In the South Carolina Democratic debate on Feb. 25, Pete Buttigieg criticized his elders when he stated that he is “not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s and Bernie Sanders with nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s.”
While the tumultuous 1960s brought civil rights, the onset of the feminist movement, and other social achievements, the Vietnam War took center stage as the driver for demonstrations on college campuses and the nation’s capital. Many leaders of the New Left who emerged from the chaos of the ’60s when takeovers of administration buildings were routine, romanticized revolutionary leaders such as Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara, the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary. This romanticism is documented in “Great Society: A New History” by Amity Shlaes and visually reinforced by popular images of Jane Fonda posing behind Viet Cong anti-aircraft batteries directed at U.S. forces.
The New Left, a precursor of today’s ultra-left progressives, considered the U.S. an imperialist country vying against people’s movements such as the Viet Cong fight against colonialism. And Israel fit into this narrative of a colonial outpost suppressing a people of color, both then and now.
It is these revolutionary forces that Buttigieg referenced which helps explain Bernie Sanders’ infatuation with Cuba and the Marxist revolutionaries of Central America. How else to understand his defense of Fidel Castro and Nicaragua’s Marxist president Daniel Ortega, or his refusal to call Venezuelan authoritarian Nicolás Maduro a dictator? Is it because they are all from the extreme left? Why would a mayor of Burlington, Vt., population 38,000, even visit these places but decline to meet with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, one of the premier advocates for human rights who was living in Vermont at the time? Why didn’t Sanders protest the oppression of his own people in the Soviet Union in the 1980s instead of praising Moscow’s subway system?
Yet Sanders calls the democratically elected prime minister of Israel and his government racist, the code word to suspend civil discourse. Benjamin Netanyahu has many faults, which his political opponents cite on a daily basis, but is he a racist? And Sanders uses this demagoguery to castigate AIPAC, creating a toxicity that has compelled other presidential candidates, to their shame, to skip the pro-Israel conference that attracts 18,000 Americans of all faiths.
Has he ever criticized the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, who have professed victimhood for decades rather than preparing for statehood — which they would certainly reject out of hand even if it were to be offered on a silver platter — and who propagate hatred of Jews and Israel in the textbooks taught to the next generation of Palestinians?
And then there’s Hamas, a client of Iran dedicated to Israel’s destruction, which has redirected hundreds of millions of dollars intended for humanitarian aid toward building tunnels into Israel to cause incalculable loss of life. Sanders feels “Gaza’s pain” by suggesting that some aid to Israel, the U.S.’s key strategic partner in the Middle East, be siphoned to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
At the debate in South Carolina he said he would consider moving the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv. Why is Israel the only country in the world unable to choose its own capital? It is indeed ironic that Israel returned the territory it conquered in its justifiable preemptive attack on Egypt and Syria during the Six-Day War, but has been vilified for refusing to release its control of east Jerusalem, which it conquered only after being attacked by the Jordanians.
Sanders is either ignorant, chooses to listen to misguided advisers, is frozen in time as Buttigieg suggested, or a combination of all three.
Despite Sanders’ troubling statements, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, was wrong to publicly criticize the candidate, as it interferes in the U.S. election and may hinder Israel’s ability to mend fences with Sanders if he wins the presidency in November. Netanyahu’s muted, low-key response to Sanders’ insult was the right approach.
In the classic movie “All About Eve,” the character played by Bette Davis said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Should Sanders turn out to be the Democratic nominee, Davis’ warning will ring as true in 2020 as it did when she first spoke those words more than 70 years ago.
Max L. Kleinman is president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation; from 1995 to 2014 he served as CEO/executive vice president of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.