured in this way.

First, the argument can be checked for validity and such a check is fairly simple.  For if accepting the premises of the argument requires you to accept the conclusion, then the argument can be said to be valid.

An iconic example of a valid argument would be “Toby is cat.  All cats are animals.  Therefore Toby is an animal.” which includes two premises (the first two sentences) that, if you accept them as true, requires you to accept the conclusion as also being true.  And if you look at Mike’s argument (as I’ve articulated it above) you will see that it is perfectly valid.

Now the way Mike’s argument has been formally structured was my work, not his, which means someone else might perform a translation that ended in a non-valid argument.  But as I’ll demonstrate, it is usually good practice to do your best to turn an opponent’s statements into a valid argument which can then be checked for soundness – the second test of an argument’s strength.

For an argument to be sound, not only must it be valid, but its premises must be true in the real world.  For many daft arguments are perfectly valid.  For example: “My wife is a mermaid.  All mermaids are leprechauns.  Therefore, my wife is a leprechaun.” is a valid argument, but the fact that my wife is the only thing in that argument which actually exists makes it unsound.

Now in the case of Mike’s argument, in the context of this discussion his first premise is totally acceptable.  In a scholarly context, someone might want to point out the complex interplay between the Brotherhood, Wahabism, Shiite fundamentalism and other religious and historic trends that have led to our current Jihad problem.  But for purposes of this conversation Premise 1 is perfectly acceptable in its present form.  And I think anyone who has followed US foreign policy over the last 5-6 years would agree that Premise 2 is on safe historic ground.

But a reasonable person can come up with a variety of alternatives to Premise 3.  For example, someone might make crappy decisions (like the ones we’ve seen the Obama administration make) because they suck at diplomacy/realpolitique due to incompetence, arrogance or a combination of both.  Or perhaps the President’s ideology blinds him to seeing forces (even Muslim Fundamentalist forces) fighting against an oppressive regime as new totalitarians in waiting (vs. successors to the civil rights heroes of old).

Notice that none of these descriptions is flattering to the current US administration, or dodges the fact that their decisions have made the world much less safe.  In fact, I would say they are stronger critiques than the original Premise 3 above since they do not claim to understand the psychological reasons behind someone’s (Obama’s) choices, and thus are less susceptible to the kind of challenges you are reading now.

If you read through the several exchanges Mike and I have had, you will notice that when this challenge has been presented (by me or others – albeit in a less structured/dweeby way) he has tried to reinforce his argument by providing more examples of Brotherhood ruthlessness and anti-Semitism or Obama administration perfidy.  But, as you can now see, all that does is boost the two premises about which there is already agreement, providing nothing to shore up that argument’s weakest link.

Now Mike could dispute my definition of “support” to mean support of Brotherhood goals and a desire to see that movement succeed.  But if that’s the case, why spend so much time and energy getting upset that others don’t agree with his core claim if the key term in that claim (“support”) is up for grabs?

I’m hoping this analysis highlights the key reason why I’m putting readers through so much tech-talk since my goal is not to smash Mike’s points but to provide him the means to make them stronger.  For I suspect that what he perceives as people being in denial over the important points he is trying to make actually represents a dispute over a problematical premise that Mike might not realize weakens his case, making it that much harder for others to accept what he is saying more broadly.

And given that his critique of the Left (especially the Jewish Left) hinges on a conclusion drawn from a potentially unsound argument (vs. other arguments over the Left and Islam/Israel which do not carry such a flaw), I return to my original promise that this type of analysis can only help to make my opponent’s arguments more powerful, presuming he is ready to adjust his language to strengthen the weak link and not be so hard on those who seem more than ready to agree with him on everything but his most fragile point.

UC BDS Mayhem

10 Feb

Back in high school, I recall a Model United Nations in which the only committee whose members weren’t stoned for the entire week roused up enough energy and creativity to cast a unanimous vote in favor of the UN starting its own Space Fleet.

That memory (which I may have tossed into a previous piece on the subject of BDS) came to mind as I learned that the University of California Student Assembly (UCSA) just passed a series of resolutions calling for the university system to divest from every place on the planet they don’t like, starting with Israel, moving through Russia, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico and Sri Lanka, finally ending with the United States.

So how did we get to the point where a student organization that almost no one has ever heard of (much less voted for), an organization with no mandate to vote on international affairs, whose members have little more than undergraduate-level expertise about any of the countries they’ve just condemned, feels it’s perfectly appropriate to declare nations (including their own) so loathsome that the school system they attend should break all financial ties to them?

