Rabbi Shmuley: Sanders Wants to Bern Israel

NASHUA, NH - DECEMBER 13: Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) on stage during Sanders' event at Nashua Community College on December 13, 2019 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Iowa Caucuses are less than two months away. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

When it comes to the world’s one and only Jewish state, Israel is really “feeling the Bern.” And not in a good way.

How ironic is it that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who could conceivably become the first Jewish president, seems to despise the homeland of the Jewish people, the democratically elected government of Israel, and the organization — AIPAC — most conspicuously devoted to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship?

How dangerous would Sanders be to the welfare of Israel if elected? And how sad it is that an otherwise decent can behave so indecently toward the world’s only Jewish state.

Bernie Sanders’ older brother, Larry, was a close friend of mine when I served as Rabbi at Oxford University from 1988-1999. Larry was a regular at our large Friday night Sabbath meals with the students, and often brought his children to join him. Larry and I probably had different politics. But we almost never discussed that, and it certainly never created a wedge. He always exhibited warmth. He is a good man.

I have no reason to believe that Bernie is different. While I utterly reject his socialism and believe it would undermine American economic prosperity, that doesn’t mean I have any problem with Bernie as a person. Indeed, I believe he has identified a malignancy in America’s growing materialism and overwhelming lust for wealth.

It’s the reason why so many y0ung people are flocking to his banner. They want to know there is something they can look forward to besides just making money and using cash as a currency by which to purchase self-esteem.

Still, his remedy for the problem – radical socialism – would undermine individual intiative and bankrupt the United States.

But that still doesn’t mean I have any issue with Bernie personally. Rather, why unnerves me is his distaste for, and constant criticism of, Israel.

Consider some of his positions. The Jewish Virtual Library notes:

In 2001, Sanders was the only Jewish member of the House who disagreed with a resolution blaming all of the violence of the Second Intifada on Palestinian terrorism. Sanders was one of 45 representatives in 2004 who voted against a resolution expressing support for Israel’s security fence after it was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice. Sanders was one of 21 U.S. Senators who did not sign onto a resolution espousing unconditional solidarity with Israel during 2014’s Gaza War.

Moreover, according to sources cited by the Library:

  • In 1988, Sanders Press Conference at University of Vermont, “It is wrong that the United States provides arms to Israel. We are not going to be the arms merchant for Middle Eastern nations.”
  • In 2015, when Israel was bombarded by Hamas missiles, Sanders Haaretz, “I think that Israel overreacted and caused more civilian damage than was necessary.” (Israel sought to minimize damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure.)
  • In 2016, he said, “The sight of Israeli soldiers breaking the arms and legs of Arabs is reprehensible.” (It was not clear what he was talking about.)
  • In 2019, Sanders said he opposed the boycott of Israel, but was one of the 22 Democrats who voted against anti-boycott legislation.

Bernie has repeatedly shown disdain for Israel’s democracy. After Israel went through the pain of the 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza and being rewarded – yet again this week – with a barrage of rockets, including one that hit a children’s playground, the people of Israel are not willing to make more territorial concessions for terror.

A majority of Israelis oppose the creation of a Palestinian state (as do most Palestinians) and, while Sanders may not like Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians, his rival in next month’s election promises to pursue a similar course.

Sanders’ repeated attacks on Netanyahu and accusations that he is a “racist” are disgusting, especially coming from a man who praises Fidel Castro. “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad,” he said on 60 Minutes. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”

No, Bernie, it isn’t, and Hitler made the trains run on time. And while there is no comparison between Hitler, the most evil man that ever lived, and any other dictator, my point is that Bernie is whitewashing the brutal Castro regime, which murdered tens of thousands.

In another outrage, Sanders attacked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the organization that represents vast numbers of pro-Israel Americans, close to 20,000 of whom will attend the policy conference in Washington, DC, next week. Sanders pandered to his extreme left-wing supporters with his tweet, “I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference.”

