Bernie Sanders: A Victim and Perpetrator of Anti-Semitism
Like many leftist Jews, he’s petrified of his own movement’s Jew haters.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
Earlier this year, Belén Sisa, Bernie's national deputy press secretary, suggested that most American Jews were traitors.
"Do you not think that the American government and American Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the state of Israel?" she asked in a Facebook exchange.
Had Sisa made these comments about any other minority group, the campaign would have dismissed her, while offering profuse excuses followed by meetings with leadership figures from that group.
Accusing a few million American Jews of treason doesn’t get you booted from Bernie’s payroll.
That’s why Sisa is still working as Bernie’s press secretary.
But what came next was more important in how we view the intersection between Bernie Sanders and anti-Semitism, and that of Jews in partisan political movements who become complicit in anti-Semitism.
When asked whether her boss also has "dual loyalty", Sisa replied that, “I think I would probably have to ask him? But his comments make me believe other wise as he has been very blunt on where he stands.”
The obvious implication was that only Bernie’s hostility to Israel partly shielded him against accusations of treason. Most other American Jews were however guilty until proven innocent by opposing Israel.
And yet even Bernie couldn’t be entirely free of suspicion.
The question of dual loyalty was first raised by NPR’s Diane Rehm when she accused Sanders of holding Israeli dual citizenship. The claim, sourced from anti-Semitic sites, was obviously untrue. Aside from spending some time on a Stalinist kibbutz whose founder was arrested for spying for the USSR, Sanders is no fan of Israel. And yet the interview left him sputtering that he was an American.
The accusation that a militantly anti-Israel politician of Jewish descent was hiding his secret Israeli citizenship, like a lot of lefty anti-Semitism, straddled the fictional line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism while making it all too clear that the anti-Zionism was a fig leaf for anti-Semitism.
The media described Rehm’s accusation as anything and everything, but anti-Semitism. CNN called it, “awkward”, Vox described it as “weird”, and NPR’s ombudsman dismissed it as “bungled”.
A few Jewish groups condemned it as anti-Semitic, but received no support from Bernie Sanders.
Sandernistas have ruthlessly gone after the media for failing to give Bernie enough airtime. And Bernie has a reputation as a bad boss. He’s been described as a “a screamer and a table-banger”. He would not have tolerated Sisa’s remarks if they had touched on anything other than his Jewishness. Nor would Sandernistas have done anything less than rain holy hell over such a question from a FOX News host.
But anti-Semitism from the Left is “awkward”. Everyone pretends not to see it until it goes away.
What did Bernie Sanders think of it? It’s hard to say. But a more revealing moment occurred during his previous campaign when a Black Lives Matter supporter demanded, “What is your relationship with your Jewish community?” That was preceded by a claim that “Zionist Jews” run the “Federal Reserve.”
Bernie shook a finger at him. “Brother, brother. No, no, no, that’s not what you’re asking. No that’s not what you’re asking. I’m proud to be Jewish,” he insisted. And then shifted into claims of support for the ‘Palestinians’ to loud applause from the audience. “I may be Jewish, but you’re not going to find any candidate running for president, for example, to talk about Zionism and the Middle East.”
Then he added, “There are wonderful people on both sides of the issue.”
There was one problem with Bernie’s answer. His questioner hadn’t been asking about Israel, but about Jews running Wall Street and the Federal Reserve. But Bernie shifted it from anti-Semitism to Zionism.
“That’s not what you’re asking,” he had urged his interrogator.
As Bernie’s complicity in anti-Semitism is debated in the media, this moment is vital for understanding the Vermont politician as both a victim and a collaborator in that ancient hatred. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Sanders is the public face of a political movement filled with the most abhorrent anti-Semitism.
Close Sanders associates and allies, including Keith Ellison and Linda Sarsour, have been fans of Louis Farrakhan. The Jersey City market anti-Semitic killer had reportedly listened to Farrakhan. Both have their own ugly histories of anti-Semitism. Sarsour’s claim that Jews are behind police violence against black people was the same message that the Jersey City killer had spread on the internet.
Things like this don’t bother Bernie.
Bernie Sanders appeared at a rally with John Cusack after the actor had tweeted an anti-Semitic meme showing a hand marked with a Star of David crushing people and secretly ruling over them. He appeared at a rally with Rep. Ilhan Omar while ignoring her numerous anti-Semitic remarks. He appeared at a rally with Shaun King who had defended Farrakhan and had called Jewish critics of the Women’s March liars.
