As a result of the coronavirus and the health and economic crises it generates, values in the most advanced Western countries may pivot toward material survival and away from “post-materialist” values such as self-expression and human rights.
Such a shift could have complex implications for the Jewish people, generating more antisemitism on the one hand and increased support of Israel on the other. In such a reality it will be vitally important to maintain dialogue and open lines of communication between Israel and the affected Diaspora communities.
The World Values Survey has been surveying representative population samples from more than 100 countries since 1981 regarding basic attitudes and values. It has broadly grouped its data into two main categories: one measures how religious/ traditional or secular a population is; the other measures how concerned a population is with survival and material well-being, or to what extent is it concerned with “spiritual,” psychological, or social goods such self-fulfillment, self-expression, meaning, etc., because it takes material well-being for granted.
The survey describes four value orientations:• Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority, and traditional family values. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.
• Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are relatively acceptable.
• Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. This is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of tolerance and trust of people, especially those outside their own ethnic or religious group.
• Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and toward gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.
The survey groups countries according to these value orientations. The countries of Eastern Europe – Ukraine, Moldova, Romania – are secular but survival-oriented. Their citizenry does not enjoy an abundance of material goods, so they are focused on material well-being.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic share similar attributes, but to a somewhat lesser extent.
In contrast to this group of countries, we find the countries of Western Europe and Scandinavia, which are also secular but oriented toward “self-expressive” values: France, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.
These are countries the survey researchers termed “post-materialist.” They have experienced material abundance since the Second World War; their populations do not have to worry about survival. Instead, they are concerned with “self-expression” – human rights, gay rights, feminism, environmentalism, etc.
The English-speaking countries – Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and the United States – are similarly concerned with “self-expression” but they are somewhat more religious.
Attitudes toward the Jewish people can be examined in this context. The more survival-oriented countries of Eastern and East-Central Europe, (the Baltics, Hungary, Poland) are ethnocentric and distrustful and hostile toward strangers. They have a tendency toward antisemitism.
At the same time, they are sympathetic to Israel as a similar ethno-state that experiences challenges to its survival.
IN THE post-materialist states of Western Europe and Scandinavia, countries are formally against antisemitism and guarantee minority and human rights. They have official mechanisms to measure antisemitism and racism and are supposed to struggle against it.
At the same time, because of their post-materialist values, they are sympathetic to the Palestinians and their rights, and oppose certain Israeli policies, sometimes strenuously. These countries also carry antisemitism, but it is mainly a “spillover” from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and mainly perpetuated by Muslim populations and the Left.
Regarding Western European antisemitism, Israel and the local Jewish communities have similar if not identical interests.
They are both opposed to the Red-Green antisemitic alliance.
In Eastern Europe, Israel and the local Jewish communities may have opposing interests.
Israel maintains friendly relations with countries that are sympathetic to it and support it diplomatically, while the local Jewish communities may suffer under antisemitic rhetoric and practices.
How does coronavirus figure into all this? It threatens basic well-being in a way that was unthinkable just a short while ago. It is not unreasonable to think – depending on how long it lasts, the extent of its severity and recurrence and the speed in which vaccines and cures are developed – that it will put more focus on “survival.”
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, some countries – Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United States – moved from self-expressive values toward more survival-related ones. In fact, it could very well be that the election of President Trump (as well as the rise of other populist-nationalist leaders) is connected to this shift in values.
The attitude of the Trump administration toward the Jewish people mirrors that of the East European states. It is relatively tolerant of antisemitic white supremacists (indeed, some of whom have perpetrated antisemitic attacks), and at the same time, it is very positive with respect to Israel, its government and policies.
Much of the American Jewish community, too, finds itself in a dilemma that somewhat resembles that of the Hungarian and Eastern European Jewish communities. It opposes a government that has close relations with the Jewish state.
Some have predicted that the coronavirus will be the undoing of some populist leaders because of their poor crisis performance.
Even if it does, on the more tectonic level it might still engender a shift of values, especially on the back of the financial crisis of 2008.
Societies, including those in the United States, Western Europe and the other English-speaking countries, might become more survival oriented, more concerned with material and economic well-being, more ethnocentric and in-group oriented and less open to “outsiders.”
Such attitudes form a ready platform for antisemitism but also for sympathy for Israel as an ethno-state. Because, in such a reality where Israel and local Jewish communities may have opposing interests, continued Jewish solidarity will take on a new urgency. It will be vitally important to maintain dialogue and open lines of communication between Israel and the affected Diaspora communities.
The writer is a sociologist and senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute.