Democratic presidential candidate and US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a town-hall campaign stop at New England College in Concord, New Hampshire.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dear Senator Sanders,
I write this letter to you as someone who is deeply disturbed by your stance on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
If I am to take you on your word, something I certainly hope is feasible due to the fact that you are a Jewish man with ties to Israel, your feelings about Israel’s right to exist are not at issue here. What is at issue is your approach, an approach that not only feeds directly into the efforts of those that wish to see Israel destroyed, but also puts not only Israel but the Jewish people worldwide in even greater danger than that which exists today.
To be frank, Senator Sanders, I find your words to be not only damaging but terribly irresponsible. I have been following the election with great interest and have listened to as many of your speeches and soundbites as possible. I understand that like Donald Trump, you are appealing to a populist movement of disenchanted, angry and concerned voters. You are clearly a very intelligent and savvy politician. I am certain that you understand that your words, even if only soundbites, influence a great number of people.
Therefore you must understand that more of your followers are likely to remember the 10,000 figure you blurted out, the number of Palestinian deaths you said Israel was responsible for in the most recent war in Gaza, than they will your insistence that Israel has the right to exist in freedom and security. They will take your words and see Israel as the guilty party in the conflict, subsequently making the terrorist organization Hamas, a group very similar to Islamic State (ISIS) in its violent and ambitious tactics, as the defenders of the freedoms and rights of the Palestinians.
JUST AS Donald Trump’s comments on Muslims and Mexicans create a perception of all Muslims and Mexicans among many of his supporters, your comments will have the same impact on many of your supporters toward Israel and the Jewish people. As a smart man I am sure you are aware of the fact that modern anti-Israel sentiment has translated into a rise in worldwide anti-Semitism.
What I also believe is happening, Senator Sanders, is a continuing hijacking of liberalism by those who, to be quite honest, are nothing better than blatant anti-Semites.
Clearly, as an individual who speaks openly of your Jewish background I am not accusing you of hating your fellow Jews, but I am going to come right out and say that you are perpetuating the argument of those that do, and in the process putting us at greater risk. I urge you to listen to the words of Alan Dershowitz, someone never accused of being too conservative, in his wise and educated understanding of the Arab-Israel conflict: “Whenever I speak to audiences about the Middle East, sometimes audiences very hostile to Israel, I issue one challenge. Name a single country in the history of the world, faced with threats comparable to the threats faced by Israel, that has ever had a better record of human rights, a better record of concern for civilians, a better record toward the sensitivity of legal issues and the rule of law. In 100 speeches in which I issued that challenge, no one has ever come up with a country that has a better record than Israel faced with comparable threats.”
Even if this is a miscalculation or ignorance on your part rather than a cynical attempt to pander to an audience you feel you need to win elections, your words are still damaging.
I watched the few minutes with Jake Tapper of CNN in which you discussed this issue and was startled by how you shrugged off what you referred to as your question of whether or not it was 10,000 people killed in Gaza as not being a big deal. Senator Sanders, it is a very big deal. Hamas, the terrorist organization that espouses the very same stance you take of “disproportionate response” by Israel and uses it as justification to murder women and children in the streets of Israel without remorse, does so with a claim that Israel was responsible for the deaths of less than 2,000. Well congratulations Senator, you just increased their justification more than fivefold. After all, if an American presidential candidate and a Jew from Brooklyn wonders if it was 10,000 people, Hamas might not only be correct, they might be understating the number.
What makes this worse is the fact that you would say that Israel is responsible for these deaths in the first place. I am far more open-minded than you might think. I recognize the fact that Israel does things wrong and needs to work hard at changing the conditions of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
What I also recognize however is that the main obstacle in making these changes is not the Israeli government but the terrorist groups running the show in these territories. Millions upon millions of dollars have been squandered and stolen from the Palestinian people, not by the Israeli government but by the very people who claim to want to lead them to a better life.
In truth, these people, the very same people you have empowered with your words, are cynical and devious criminals more concerned about Israel’s destruction and their personal lot than they are about the well-being of their population.
Someone recently made the argument to me that as a Jew you need to overcompensate in order to not seem too biased on the side of Israel. Even if I do believe that is what you were doing, the question that needs to be asked is, at what cost? Your words mean something. If you want to be the leader of the free world, why would you take the side of an organization that not only wants to destroy the freedom of the people of your origin, but obstruct the freedom of their own? If it is to increase support among your constituency, you are going against the very thing you base your entire campaign on – a different kind of politics. If you want to be a true leader, a leader that guides the country and the youth of America to a better future, I urge you to first recognize the responsibility you have to clearly distinguishing between right and wrong. That, Senator Sanders, is indeed a very big deal.
The author is a New York-based writer, author of Jew Face: A Story of Love and Heroism in Nazi-Occupied Holland and founder of the website Holland’s Heroes.