With Sen. Bernie Sanders coming out strong in Iowa and New Hampshire, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg surging in national polls, there’s a real chance that America could elect its first Jewish president. While this would be a symbolic win for American Jews, a Sanders presidency would not only be disastrous for the economy, but could also lead to the White House abandoning its traditional support for Israel.
In the lead-up to the 2016 election, then-candidate Sanders seemed to downplay his Jewishness, describing himself simply as “the son of a Polish immigrant.” Yet this time he is wearing it on his sleeve. Over the weekend, the Sanders campaign released its second video targeting Jewish-American voters. In it, he insinuates that U.S. President Donald Trump is to blame for the rise in anti-Semitism at home and abroad, while stating that he is “very proud of being Jewish,” and noting that his father’s family was killed in the Holocaust. Sanders penned an op-ed in the left-wing magazine Jewish Currents in November, in which he blamed Trump for the recent rise in Jew-hatred in the United States, while tone-deafly dismissing the very real anti-Semitism that exists within his own party as “accusations of anti-Semitism used as a cynical political weapon against progressives.”
But Sanders hasn’t made much effort to distance himself from those anti-Semites who have infected the Democratic party with their virulent hate. In fact, many of them are his key allies and supporters.
They include Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has been spreading anti-Semitic tropes throughout her entire congressional career — including accusing proponents of an anti-BDS bill of having dual loyalties and retweeting a false claim that a young Palestinian boy had been “kidnapped and executed” by “Israeli settlers” — yet was warmly welcomed by the Sanders campaign when she decided to endorse him.
Sanders was also endorsed by Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has publicly supported the anti-Israel BDS movement and came under fire when she suggested that America’s support for the Jewish state was “all about the Benjamins baby.” When she was accused of spreading anti-Semitic stereotypes in her criticisms of Israel, instead of condemning her, Sanders came to her defence.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who compared America’s migrant detention centres to “concentration camps” and accused the Israel Defence Forces of perpetrating a “massacre” in Gaza, also supports Sanders.
Then there’s Linda Sarsour, a prominent activist in the Women’s March and BDS movements who has a history of making anti-Semitic comments and is described by the Sanders campaign as a “2020 Bernie surrogate.” While Sarsour said in September that she would be “proud … to make history and elect the first Jewish-American president,” she’s also argued that Zionists have no place in the feminist or progressive movements and that it is unacceptable for those on the left to support Israel as a state. So she would have no problem supporting a Jewish president, as long as he in no way supports the Jewish homeland.
Sanders himself has repeatedly criticized Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinian territories and has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of being “racist” on numerous occasions.
“To be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel,” he said at a CNN town hall on Tuesday, adding that current U.S. policy is “just pro-Israel” and ignores “the needs of the Palestinian people.” Sanders has also called for conditions to be put on U.S. aid to Israel, in order to force its government’s hand on policies such as West Bank settlements.
It is clear that Sanders would not continue America's unwavering support for the Jewish state unless a radical left-wing government also came to power there.
A large cross-section of Israeli society holds similar views about their government and the conflict with the Palestinians, but the mindset of many American Jews is different than those living in Israel. A good deal of Jewish-Americans recognize that while the Jewish state is very important for their people’s future, they don’t actually have a say in how it is run. The best Americans can do is ensure that their government has Israel’s back, regardless of who is currently in power.
Yet it is clear that Sanders would not continue America’s unwavering support for the Jewish state unless a radical left-wing government also came to power there. All this should, at the very least, give Jewish-American voters pause — and it would appear as though it has.
A Pew Research Center poll released on Jan. 30 found that a majority of Jewish Democrats were supporting Joe Biden (31 per cent), while Sanders was in fourth place at 11 per cent (Bloomberg only had eight per cent support, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that has risen, given how much money he’s been spending in recent weeks).
American Jews don’t make up a large percentage of the population, but if Democrats want to beat Trump in November, they will need a candidate who can unite a large swath of the country, including independents and old-school Republicans who don’t like many of the Trump’s policies or his boorish behaviour. With his divisive socialist agenda and lack of support for Israel, Democrats should steer clear of Sanders.