Sanders brought in Cornel West to help draft the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform. West had described Israeli efforts to fight Hamas as, “Jewish racism in motion.”
But it’s not about the names, it’s the infrastructure.
Even while British Jews and decent people rallied against Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism, Sanders campaigners at the Democratic Socialists of America were collaborating with Labour. The DSA is the Democratic Party’s equivalent of Labour’s Momentum. It is the driving force behind the Corbynization of the Democratic Party because it is part of the international alliance behind Corbyn.
The DSA conference had cheered for Corbyn and welcomed a representative from Melenchon’s France Insoumise. The French radical leftist makes Corbyn seem philosemitic.
Melenchon had responded to Corbyn’s defeat by accusing the Labour leader of weakness and vowing not to give in to CRIF or the Representative Council of the Jews of France. The DSA’s Jewish Caucus condemned the anti-Semitism, yet one of its members struggled to articulate their complicity.
“Jewish socialists have had to contend with one of history’s most egregious eras of antisemitism— from which the left was not immune in promoting — and yet they continued to proudly identify as socialists… we will carry on that tradition and not shy away from working with the left,” Lane Silberstein wrote.
This may well be what Bernie secretly believes. Unlike Lane, he won’t talk about the anti-Semitism he comes face to face with it in his own movement, and his rationale for collaborating with it.
The same alliance that backed Corbyn sees Sanders as a better foil for accusations of anti-Semitism. He is after all Jewish in some sense that is culturally tangible and communally intangible. He does not attend synagogue, stand up for Jews or identify with the Jewish community. Yet there’s that accent, equal parts grating and ingratiating. He resembles somebody’s grandfather. Even if it’s not our own.
Bernie too is a victim of anti-Semitism. And a collaborator.
That is the complex reality of Jewishness and anti-Semitism. Bernie is the most visible leftist figure in America. Yet even he’s not immune to the anti-Semitism of his own campaign and supporters.
Behind Bernie’s show of political strength is a deep weakness to anti-Semitism.
Jewish collaborators aren’t strong. They’re weak. They rationalize anti-Semitism and their fear of standing up to it in various ways. One of the vocal defenses of Bernie’s complicity in anti-Semitism came from Noah Berlatsky who claimed that the accusations of anti-Semitism were themselves anti-Semitic.
"Ideally, Jews on the left would be able to speak up against anti-Semitism when it occurs, and be supported by their peers. But it is very difficult to combat anti-Semitism in leftist communities when the right is pushing bad faith accusations. Leftist Jews who do speak up are pilloried as reactionary and — in line with the old anti-Semitic slur — disloyal. Thus conservative accusations of anti-Semitism, under cover of protecting Jewish people, actually make it harder to fight anti-Semitism, while also making it harder to be Jewish on the left and in America," he concluded.
It's hard to be Jewish and on the left in America. It’s harder still to fight anti-Semitism on the Left. It's a curious elegy for participating in an anti-Semitic movement whose hate can’t be called out.
Viewed through Berlatsky’s partisan prism, the problem of leftist hate is the fault of conservatives. If only it weren’t for the conservative accusations of anti-Semitism, he could safely fight anti-Semitism.
Self-hatred is what happens when you love something that is bad for you. The self-hating Jew is addicted to something bad. Anti-Semitism, like the alcoholic’s shakes, is a sign of that badness. And the inability to see it for what it is and to give it up is the stigmata of the addiction. The addict makes excuses. He rationalizes what his addiction is doing to him. And, secretly, he hates his own weakness.
Jews rationalize and collaborate in anti-Semitic movements because they are addicted to them. They derive their meaning and their self-worth from movements that at their core hate who they are.
To truly belong to them, they must hate themselves.
Can Jews be anti-Semitic? Of course they can. But more often they rationalize anti-Semitism. And that rationalization has its origins in fear and shame. That fear is hard to recognize and easy to transpose.
Senator Bernie Sanders found it easier to transpose an anti-Semitic remark into an anti-Zionist one. That’s something that many Jewish leftists do. After all they aren’t Israelis. Until they’re accused of secretly holding Israeli citizenship anyway. And, as Bernie’s fate shows us, no matter how much they hate the Jewish State, sooner or later someone will accuse them of being secret Israelis anyway.