Who has made bigoted remarks at the AIPAC conference? I have heard officials and politicians from across the political, religious and ideological spectrum express nothing but love of Israel and their commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship. AIPAC typically attracts most members of Congress to its banquets and the leadership routinely speaks in plenary sessions. This year, the Senate Majority and Minority leaders will be speaking.

Meanwhile, Sanders was happy to attend the J Street conference, whose supporters want to see the U.S.-Israel relationship weakened and their judgement substituted for that of the citizens of Israel.

Sanders says he believes U.S. policy should be “evenhanded,” but that is code for one-sided pressure on Israel. He gives lip service to Israeli security but believes Israel must capitulate to Palestinian demands. If they do not, he threatens to cut off military aid vital to Israel’s security.

He repeats the canard that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and fails to acknowledge Israel’s repeated offers of peace and its territorial concessions, including evacuating 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, which was quickly transformed into a Hamas terror state. He ignores the Palestinian rejection of these gestures and their violent responses.

Like so many “progressives,” he sees the Palestinians as blameless and demands nothing from them. He ignores the antisemitic rantings of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas commitment to Israel’s destruction. He hypocritically expresses concern for Palestinian rights but has nothing to say about the way their leaders deny them basic freedoms and abuse their civil and human rights. He is sympathetic to the Palestinians in Gaza but not the Israelis being bombarded by rockets.

His simplistic solution is for Israel to end the “occupation” and enable the creation of a Palestinian state. He never explains how he would persuade the Palestinians to accept living beside a Jewish state, something they have refused to do for nearly a century. He also doesn’t say what he proposes to do with the 700,000 Jews who live on land the Palestinians claim as their own and which they pledge to make judenrein.

Sanders wants to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which corruptly perpetuates Palestinian “refugees,” and to the Palestinian Authority, which uses American taxpayer dollars to pay terrorists in Israeli jails and the families of suicide bombers.

He claims Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homes knowing every Israeli leader opposes this because it amounts to a suicide pact.

“We cannot continue to ignore the needs of the Palestinian people,” Sanders says, while blasting Trump’s peace plan — which includes a detailed program for economic development for the Palestinians.

Perhaps more dangerous is Sanders’s views on Iran. He does not condemn the genocidal mullahs or their suppression of the Iranian people but wants to return to the catastrophic nuclear deal that allowed Iran to continue its march toward a bomb, develop ballistic missiles, sponsor terror around the globe, and destabilize the Middle East.

Sanders astonishingly claimed there was a “thaw” in the relationship with Iran after signing the Iran deal and would like to normalize relations with Tehran. His unwillingness to use the threat of military force as a tool of diplomacy would repeat the mistake that allowed the Iranians to force their terms on President Obama.

Sanders rarely spoke about his Jewishness before this campaign. Now he touts the fact that he spent time on a kibbutz, which perhaps gave him some of his socialist values but without the understanding of the Jewish relationship to the land of Israel expressed by the Labor Zionists who founded the kibbutz movement. Shockingly, when asked about Zionism, he said, “A Zionist? What does that mean?”

Not only is Sanders “not actively involved with organized religion,” fellow leftist Peter Beinart criticized him for flaunting his disrespect for Judaism by scheduling speeches on Rosh Hashanah and spending Yom Kippur at the White House meeting Pope Francis.

You can also tell a lot about a person by whom he surrounds himself with and Sanders is, in Steven Emerson’s words, a “magnet for anti-Semites.” Sanders’s campaign manager Faiz Shakir and foreign policy adviser Matt Duss were both accused of anti-Semitism while working for the Center for American Progress. Three of his surrogates, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Amer Zahr, and Linda Sarsour, are widely viewed as antisemites.

Sanders is entitled to criticize Israeli policies. In fact, all the Democratic candidates have expressed concerns, but none has shown such outright hostility toward Israel, its supporters, and the concerns of the Jewish people.

Perhaps it’s time for Bernie to go and speak to his big brother Larry about the amazing Shabbat dinners we had with thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish students at Oxford, about the majesty of the Jewish faith, and about the incredible bastion of human rights that the Jewish people have created in the world’s most tyrannical region.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 33 books, including the upcoming Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.


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