Now that the Democratic Party nomination is completely up in the air, one must contemplate the real possibility that socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, who may have the most delegates going into this summer’s convention, could be the Democratic nominee and profoundly influence the Democratic Party’s platform. When I walked the halls of the Senate before 2016, Bernie was considered at most a marginal figure by both Democrats and Republicans. Today, he is close to being the standard-bearer of the party.
In response, some mainstream pro-Israel Democrats have formed the Democratic Majority for Israel to support the US-Israel alliance. They are concerned because Sanders wants to make military aid to Israel contingent on Israel acquiescing to Palestinian demands, while diverting aid from Israel to Gaza. They worry because weakening Israel hurts American national security interests. As liberals, they are concerned that Bernie remains silent while some of the people he supports, and who support him, traffic in antisemitic and anti-Zionist proposals and falsehoods.
To insulate Bernie from detractors who charge his associates dabble in anti-Israel rhetoric and use antisemites as advisers and surrogates to speak on his behalf, his PR people have been busily spinning his image and Jewish ancestry.
So let’s look at his record, associates and endorsements.
Let’s start with his unapologetic endorsement of British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. In 2019, 85% of British Jewry thought Corbyn was clearly antisemitic and spoke in support of terrorists.
Today the bar is awfully low to be considered pro-Israel or a Zionist.
An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Ted Rall spoke about Sanders’s “pro-Israel sentiments” that may be too much to bear for his anti-Israel progressive supporters because he supports Israel’s right to exist. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, only 3% of liberals support Israel over the Palestinians. Rall claims “by the most stringent progressive standards, Sanders has been a steadfast supporter of the Jewish state.”
Yet, Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, and foreign policy adviser, Matt Duss, were accused of antisemitism while working for the progressive think-tank Center for American Progress, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.
His fervent supporters like Rep. Ilhan Omar, whom he allows to speak on his behalf, have long ago crossed the line into antisemitism with their views of the Jewish state. Omar’s antisemitism reaches beyond Israel into old time antisemitic tropes on Jewish power and money. Bernie is silent because nobody in his base would want him to call out a woman of color.
It is not far-fetched to think about Rep. Rashida Tlaib as the US ambassador to Israel, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez as UN ambassador or Omar, with her two-years’ experience on the House Foreign Relations Committee, being nominated to be secretary of state or another position of influence in foreign policy. This is not a “team of rivals” with Bernie being the Zionist. It is a monolithic group of anti-Israel activists in a Sanders administration. And yes, he could win.
Furthering the myth of Zionist Bernie, Muhammad Shehada, writing in The Forward asked, “Why do Palestinians love Bernie Sanders? He reconciles our narrative with the Zionist one… Sanders is a proud Zionist. His courageous and principled acknowledgment of our trauma, and Israel’s responsibility for it, has made him exceptionally popular in Gaza; some Gazans call him ‘the most popular Jew after Moses.’ However, understanding the Palestinian narrative, even if based on some dubious facts, will be necessary if Israel and the Palestinians ever reach some understanding.”
SO IS THE new definition in 2020 of a Zionist someone who believes Israel has a right to exist? This is not necessarily as a Jewish state, but some state of Israel that would be fully “democratic,” with an unlimited right of return of the descendants of Palestinian refugees, making the Jewish population of Israel completely vulnerable to demographic destruction.
Living on a Communist kibbutz 60 years ago, being born to Jewish parents or having a Jewish last name does not make you pro-Israel. Being Jewish doesn’t give you greater legitimacy to be a critic of Israel.
Bernie unapologetically uses Omar, an antisemite and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions supporter, as an official spokesman, along with Linda Sarsour and Tlaib. Palestinian-American Tlaib compared the antisemitic BDS movement to the quintessential American event, the Boston Tea Party.
Bernie, there is an accepted definition of when anti-Israel rhetoric crosses over to antisemitism called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which is used by our State Department and 30 other nations. Omar, Sarsour, and Tlaib meet the test. Will you direct your State Department to not consider a double standard against Israel as antisemitism or will you appoint to senior positions those who claim “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor?”
Let’s be clear, the definition of what makes someone pro-Israel is not confined to those who support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as progressive anti-Israel advocates claim. Only a plurality of Israelis support his Likud party. Anyone supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, while not characterizing it as apartheid, racist or fascist is certainly within the pro-Israel tent.
But “Jewish” groups that gravitate to Bernie, like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, do fall far outside the tent as illiberal anti-Zionists who use their Jewish genes to claim a higher standing to defame Israel.
There is a world of difference between liberal Zionists, like the Democratic Majority for Israel, and progressive anti-Zionists. It is the choice between people like Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer and progressive darling Ilhan Omar.
So the question must be asked, can anyone who cares about the survival of the Jewish state and the US-Israel relationship, trust Sanders to change his spots and vote for him?
The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers, as well White House advisers. He is the senior editor for security at ‘The Jerusalem Report;’ a columnist for ‘The Jerusalem Post;’ a contributor to The Hill, i24TV, JTA, The Defense Post, JNS, ‘The Forward’ and has appeared in RealClearWorld.