The Jew who could be president: Opposing Netanyahu is not opposing Israel

#13: Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (photo credit: REUTERS/SCOTT MORGAN)
Bernie Sanders
(photo credit: REUTERS/SCOTT MORGAN)
You know you’ve become a cultural crossover when you have an ice cream named after you.
No surprise, of course, that it was Ben & Jerry’s that created the limited-run flavor “Bernie’s Back,” not only because Bernie Sanders is the US senator from the company’s home state of Vermont, but because he also shares its left-wing politics.
In fact, “Bernie’s Back” is not the first ice cream the company named for the former mayor of Burlington. When Sanders ran for president the first time in 2016, Ben & Jerry’s offered up “Bernie’s Yearning.”
Now Sanders is running for president again, and doing well: in poll after poll, he continues placing among the top-three candidates, five months before the first primary in New Hampshire on February 11. Should he become president, Sanders would be the first Jew to occupy the White House.
As a candidate, Sanders has become a lightning rod at the intersection of all things Jewish, Israeli and political in America, positioning himself as the prime example of someone who maintains an agenda critical of Israel: boycotting AIPAC, slamming Israel for the “ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza” and the “occupation,” and criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for passing the Nation-State Law.
The 77-year-old candidate, who is sometimes accused of being too angry, too loud and too passionate, is an archetypical Jew of a certain time and place, a kid who grew up in the late 1940s and ’50s in the Midwood section of Brooklyn – and he has the working-class Jewish accent to prove it! Listen to him say the word “our,” and what you hear coming out of his mouth is “owwah.” It’s very cute to millennials one-third his age, and plays well on the general stage for a candidate looking to stand out from the crowd of candidates.
His father, Eli, who fled persecution in Poland and lost his family in the Holocaust, “came to this country at the age of 17, came alone, without a nickel in his pocket, couldn’t speak a word of English, and came with very limited education,” Bernie said on the campaign trail. “I am the proud son of an immigrant.”
Eli Sanders became a paint salesman, and raised Bernie and his brother, Larry, in a 3½-room apartment on E. 26th Street, right next to Kings Highway. Bernie graduated from the fabled Madison High School and went to nearby Brooklyn College for a year. After his mother, Dorothy, died when he was 18, he transferred to the University of Chicago.
Sanders came to Israel in 1963 at 21 as a guest of the left-wing Hashomer Hatza’ir movement, and stayed a short time at Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim, southeast of Haifa.
He is sometimes criticized for wearing his Jewishness on his sleeve, especially when it serves his political purpose. So it was no surprise that when President Donald Trump said American Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” Sanders pushed back.
“Let me say this to the president,” Sanders said. “I am a proud Jewish person and I have no concerns about voting Democratic. And, in fact, I intend to vote for a Jewish man to become the next president of the United States.”
Sanders is a strong supporter of his fellow progressives on Capitol Hill, US representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – lightning rods themselves – and stood up when Trump congratulated the Israeli government for banning them from entering Israel.
“It is disgusting that a bigot like Trump is attacking @RashidaTlaib and @IlhanMN in this way,” tweeted Sanders on August 15. “Opposing Netanyahu’s policies is not ‘hating the Jewish people.’ We must stand together against those who promote hatred and racism in Israel, Palestine, the US and everywhere.”
In 2016, Sanders became the first Jewish candidate to win a major-party presidential primary. Now he’s looking to do it again in 2020, hoping to win the presidency so he can implement his politics, which includes cutting military aid to Israel unless it changes its policies. Sanders doesn’t hide from his progressive positions – he is who he is, and always has been.
Oh, and the ice cream? “Bernie’s Back” features “Hot Cinnamon Ice Cream with one very large chocolate disc on top and a (very stiff) butter toffee backbone going down the middle.” On the container it reads: “Vermont’s Finest Senator” and “Open Joyfully – Political Revolution Inside.” They say it’s not half bad. •