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A Few Minutes with Dr. Alan Mendoza

Gedalia Guttentag

Dr. Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, attributing populism to the erosion of the left-right divide

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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D r. Alan Mendoza is founder and executive director of the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), an influential right-leaning think tank based in London. Named after Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the US senator who advocated a robust US foreign policy and who helped free Soviet Jews via the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, the HJS advocates the spread of liberal democracies and a strong military posture.

With the Brexit clock winding down, and in the wake of the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal on British soil, Dr. Mendoza talked to Mishpacha about the big picture of European politics, Russia’s relationship with the West, and our era of Western self-doubt.

The UK intends to exit from the European Union next March, a major blow to the EU. Looking back, what was the main trigger for Brexit, and are there any lessons going forward? 

There are lots of answers, and they really tie into why populist parties and messages have become popular across the West. The long-term reason is because of economic and social dislocation. There’s been the loss of manufacturing jobs, and the perception that immigrants have come and taken their jobs and taken benefits, and that has caused anger.

Tied into that is the belief that immigrants are not integrating and that as a result our own societies are changing. At the core of all this is that European countries were not immigrant societies; we are largely homogeneous. Of course we had immigrant groups coming in — the Jews being the most obvious example — but the numbers were small. So if you ask for the dominant trigger for Brexit, it was immigration, especially after the Syrian crisis caused a large influx of refugees. But it was interesting that the trends came to the fore in the era of social media, which allowed people to share their anger and discontent more easily.

You mentioned other populist movements across the West, and notably there was Donald Trump’s win, closely followed by the National Front’s very strong showing in France. But is there a genuine link between these different cases, or just a feeling that the status quo is being challenged everywhere? 

Well, you can include Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in this list, Syriza in Greece, and Podemos in Spain, which are all left-wing groups. There’s no coherence here, although there have been links between some groups. But it’s just a general feeling that these people have different answers from those that have been rammed down our throats; these people listen to our complaints.

On the right, populists talk a lot about migration and say that mainstream leaders have just ignored the subject, and a lot of that is tied into the threat of radical Islam. On the left, they talk about economic issues like housing and the 99% versus the 1%. But both talk about protectionism, and that is where the extremes are meeting at the ends.

Contemporary politics is not right versus left; it’s circular, which is why you have anti-Semitism from the Labour Party, which ought to be complete nonsense from a left-wing party. It only makes sense when you realize that some Labour voters would actually be at home in a fascist party. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 707)

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