When we BDS-watchers last encountered UCSA, they had just passed a pro-BDS resolution masquerading as a pro-free-speech resolution on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, a move that earned them praise and warm kissed from Students for Justice in Palestine (which had pretty much dictated to them the wording of their measure) and scorn and ridicule from everyone else, including the students this group claims to represent.

In theory, this experience (as well as the many bruising BDS fights that have roiled student governments within the University of California system for over half a decade) should have taught student representatives to respect the opinions of those who voted them into office.  Unfortunately, the only lesson put into practice over these last 5-6 years was learned by SJP, that lesson being if you want to get your political opinion to come out of someone else’s mouth, make sure that you and your allies are the ones casting most of the (stacked) committee votes.

So after seeing their divestment resolutions voted down again and again in school after school, the Israel-dislikers put time and energy into getting their own people elected to office, making sure to not let voters know that their primary agenda item once elected would be to vote “Yes” for resolutions that were voted down time and time again by previous student Senators.  And given the low voter turnout and limited campus interest in what student government does or says, Students for Justice in Palestine is now claiming that the dominos are falling their way.

But what do these votes really mean?  After all, the presumption behind the BDS obsession with higher education is that since colleges were hotbeds of anti-Apartheid activism in the 1980s, if the boycotters can turn them into hotbeds of anti-Israel activism in the 2010s then their formula of “Israel = Apartheid” will be proven true.  (This is the same logic behind the argument “All dogs are animals.  All cats are animals.  Therefore, all dogs are cats.”)

If political disputes were settled by logic alone, the fact that the BDS case for their campus activism is founded on a textbook fallacy would end the dispute.  But SJP, like its predecessors and eventual successors, are not in the logic or argument business.  They are in the “do anything necessary to give the illusion that our hatred of Israel reflects the belief system of more than just us” business.  And, as we have seen over the last few months, SJP’s “anything goes” mentality has done more to expose their fanaticism than anything Israel and its allies could achieve (even with the zillion-dollar budgets we receive from Mossad and the Elders of Zion bank on the moon).

One need only look at campuses where the SJP types feel in the ascendant to see political ids running wild.  At UC Davis, a divestment vote was followed by the painting of swastikas on the wall of the school’s Jewish fraternity.  This was after the group winning the vote began chanting “Allah Akbar!”, with one student senator squealing in a now-deleted Facebook post that “Hamas has taken over UC Davis!” (a phrase I suspect never appeared on her campaign literature).

This type of lunacy is just the escalation of what we have seen at other schools where the boycotters think they can get away with anything, including punching students who challenge them, surrounding political opponents in an attempt to intimidate, and that old campus standby of shouting down any speaker their opponents manage to bring onto campus.  Historically, this atrocious behavior was limited to a few small schools located in places where the wider community shared their anti-Israel views (notably Hampshire College in Massachusetts and Evergreen College in Washington).  But with these recent “wins,” the boycotters seem ready to bring their mayhem to much larger communities.

To understand why the BDSers overplay their hand time and time again, making their behavior the story vs. their preferred claims of political momentum, you need to keep in mind that:

  • Attempts to drag student government into their squalid project is actually a boobie prize that is meant to substitute for the fact that college administrators and investment managers no longer take their calls and are ready to announce before a BDS vote is even taken that they have no intention to take such egregiously manufactured “mandates” the least bit seriously.
  • Anti-Israel activism always ratchets up whenever there is a war in the region, like the one Hamas started last summer. And given the total disinterest across the entire BDS multiverse in stopping Hamas from launching the next war they are preparing for as you read this, it’s pretty clear that SJP et al can’t wait for more Palestinians to die so that they can march and scream and shove photos of bloody babies into everyone’s faces (even if some of those photos were taken in Syria).
  • And speaking of Syria, the other reason why divestment advocates have been so shrill in recent years is that their chants have to drown out the screams of hundreds of thousands of people dying across the Middle East at the hands of those who hate Israel just as much as the boycotters do.

As ever, Israel’s defenders are stuck having to do what they can, given that we are not likely to rev up a hate campaign against Muslims/Arabs/Palestinians to counter the one the BDSers have dedicated themselves to targeting Israelis/Jews.  And as much as “turning the tables” might sound good on paper, our side – to its credit – is not ready to wreak havoc in our communities just so we can score points against political enemies.

But we are hardly without options, even during a period when our opponents are feeling especially aggressive.

