by Mark Goldfeder
When the leader of the progressive movement in Congress is engaging in blatantly antisemitic rhetoric to try and get more wins, we should all care, and call it out because it is both dangerous and wrong.
Bernie Sanders has spent the primary election season engaging in antisemitic dog whistles and endangering American Jews at a time when attacks on Jewish people are spiking across the country. It is unacceptable, and we must call him out for it.
Sanders has a long history of making incendiary, ill-informed comments about Israel, casually accusing the Jewish State of horrible crimes, and then attempting to walk back or tone down the worst of his lies when people take him seriously. It is a technique he has passed on to some of his most famous acolytes, the notoriously fact-flippant anti-Israel (and often antisemitic) Squad. He also proudly associates with rabid antisemites who call Zionists white nationalists, engage in Holocaust inversion, and accuse American Jews of dual loyalty.
But Sanders does not just hate Israel. Now, he is actively targeting mainstream American Jews, including members of the Democrat party, using vile antisemitic tropes. In speeches and in tweets Sanders has publicly attacked AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for the crime of participating in the political process by supporting candidates whose positions align with policies they endorse and opposing candidates whose positions do not. Perhaps AIPAC has been successful because the vast majority of American voters agree with their stance; the most recent Gallup poll found that 71% of the public say they have a very favorable or mostly favorable view of Israel.
But Sanders does not believe in math, and so he has been telling tales of shadowy rich Jews who secretly pull strings to “buy elections and control this democracy” that could have come straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zions. He does this amidst a historic rise in antisemitic attacks across the United States, and he does this knowing full well that his rhetoric directly furthers that violence. He should be utterly ashamed.
As if classic antisemitic stereotypes were not bad enough, Sanders also took the time to smear AIPAC and its supporters by calling them racist, sexist, and anti-progressive- despite their long demonstrable history of supporting women, people of color, and progressives. In fact, in the current Congress, AIPAC supports the majority of both the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus, as well as 43 members of the Progressive Caucus. In this very election season, AIPAC supported, among others, Valerie Foushee, a progressive woman of color who won her State Senate race in North Carolina, and Shontel Brown, a progressive woman of color (and Progressive Caucus member) representing Ohio’s 11th district. But of course, none of these facts matter to Sanders because they do not help further his despicable narrative. And judging by the hundreds of openly antisemitic comments supporting his tweets, none of them will matter to his audience either as they eagerly accept the cover he provides them to express their vile hate.
For the record, supporting Israel is not just a Jewish issue, nor does it require dual loyalty. Americans support Israel for a number of reasons, including but not limited to our values. For example, our shared security interests include but are not limited to preventing nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism, containing Iranian, Turkish, and Russian expansionism, and promoting the rule of democracy. Israeli-developed technology protects our citizens and troops at home and abroad. Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East and our only reliable source of intelligence and cyber defense. All of these things make support for Israel crucial to American interests. In addition, Israel is our 23rd largest trading partner, and Israeli inventions power our laptops, devices, and medical equipment. Regardless, no matter why some Americans choose to support Israel, Sanders has no right to engage in antisemitism.
It is also quite rich to hear these speeches from a man who is fine hosting strategy calls with an Iranian-American advocacy group whose political action committee lobbies on behalf of the murderous (and antisemitic) Iranian regime- just one day after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack against US Army personnel in Iraq. And of course, there are numerous Super PACS that support people Sanders likes, but he does not single any of those out for critique.
Finally, Sanders’s blind support for the “Palestinian cause” is not actually progressive, either. The Palestinians do not have freedom of speech, press, or religion. Their leaders arrest and sometimes kill gays, women are subject to abuse and honor killings, and the Palestinian Authority literally pays its civilians to murder innocent Israelis and Americans. Israel is a functioning democracy with the same kinds of problems that every functioning democracy has, but any objective person lining up the two would have to admit that Israel is far more progressive than the Palestinians.
Again, those facts wouldn’t help Bernie fundraise, and so Bernie doesn’t care. But when the leader of the progressive movement in Congress is engaging in blatantly antisemitic rhetoric to try and get more wins, we should all care, and call it out because it is both dangerous and wrong.
Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Esq. is an international lawyer and Director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center