From the headlines, you’d think it was election season in the Catskills. “Is Bernie vs. Bloomberg good for the Jews?” “Two Jews Walk Into a Presidential Primary.” “Two Old Jews Argue Over Whose Arteries Are Worse.” “Finally, Good News for the Jews.”
These playful takes on Jewish jokes reveal the extent to which Jewish culture has assimilated into the American mainstream. They also reveal the singular effect of having two Jews at the top of the Democratic presidential race — with one holding the far-left position and one holding a more right-leaning position in a pack of deeply divided contenders. And then there are the disquieting reminders of two perpetual anti-Semitic tropes about Jews.
As Jonathan Tilove described them, Trope No. 1 is “the International Jew, money-lender, banker, all-powerful manipulator of world events for his own nefarious ends.” Trope No. 2 is “the rootless cosmopolitan, the subversive, radical outsider bent on destroying the American way of life.”
As Sanders and Bloomberg are being targeted by their Democratic and Republican opponents, many of those characteristics will inevitably be highlighted, as their policies, records and characters are discussed and attacked. And the hateful part of the narrative will inevitably provide ammunition for anyone looking for a Jewish scapegoat or a Jewish conspiracy in what promises to be a fractious presidential race.
While fear of that nastiness should not get in the way of progress toward a possible Jewish president, the prospect is as frightening as it is exciting. As pointed out by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz last week, “If either Sanders or Bloomberg face off against Donald Trump, an anti-Semitic surge on the white right — from the White House down — is almost inevitable.” And we can expect similar reactions from the far left.
Of course, the most important question for the Democratic voter might be how either candidate would do against Trump. Yossi Klein Halevi in Times of Israel zeroed in on Sanders, writing that “a Trump-Sanders contest would be a political nightmare for American Jewry. It would undermine whatever minimal consensus still holds the American Jewish community together. In that toxic
atmosphere, pro-Sanders and pro-Trump Jews would each accuse the other of betraying Jewish values. And both would be right.” A similar, but more economic-focused and discrimination-related set of disagreements will be highlighted if the candidate is Bloomberg.
As for Sanders versus Bloomberg, we believe that Michael Bloomberg is the better candidate. He is a social moderate, fiscal conservative and pro-Israel candidate, who has the orientation to steer the country away from Trumpism and back to the center. That said, Bloomberg’s lackluster debate performance last week in Nevada shows that he still needs to find his campaign issues footing, sharpen his debating skills and be more prepared to defend against personal and policy attacks. But whether the Democrat candidate is Bloomberg or Sanders, we need to brace ourselves for an ugly and possibly dangerous election year for Jews. And that’s no joke.