For we have already seen how that aggression can become the story, turning BDS victory laps into apology sessions where the Israel haters have to answer questions about swastikas and punches and other rude or violent behavior, rather than getting people to pay attention to their manufactured “victories.”  And just as SJP will never, under any circumstances, stop making accusations in order to answer questions posed by critics, so too we must talk only of those swastikas and punches and other appalling acts of rudeness and never mention this or that student vote, other than to put it into the context of SJP manipulativeness and misbehavior.

I was also happy to see Israel’s defenders walk out of recent votes, rather than stick around and pretend that a stacked Student Senate had any interest in what they had to say.  But this refusal to play by someone else’s rules will only be effective if we can figure out ways to get the other side to play by ours.  And while I’ve talked about what this could consist of in the past, I’d like to revisit our options over the next couple of weeks – in anticipation of those events I mentioned recently (as well as to get my mind off the shoveling left to do).

Comings and Snowings

4 Feb

Well a pair of Snowmageddons (which kept the kids home for four school days out of the last seven) has left little time for blogging.  More annoyingly, it also prevented me from making it to a talk by Matti Friedman that was moved from a snowy Monday to a conflict-ridden Tuesday.

For those in the know, Freidman wrote the most talked about story on Israel and the media last year entitled An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth.  And, in addition to writing a defense of that piece against lame attempts to discredit it/him, he has also been on the speaking circuit, providing all-important context to understand the media phenomenon he writes about so well.

Fortunately, this transcript from a recent talk in the UK probably includes most of what he said last night here in Boston.   And since the BDS brigade has chosen to ignore rather than smear this former AP journalist/whistleblower, you can assume his is writing about and saying truths that they do not want others to know about.

Moving onto events I actually plan to get to, any and all West Coast BDS fighters are invited to the StandWithUs 2015 Anti-BDS Conference where yours truly will be speaking alongside the best in the business with regard to battling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”  The list of my fellow speakers represents a who’s who of thoughtful pro-Israel thinker and activists, and I’ll leave it to readers to guess which one of them got into a legendary fight with my mother more than 25 years ago.

The event takes place March 21-23 in Los Angeles and while it is not free, it is certainly worth it, so I hope to see some of you there.

Closer to home, I’m also doing a gig in Providence Rhode Island the evening of February 25.  I’m not sure about attendance policies, but if you are interested in going (or just meeting up), drop me a note and I’ll let you know the details.

Finally, a friend of the family recently forwarded me (via my wife) a note from Hillel in California regarding the mayhem currently underway in a UC system where the BDSers recently cracked the code of how to get BDS resolutions passed by student governments, regardless of the fact that their opinion remains nothing more than the bigoted beliefs of a ruthless minority that refuses to take no for an answer.

I’ve written about the topic so many times, it’s hard to know where to start on this subject (although this piece is as good a place as any).  But as the sun (and the children) rise for the first day of school since last Friday, I must defer writing anything new on this topic for another 24-48  hours.  So tune in towards the end of the week for some further thoughts on whether the sky is actually falling over on the Left Coast, or if we are just seeing another example of impotent fantasy politics turning another institution (student government) into a laughingstock.

BDS Bombast for 2014

13 Jan

I had almost forgotten the ritual of the end-of-year BDS Boast Sheet – that document the BDSers promulgate annually to celebrate their marvelous successes, which they claim as proof of their inevitable triumph.

Unlike previous years, this year’s sheet includes some actual (vs. just pretend) “victories,” notably the Presbyterian Churches (PCUSA) divestment decision and the American Studies Association (ASA) boycott vote.

Regarding the former, when I was debating the PCUSA’s 2012 decision to vote down divestment over at The Daily Beast, I pointed out that if the BDSers really put their backs into it for two more years, they might finally get back to where they were ten years earlier when divestment first passed at the church (before being voted down in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012).

And, sure enough, by insisting votes never end until they get what they want, the BDSers were able to get a smaller, older and more political-homogenous church to do their bidding this time around – but only with the hypocritical but telling caveat that the church also insisted it’s decision not be seen as constituting participation in the BDS “movement.”

With regard to ASA, enough has happened since that vote (including condemnations raining down on the organization from the rest of academia and other academic associations fleeing from BDS having seen what it did to ASA) that we should probably start thinking of the American Studies Association as the Olympia Food Coop of academic groups: an organization that will cling to its boycott no matter what as they scream in our faces about their wonderfulness and bravery while similar organizations look upon ASA as an example of why BDS should be avoided at all cost (and act accordingly).

