Should he be nominated, Bernie Sanders would be the first Jewish major party US presidential candidate. He would also be the most dangerous.

Sanders, junior senator from Vermont, is a life-long uber-liberal, a self-declared European style “Social Democrat”. His positions on domestic and foreign issues consistently lead from the far left. Anti-corporate, pro-distribution-of-wealth, anti-military, pro-Iran, anti-private-development, pro-nanny government, anti-you-name-it, pro-you-can-name-that-too.

Sanders’ credentials are solid – he was active in the Young Peoples’ Socialist League (affiliated with the Socialist Party); he mixed socialist ideas with anti-war protest; filed as a conscientious objector; was a frequent candidate from the socialist Liberty Union Party; served as a populist mayor of Burlington; hosted Noam Chomsky, whom he much admired; represented Vermont in the House of Representatives and then the Senate as a progressive independent until officially becoming a Democrat (2015) in order to run for president; cofounded the Congressional Progressive Caucus; filibustered the Senate against an extension of tax rates less than tilted to the poor (“corporate greed”); was pressed to run for president against too-centrist Barack Hussein Obama (2012); and as ranking minority member of the Budget Committee, advocated for increased populist spending.

Why would anyone expect – just because he is Jewish – that he would be pro-Israel on other than the J-Street model?

Because he is Jewish – that’s why. Sanders is a son of immigrants from Europe whose father’s side was exterminated in the Holocaust. He spent time as a young man on a kibbutz and although he is married to a Catholic and does not consider himself to be particularly religious, he is “proud to be Jewish”. Well-meaning American gentiles often have a natural although somewhat outdated understanding that if you’re Jewish you support Israel. It’s an understanding based in the Zionist concept of Jews returning home, making the desert bloom and surviving against all odds. True enough but felt as quaint, embarrassing or downright wrong to many liberal Jews.

Jews have always fought for the underdog as does, one supposes, the left. After the 1967 war Israel was no longer seen as the underdog. Thus it was the left that first abandoned that understanding and for the same reasons that well-meaning gentiles embraced it. Returning home? Sorry, it’s somebody else’s home now. Making the desert bloom? Nobody invited you. Surviving against all odds? You’re the conqueror.

The view of Israel as occupier began to gain ground despite Israel’s prior claim to the land, continued miniscule size when compared to her vast enemies and the need for a strategy of “a good offense is the best defense”. The nearly unchallengeable notion of a two state solution provides a victim to fight for while appearing to support Israel’s right to exist and defend herself. Unfortunately, the little that would remain of Israel would be indefensible once another state is carved out of her guts with the high ground handed to her enemies.

Most American Jews vote center-left. Most consider themselves to be pro-Israel but many also feel discomfort given Israel’s success. Many Jews actively support anti-Israel boycotts and pro-Palestinian activities. To be Jewish on campus is far from uncompromised.

Nonetheless, given that the somewhat outdated understanding of “Jews support Israel” still holds sway among American gentiles (understandably hard-put to see how Jews could be so vocally antagonistic to themselves), AIPAC and many pro-Israel wealthy donors to Democratic Party candidates still hold sway in Washington. Bernie Sanders is now counselled to tone down his pro-Palestinian rhetoric during the campaign. The very subject of Israel is not brought up, which is odd considering that his identity as Jewish will inevitably lead to questions of loyalty and of how he would treat Israel were he to be elected president.

For Israel, that is the big question. Sanders called Israeli treatment of Palestinian protesters “an absolute disgrace” (1988), argued that the US should not provide arms (1988), wanted to tie aid to ceasing settlement activity (1991), did not support condemning Palestinians after suicide bombers killed Israelis (2001), did not co-sponsor an anti-Hamas resolution (2014), was the first senator to announce he would not attend Bibi Netanyahu’s speech before Congress (2015), warned against “Islamophobia” after the Paris attacks (2015), and talked about Palestinian suffering whenever questioned about Israel (1960’s, but not during his presidential campaign).

At best, Sanders’ treatment of Israel can be expected to be at least as harsh and as dangerous as Obama’s. A lot of Jews go out of their way to prove just how not particularly religious they are.

Pro-Israel? Beware Bernie. 

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