Analysis: Bernie’s socialist kibbutz

Unlike today, Israel was then the darling of the world with its fresh, young, pioneering spirit and adored idealism. Those days are gone.

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February 7, 2016 01:31
3 minute read.
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders raises a fist as he speaks at his caucus night r

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders raises a fist as he speaks at his caucus night rally Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016 . (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Thursday night provided me with another powerful reminder how Marshal McLuhan’s observation expressed more than 60 years ago, about the media and the global village is relevant today.

It began with an article by my colleague, Ofer Aderet, in Haaretz in which he wrote that American media and some Israeli journalists were desperate to find out which kibbutz Bernie Sanders visited in the ‘60s. His article was presented as a riddle hinting that the contender for the nomination of the Democratic Party for the US presidency is hiding his past.

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And thus Sanders has also refused requests to talk about his Judaism and his attitude to Israel.

The hints bordering on conspiratorial theories seemed to me strange and blown out of proportion. Remembering that I interviewed Sanders in 1990 for Haaretz I asked that paper’s archive to find it. And indeed the librarian was quick to pull out the old press clipping, stored in an envelope in the pre-digital era.

Then I tweeted that Sanders told me in the interview that he stayed at Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim, which is part of the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard) movement, not far from Haifa in 1963. My tweet was many times retweeted, spread virally over social media networks and finally landed at mainstream newspapers, among them The New York Times and The Washington Post, which reported on my “finding.”

Unwittingly I turned into the day’s hero and won my 15 minutes of fame.

Sanders’s kibbutz is not an important issue. It is a footnote in his biography. It belonged to the era when tens of thousands of young volunteers from all over the world came in the ’60s, especially after the 1967 Six Day war to work, smoke and have fun with their sexual revolution in the kibbutzim.



Unlike today, Israel was then the darling of the world with its fresh, young, pioneering spirit and adored idealism.

Those days are gone.

I met Sanders and befriended him at Harvard in 1990. Both of us were fellows at different programs. At the time he was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and planned to run again after he was defeated in a bid for Congress. We had a few conversations in which he told me about his Jewish roots and his ideas.

To me, a graduate of Hashomer Hatzair and a self-described socialist, Sanders’s appeal was in his assertion that he was a “proud socialist.” To hear such a definition from an American public figure sounded like heresy, like political suicide in the conservative era that swept the US during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Sanders, however, was not suicidal at all. Only an honest idealist. He was elected and reelected as a congressman and later as a senator. And now he is taking the fight to Hillary Clinton and is carried along by the huge support of young, liberal and progressive Americans who want to see a social, economic and political change in their country.

After his stay for a few months in the kibbutz he returned to the US, and as he told me in the interview: he had forgotten Israel, Zionism and didn’t think too much about his Jewishness.

Bernie Sanders became a political activist involved in left-wing radical causes. He was interested in the ’70s in South and Central America and was dabbed “Sandernista” after the left-wing Sandinistas who came to power in 1979 in Nicaragua.

In the interview from 1990 he said, “As a Jew, I am ashamed of the Israeli support and weapons sales to the worst regimes in South and Central America. Why do you have to be mercenaries of the US administration?” As for the Israeli-Arab conflict, he believed that the US government should “put pressure on Israel to compromise with the Palestinians.”

Yet, with all his criticism I didn’t hear him defining himself as anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist.

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