We live in a time of intense political polarization. Studies have found America more fractured than at any time since the Civil War. Ideological siloing and partisan antipathy shape every dimension of our lives, from where we live to what religious institutions we join to whom we are most likely to hire, loan money to, or help in need.
Within the American Jewish community, these tensions play out most acutely over Israel. In many Jewish communal organizations and campuses, Israel has become so fraught that many choose to disengage from one of the most important communal topics of our time. A JCPA study found that close to 40% of North American rabbis shy away from speaking about Israel in their communities.
These patterns inflict considerable societal and communal damage, including:
Lost insight Problem-solving often flows from divergent rather than convergent thinking. Jewish tradition builds investigation of disagreement into every page of negotiation over communal policy and truth, knowing that good public decision-making hinges on “heavenly argument.”
Undermined political effectivenessIn a polarized world, advocates and activists alienate potential allies, mobilizing the like-minded rather than reaching those who aren’t already with them or collaborating across divides. Politics becomes a winner-takes-all game of defeat and destroy.
Harmed relationships and threat of violenceA recent Reuters poll found that 16% of Americans stopped speaking to a family member or close friend in 2017 over politics. At the societal level, researchers have shown that breakdowns in direct relationship across divides can inch populations toward violence.
Loss of public trustTrust in U.S. public institutions and media are at historic lows. Polarization fuels this erosion as people see leaders as more loyal to their political tribe than to public problem-solving and view media as inherently politicized and untrustworthy.
A strong democracy does not depend on uniformity or consensus. It does depend on civic engagement across divides, healthy deliberation and debate, and a modicum of trust and cooperation among citizens and public leaders across their differences to address issues of public concern.
Common programs we bring to campuses and communities.
Building a field of skilled practitioners.
Teaching leaders to build a culture of dialogue and deliberation for their constituents.
Bridging American divides.