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No, Bernie is Not a ‘Self-Hating Jew’

He just happens to support Palestinian rights and refuses to suck up to AIPAC.

These days, I’m feeling sorry for Bernie Sanders. He seems to have incurred the displeasure of just about every establishment in this country. 

Although I don’t agree with his economic policies or his readiness to take over the intersectional politics of other Democratic presidential candidates (Bernie used to be quite good on the need for immigration restrictions), I can certainly respect him for his enemies. Whatever my differences with him, Bernie showed guts when he turned down an invitation from AIPAC, an organization that has ruined critics for disagreeing with their Middle East policies. The trashing of Sanders by AIPAC groupies as a “self-hating Jew” bring to mind the old saying “Tanti nemici tante honore [So many enemies, so much honor].” 

When the annual AIPAC gathering assembled in Washington on March 1, the politicians who were present, led by Mike Pence and Mike Bloomberg, took turns firing away at the missing Democratic candidate. It seems that Bernie had betrayed the party of Harry Truman, the Democratic president who in 1948 first recognized the Jewish state. He was also threatening longtime bipartisan support for Israel, which AIPAC leaders repeatedly affirmed as integral to our national political life. In a group statement, we also learn: “Senator Sanders has never attended our conference, and that is evident from his outrageous comment.” Further: “Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful.” 

Allow me to raise some obviously rhetorical questions: would a candidate for president from one of our two national parties feel obliged to attend a lobbying organization representing the French or Italian government? And have our politicians devoted the same concern to Christians who are at risk in Muslim countries as they have to the Israeli lobby? Why do our “conservative” Republicans worry less (or so it would seem) about endangered Christian communities in China and the Middle East than they do about Israeli geopolitical interests? 

Equally noteworthy: in August, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed apparent concern on Fox News that the “Democrats are moving away from Israel due to the influence of the ‘new socialists.’” Even allowing for McCarthy’s crocodile tears and the childish outbursts over the “new socialist group,” one might want to ask why a prominent Republican leader is emphasizing Democratic defections from the AIPAC camp. Might it have to do with holding on to his party’s Zionist donors while getting the same from the Democratic side?  

Jamie Kirchick, a veteran Sanders despiser and a reliable neocon publicist, writes in Tablet about why “America’s first serious Jewish presidential candidate garners only a tiny fraction of support from Jewish Dems.” Kirchick’s explanation is that Jewish Democrats have always “abhorred men like Sanders” who have sought “to erase distinctions between democrats and totalitarians on the left.” Sanders emerges “from an entirely different political lineage, that of anti-anti-communism,” he continues. 

Curiously, Kirchick cites the Jewish socialist fraternal organization, the Workmen’s Circle, as exemplifying the anti-communist socialism that Sanders has repudiated. But the Workmen’s Circle has always been emphatically opposed to the “territorial Zionism,” that Kirchick, Tablet, and their neocon readers all enthusiastically support. 

Even more questionable is the assumption that Jewish Democrats are eschewing Sanders because of his far-left associations. In 2008, 74 percent of Jewish voters, including leaders of the Jewish Orthodox community, stood behind Barack Obama in his run against John McCain. It is hard to think of any Democratic presidential candidate who up until then brought with him more radical, far-left, pro-communist associations. Yet Obama was enormously popular in the Jewish community. Kirchick’s brief against Sanders is therefore not convincing. Far more credible is the obvious fact that Sanders has fought the Zionist lobby and gone his own way on the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

The very explicitly neoconservative website Front Page has been attacking Sanders for years, as someone who has been too critical of Israel and too soft on the Palestinians. It quotes Kirchick repeatedly on the Sanders problem and dwells on the senator’s failure to uphold the moral superiority of the Israelis in their struggle against the “genocidal Palestinians.” 

Kirchick and Front Page editor Mark Tapson both complain that, among his failings, Sanders high-balled figures for Palestinian civilians killed in the bloody uprisings against the Israelis in 2014. They also object to his use of the term “disproportionate force” to describe the Israeli response, since no force can be excessive “if your enemy is obsessed with wiping you off the face of the earth.”

The figures that I’ve encountered for these reprisals, which are about 2,300 dead Palestinians, mostly from Gaza, and about 10,000 wounded, look high to me, but I won’t quarrel with Kirchick’s or Tapson’s judgment about what constitutes an excessive use of force. Let’s just not pretend the real quarrel here is primarily over Sanders’ economic policies. Or that those who are attacking Sanders over his snubbing of AIPAC would be honest brokers in the protracted conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. 

Paul Gottfried is the editor-in-chief of Chronicles. He is also Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.