As Purim approaches, Bernie Sanders, the Jewish front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said:
[Moving the US Embassy back to Tel Aviv is] something we would take into consideration …
I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months, but what I happen to believe is that right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country …
Our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel, but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people.
If there was any doubt before, we know now where Bernie stands. Jerusalem is always a litmus test. The American Congress demanded that the US government recognize reality about Jerusalem all the way back in 1995. That was a quarter of a century ago. Until Trump cut the Gordian Knot, three presidents withheld that recognition. The waivers supposedly related to “national security,” but everyone knew that it was a nod to the Arabs and others who opposed any Jewish sovereignty, not just our control of Jerusalem. Proof of that was the ridiculous opinion of the State Department that Israel was not sovereign in any part of Jerusalem, even the Western part that it has held since 1948 and in which its Knesset is located. And the fact is that there have been no adverse consequences for “national security.”
It’s important to note that Trump’s declaration did not break new ground. It did not determine the precise borders of Jerusalem, and left open the possibility that some parts of it would become part of a future Palestinian state. To go back to the pre-Trump situation – if indeed it is even legally possible, given the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 – would simply be absurd, and the only reason for doing so would be to kick Israel in the teeth.
Which is also the only reason to insult our Prime Minister, by calling him a “reactionary racist.” Maybe that’s the way American politicians have learned to talk recently, and maybe it gets Bernie points with some stupid or antisemitic supporters, or maybe it meets some psychological need of his own, but to the (minimal) extent that the accusation is meaningful, it is entirely untrue. “Racist” is a particularly unhelpful term. The US has a long history of conflict based on the ill-treatment of dark-skinned Americans, a history including slavery, Jim Crow, and other manifestations, and this is what the word is intended to evoke. It simply has no application for Jews and Arabs, whose conflicts have religious and political origins.
Probably Bernie would justify his accusation of “racism” by referring to Bibi’s famous comment that Arab voters are going to the polls “in droves,” something seized upon by his left-wing opposition here. It is supposed to imply that Bibi thinks Arabs should not exercise their right to vote, just like blacks in Mississippi in 1960. But in fact it was an attempt to turn out his own voters by telling them that Arabs were going out to vote in droves against him. There is nothing prejudiced about his pointing out that the Arab parties are part of the opposition, and warning that they were getting large numbers of their voters to the polls.
As far as “reactionary” is concerned, it is correct that Netanyahu has always favored free-market economic policies over the socialist ones that characterized Israel’s early years. He has nothing to be ashamed of – the results speak for themselves. If Bernie thinks the USA would be better off with government monopolies like the Histadrut’s enterprises, good luck with that.
Sanders’ reference to the “suffering of the Palestinian people” brings to mind Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, in which he drew a direct comparison between the Holocaust and the Palestinian nakba. I’ll just note that Palestinian “suffering” is primarily a result of the continued rejection of any Jewish sovereignty by their leadership and their allies, their refusal to accept legitimate offers of statehood, their readiness to use Arab refugees and their children as hostages in their war against the Jews, and their adoption of terrorism as their main political tactic. It is very wrong to treat the moral case of Israel as equivalent to that of the Palestinians, led as they are by the PLO and Hamas. Indeed, the groundbreaking aspect of Trump’s policy in the region is that for the first time, he has broken away from this false equivalence.
I would like to think that Bernie is taking positions that are as different as possible from those of the Trump Administration simply in order to attack Trump. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case: Bernie’s anti-Israel positions have been consistent throughout his career, and his choice of advisors and surrogates, who include Linda Sarsour, Cornel West, Michael Moore, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Amer Zahr, AOC, and others – some of whom might be given important positions in a Sanders Administration – does not inspire confidence.
But even if Bernie were not anti-Israel as a matter of principle – and I am convinced that he is – there is an important tactical reason that he could not support the Jewish state in the way that Harry Truman could. As a Jew, he is open to the accusation that he would prioritize the interests of Israel over the interests of the US. Certainly that accusation will always be made against any Jewish politician at any level who takes a pro-Israel position (even non-Jewish politicians who are pro-Israel are accused of being bought by the Jewish/Israeli lobby). And therefore he will avoid taking such positions.
He is a fool, an enemy of his own people, the most useful of useful idiots. Linda Sarsour said she would be proud to “elect the first Jewish American president this country has ever seen – and for his name to be Bernard Sanders.” That says it all, doesn’t it?
I hold an unpopular opinion: I don’t think a Jew should be President of the US. Any Jew. One reason is the difficulty of being pro-Israel; but there is another. The president is a lightning rod. Look at the abuse heaped on Trump, Obama, Bush, and Clinton. Do you doubt the form it would take with a Jewish president, even an anti-Israel one? Do American Jews need another stimulus for antisemitic attacks?
Look, there are more issues in this election than Jewish issues. American Jews are Americans, most of them see themselves as liberals if not progressives, and they are concerned about jobs, healthcare, immigration, student debt, the cost of living, drugs and crime, terrorism, and everything else. I get that. But if they are still Jews, then Jewish issues, including support for Israel, have to count. And there has to be a point at which a candidate disqualifies himself for someone who cares about Jewish issues. Bernie’s gone past that point. He’s made the calculation that calling Israel’s PM a “racist” will help him more with the voters who are important to him than hurt him with others who apparently are not.
Nevertheless, many American Jews will support Bernie if he is nominated. They will do it despite their misgivings, because they have elevated anti-Trumpism to the greatest mitzvah of their progressive “Torah,” and because they have been conditioned to only see antisemitism when it comes from the Right. They will do it because they have become disconnected from the Jewish people and their state, and have adopted Tikkunism as their religion in place of any form of Judaism. I suspect they’ll be sorry.