As Bernie Sanders’ campaign winds down, he has evolved from quixotic gadfly to persistent annoyance, to one who seeks to alter and shake things up to one who may potentially inflict permanent damage on the U.S.-Israel relationship. If unchecked, his efforts could result in irreparable harm to bipartisan support for Israel, the bedrock of our nation’s policy of guaranteeing Israel’s security.
His by now well-known appointments to the Democratic Party platform draft committee, coupled with pronouncements of his goals, leave no room for ambiguity or uncertainty about his intentions. He is seeking not just a more balanced, more even-handed policy of the Democratic Party, but nothing less than a realignment of the relationship between the United States and Israel.
I find his angry rants, rallies and rhetoric in which he rails against segments of society, albeit privileged ones, only slightly less frightening in their demagoguery than those of the equivalent of the rants of his counterpart on the other side, Donald Trump.
At first Sanders downplayed his Jewishness, barely acknowledging his ancestry, preferring to refer to his parents as refugees from Poland, omitting from his personal narrative that they were Jewish. Eventually he went along with a Saturday Night Live shtick which “outed him” as a Jew. But he clearly has no relationship with his Jewishness.
Let’s put it this way: President Barack Obama has probably attended more seders in the last eight years than Bernie has since he last sat at the kids’ table at family seders in Brooklyn.
Bernie’s comment about what he called Israel’s disproportionate response to Hamas rockets said it all, exposing his prejudice and revealing the superficiality of his understanding of the situation in the Middle East. It was especially disturbing for it demonstrated an appalling ignorance of what actually happened just a couple of years ago, while he was serving as a senator.
Not allowing facts to get in the way of his preconceived inaccurate notions, he claimed that Israel’s actions, which he called disproportionate, had resulted in the deaths of 10,000 in Gaza, inflating the number of casualties by almost 1,000 percent. The real number was between 1,200 and 1,400, the vast majority of whom were combatants. He said this because this is what he believes. That his assertion about disproportionality was so blatantly false didn’t matter. His mind was already made up.
He mixed up who was the aggressor and who had provoked the confrontation. He did not take into consideration the massive network of tunnels Hamas had built into Israeli territory to smuggle weapons, provide a hideout for its leaders and to attack civilians. He ignored the fact that Hamas fighters and commandos had embedded themselves in densely populated civilian areas, precisely so that guys like him would falsely conclude that Israel was purposely attacking civilians. He did not give Israel any credit for the extraordinary efforts it took to avoid civilian casualties. Because his default narrative is that Israel is the aggressor, he did not recognize that Israel acted with caution in pursuing military targets, whereas Hamas specifically indiscriminately attacked civilians.
Long after Bernie Sanders will be little more than a footnote or trivia question about who was the first Jew to go so far in the presidential election, we will have to live with the consequences of his efforts to diminish traditional Democratic support for Israel. Nothing less than a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and the well-being of an important strategic alliance which benefits both nations is at stake.
And that is precisely what is so scary about Sanders and why Jews, pro-Israel activists, especially those active in the Democratic Party, must not allow him or his proxies on the platform committee to prevail.
Stuart Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac.