NEW YORK – Unlike many members of the Jewish community, Democratic Jewish millennials in New York City fail to see what the fuss surrounding presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ recent Israel comments is about .
As New York State voted in its first meaningful primaries in years on Tuesday, Jewish students and young professionals told The Jerusalem Post that, despite Bernie Sanders saying that Israel used “disproportionate force” in Gaza in 2014, they do not believe he is a bad candidate for Israel.
Twenty-two year old Max Finkel, who studies American history and Jewish thought at Columbia University and voted for Bernie Sanders, told the Post
on Tuesday that there should be “a more nuanced conversation about Israel” in the United States.
“I don’t think it necessarily has to be along the lines of any of the organizations that we see like AIPAC or J-street, but I think what we need to have is a conversation that involves a lot more kinds of people without creating a partisan bent for these kind of issues,” he said.
Finkel, who is involved in anti-BDS activity on campus and will graduate next month, said he does however believe that Sanders’s Israel comments could be “a major setback for his campaign.”
“He’s made it clear that he believes in Israel’s right to exist and he supports Israel,” 28-year old Mike Gellis who works in the city told the Post
. “I hope he would never defund Israel or anything like that and I don’t think that he would.”
“I think he doesn’t quite understand, or maybe he doesn’t have all the facts and he doesn’t understand the situation on the ground in Israel,” he added. “I don’t think that we, as Jews and democrats, should necessarily jump the gun and say that Bernie Sanders is terrible for Israel, that he’s a bad Jew, a self-hating Jew. I believe it’s our job to tell him why we think he may be incorrect about this issue.”
Although he isn’t registered to vote in New York, Gellis said he supports Hillary Clinton for the democratic nomination.
“I think she lines up well with my beliefs and the direction I want this country to go. I think that she has the experience and the toughness to get it done,” he said. “Honestly, my issue is just to make sure that Ted Cruz or Donald Trump are not elected.”
Although Bernie Sanders has been perceived to be “downplaying” his Jewish heritage, Mike Gellis told the Post
, this is not disturbing to him.
“If he doesn’t talk about his Judaism, that’s his personal choice,” he explained. “Some candidates are very religious and talk about Jesus constantly and some aren’t. Your religion doesn’t have to be the forefront of your political career.”
“We have a rise of a kind of politics in this country that is very anti-intellectual,” Max Finkel added. “It can be very dangerous to be a Jewish person in a country where that happens, especially one who is very visible and represents the interests of labor.”
“I’m not sure that I would necessarily play the game that he is playing when it comes to Jewish identity but I understand the concern,” he said.
Another Columbia undergraduate who did not wish to be named but identifies as a Democrat, told the Post
that although his ideas are “over-idealistic and not feasible”, he supports Bernie Sanders.
To him, campaign finance reform is most important issue in the election, aside from making sure Trump does not get to represent the United States in any way. The student, who grew up in a modern Orthodox household and voted in New York City on Tuesday morning, added that he agrees with Sanders’s position on Israel.
“Israel did use disproportionate force in Gaza,” he said. “I think that there ought to be more room in the American Jewish community for dissenting voices on Israel.”
“I am not one of those American Jewish voters who vote only on Israel,” he said during lunchtime at the Columbia’s Hillel center’s cafe. “It is an issue for me, but yet it is not the trumping issue. No pun intended.”
“To criticize a particular Israeli policy or government is not to criticize the Zionist project,” the 22-year-old student added.
For Lucille Marshall, who studies the Middle East and Jewish literature and voted for Hillary Clinton in her home state of Illinois last month, Sanders’s comments on the Middle East show his lack of knowledge on the foreign policy front. However, she said, “there has been some positives coming out of Bernie Sanders as a Jew bringing up some of the liberal causes among American Jewish feeling.”
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think that should have a voice too,” she said.
“When it comes to my personal decisions, I still think that Hillary will push toward peace and liberal motivations when it comes to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, but she will be able to do that while still maintaining the trust and support of all the stakeholders in America in the Jewish community.”
“Really the only way that any sort of movement will happen in the Middle East is with that support,” she added.