Speaking of reactions, one of my favorite elements of BDS bragging is their attempt to spin everything – including those organizing against and condemning them – as further examples of their own success.  Thus, the perfectly legitimate response of Jewish organizations and more questionable response by state legislators to the ASA boycott represents “panic” over BDS potency (rather than a normal reaction by an insulted minority group or a demonstration that the first BDS-inspired sanction activity ended up being directed against them).

Similarly, a famous actress pushing an Israeli company during the Superbowl (and then giving the finger to critics) has been transformed to a story about how “Scarlett Johansson Helps Bring BDS Into the Mainstream.”  Which leaves us in the situation where both condemnation and defeat are both being presented as examples of victory.

It’s when they start getting into big dollar “wins” that the more-familiar BDS bullshit starts to float to the surface.  For example, I happen to live in Boston yet the story of Veolia’s loss of a $4.5 billion dollar contract with the city as a result of BDS efforts (rather than just an example of a company winning some and losing others) was news to me.

Similarly, other stories of pension funds or Microsoft or local, national or international organizations making billion dollar decisions based on BDS lobbying continue to never be accompanied by statements from these allegedly boycotting organizations explaining to the world what they are doing and why (vs. having their business decisions interpreted by BDS tea-leaf readers).  And, as I have described previously, absent such statements political divestment (vs. normal business transactions) cannot be said to have occurred.

The wording of that Boston decision (towards the top of the page under January) is telling, given that it provides the boycotters just enough wiggle room to worm out of accusations of dishonesty (given that it never actually says the city’s decision was the result of their campaign, rather than just coming afterwards post-hoc fashion).  Which points out how much boast sheets like this one are designed to delude allies as much as they are the public.

This would explain why they prefer anecdote to actual data, including the data found in a report that confirms what I described years ago: that during a decade and a half when the BDSers were trying to bring the Israeli economy to its knees, that economy more than doubled in size with exports to an allegedly boycotting Europe growing close to 100% and even products from the dreaded “Occupied Territories” selling gangbusters around the world.

Now this segue into reality also needs to take into account the fact that BDS acting as a transmission belt for anti-Israel propaganda does have an impact, even when they lose this or that vote. And it also needs to take into account that reality now includes murderous anti-Semitism returning in a big way to Europe with the forces of Islamist imperialism on a lethal march throughout every part of the Middle East that is not being subjected to boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns by those presenting themselves as morally perfect.

Unfortunately, most of us are not in a position to impact how these geo-political pathologies play out in the coming years.  But we do have it in our power to prevent those toxins from poisoning our schools, our churches, our cities and the rest of civil society.  We can (and have) prevented the BDS arm of the anti-Israel war movement from winning many real victories (which is why they have to keep boasting about fake ones).

And so the battle continues…


9 Jan

The start of Mike Lumish’s latest contribution to our ongoing discussion succeeded in making me blush, which is why I’d like to start off by paying him an even bigger compliment by thanking him for making me think, particularly about closely held beliefs.

For while I feel pretty confident in my understanding about what the BDS “movement” is all about, I’ll admit that the writing you may have read on this site regarding Left vs. Right matters is fairly optimistic with regard to the existence of a pro-Zionist (or at least anti-BDS) Left that I’m hoping will stand firm against the Israel haters on that end of the political spectrum (much like the anti-Communist Left helped to prevent Marxism from bullying its way into dominance of progressive politics in an earlier era).

But as the business cliché points out: hope is not a strategy.  So even though many allies in various BDS fights (not to mention most Democratic Congressmen and self-styled radicals such as this person), fall into the category of a Left that loves the Jewish state (or at least hates it less than they hate the boycotters), Mike provides important balance by highlighting the increasing encroachment of dark language, thought and values into mainstream liberalism – something we all must take very, very seriously.

Moving from mutual appreciation to debate, Mike seems most (and legitimately) concerned about my characterization of his position as stemming from partisanship.  And given the priority he gives that critique in his recent piece, the Principle of Charity obliges me to also prioritize that issue as well.

First off, I need to point out that my comment on partisanship was directed not at him personally, but at everyone dealing with the intersection of Middle East and domestic politics (which, given the state of the world and the behavior of the present US administration, should include all of us).

Now this is not my way of worming out of a critique my interlocutor finds objectionable.  Rather, it is a way to highlight how our partisan instincts provide both benefits and risks with regard to how we all approach difficult and important political matters.

Despite the negative connotation often attached to the word “partisan,” it’s worth noting that a partisan alignment is a perfectly natural and useful way to find our way in the world.  We all need some way of making sense of the many political issues that confront us on a regular basis, and aligning ourselves with a political belief system is a reasonable way of navigating such complexity.

