Sanders and Israel

Sanders and Israel


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Senator Bernie Sanders continues to make progressive-minded, pro-Israel Democrats feel more and more alienated from any possibility of supporting his nomination. His direct attack against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during the Tuesday night debate was for many Jewish Democrats an unnecessary, gratuitous, low blow leveled by Sanders.

When Sanders referred to Netanyahu as “a reactionary racist who is now running that country” he raised cheers among many of his followers. Unquestionably, Bernie reinforced a wave of anti-Israel sentiment which already has been present among many of his leading supporters as well as within certain segments of the Democratic Party.  With this remark, Sanders and his supporters—were Bernie to receive the Democratic Party’s nomination—were setting up the Democrats in a position to receive the smallest portion of the Jewish vote in history.

There are many American Jews who dislike Netanyahu and do not want him to win re-election next week. Many of these are progressive, liberal Jews; but they also do not want to hear Israel’s Prime Minister being smeared, especially within a national political debate. The fact that it was done by another Jew adds no comfort to their resentment. Their pushback against Sanders will now likely be even stronger than whatever new fans he believed he made with this attack.

Ironically, Sanders does not understand that many American Jewish supporters of Israel oppose the settlements on the West Bank and are genuinely concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people as well as the Israeli occupation. Bernie’s attack on the Prime Minister, however, was as unacceptable politically as was President Trump shift in U.S. policy last year which justified Israel’s right to pursue its continuing settlement policy.

The character of his slur was an ad hominem allegation against the leader of an American ally. While Senator Sanders did indicate he supported Israel’s right to exist as a safe and secure State, he clearly chose this moment to distant himself from all the other candidates including Elizabeth Warren, who appeared taken aback at the character of Bernie’s attack on Bibi.

Sanders gave red meat to his most passionate, extremist, anti-Israel followers. For many of them Israel is just another imperialist, expansionist, racist state. As Bernie is Jewish, anything he says about Jews and Israel are acceptable as he is speaking as a Jew. For them Sanders’ remarks about Israel could never be considered as anti-Israel since an attack on Israeli policy and its leader is totally consistent.

Bernie Sanders has many problems in his effort to be elected President. He will cause incredible damage to the Democratic Party all the way down the ballot in 2020. There is a distinct possibility of loss of control of the House and failure to gain control of the Senate. The future composition of the Supreme Court for decades is at stake and the election of State Legislatures throughout the country will also be at serious risk. (State reapportionment following the 2020 census will undoubtedly impact future political campaigns for at least the next decade.)

It is impossible to imagine, therefore, what positive result Sanders believed he would achieve—certainly among American Jews–by slurring Bibi on his road to the Democratic nomination.

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