The modern faith in the rational makes us queasy about admitting that our political choices are anchored in a belief system that allows us to make decisions on matters we may know little about.  This is why with every election cycle, reasonable people publish useful checklists that let you select your personal preferences –  issue-by-issue  – with a candidate selected for you by an algorithm designed to match you (dating-service like) with the candidate you most agree with.

But every time I have filled out one of these surveys, I’ve found myself questioning any result that asks me to vote in a way different than the partisan way I have voted before.  And this is not an entirely irrational reaction.  For my partisan loyalties reflect a belief system I have chosen after thinking about multiple issues over many years.  So even if the particular issues facing us right now might give the edge to the candidate from a different party, my partisan instincts are actually reminding me that today’s issues might not be tomorrow’s (since they weren’t yesterday’s), which means a system of political beliefs might actually anchor, rather than replace, broader, long-term independent thinking.

At the same time, embracing a belief system always runs the risk of creating unthinking habit (i.e., unreasoning bias).  And in the case of partisanship, it can also lead to the dangerous tendency to look to others who share your belief system (or claim they do) before making up one’s own mind.  So while partisanship is a useful means for making sense of things, it becomes dangerous when it serves as a complete replacement for reflection and independent thought.

Putting aside abstract plusses and minuses of partisanship, let’s also not forget the human factor that goes into most decision-making (political or otherwise).  For if you don’t trust the candidate that some survey says agrees with you more than does that other guy to actually walk the walk (by prioritizing and acting on those issues of agreement), then why should they be owed your vote?  And as much as personality traits might also seem a poor substitute for rational arguments over issues, most of the successes and failures of any leader can be traced to their character vs. their embrace of this or that political position.

This is my usual long-winded way of urging caution with regard to reading too much into things like the large percentage of the Jewish vote that remains Democratic, even in an age when the current Democratic occupant of the White House seems so hostile to Jewish interests (notably with regard to Israel and the Middle East).

I think Mike and I are going to have to agree to disagree over when Obama’s statements regarding the Arab Spring constitute an endorsement of the Muslim Brotherhood (vs. deluded wishful thinking combined with overheated rhetoric).  But there is no disagreement that the current President’s choices: from cutting endless slack to Islamist foes of both Israel and the US to picking needless fights with the Israeli government, make it a perfectly reasonable choice for Jews who support Israel (which describes the majority of us) to refuse to vote for him.

But that didn’t happen last election, did it?  And one reasonable interpretation of the – at most – minimal change in Jewish voting patterns between 2008 and 2012 is that American Jews have their heads “buried in the sand” in such a way that we cannot abandon partisan (i.e., largely Democratic) loyalties, even for the sake of a Jewish state we hold dear.

But another possibility takes into account the fact that Jews (like all Americans) were not casting a vote on each and every issue of importance to them, but were rather making a narrow choice between two individuals.  And had the Republican candidate been more appealing in ways having nothing to do with Israel and the Middle East (as was Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984), who knows how the Jewish vote might have gone?

Even if I don’t expect to ever see a total party realignment of the Jewish public, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of Jews voted for Obama for the same reasons the majority of Americans did: they liked him better than the other guy. And just as some voters were ready to engage in wishful thinking with regard to issues like Obamacare in order to overcome doubts when the time came to pull the lever in November 2012, I’m guessing many Jews were hoping for the best when they cast their votes in both 2008 and 2012 – not because they were ignorant of the President’s failings, but because the only other option on offer (voting for Mitt Romney – who also came with baggage) did not provide them enough reason to overcome their partisan instincts.

Upon reflection, it may simply be some of the language Mike has used in the past that gives the appearance (vs. the reality) of disagreement between us.  For while he has told me directly that I’m not included in the list of those who have their “heads buried in the sand” with regard to the threat to Israel and the Jews from the Left, I think it has been his willingness to characterize those who do not buy into his analyses (which, if you read his work regularly, you’ll understand to consist of a number of complex and challenging arguments) with this head/sand charge that has rubbed me (and others) the wrong way.

As someone who also proposes a multi-faceted worldview, and who also feels frustrated that not enough people embrace that worldview in toto, I can understand why it is sometimes tempting to try to grab those who know should agree with you by the shoulders and try to shake some sense into them.  But knowing how much such shaking can become the issue (and cloud the very arguments I want people to follow and buy into), my preference is to be patient with those who seem to be taking too long to “get it,” rather than trying to shame them into understanding.