Jews for Bernie recently tweeted, “We challenge the press to find a single person displeased about Bernie hiring @simonerzim who doesn’t have far right views on Israel.”
Let me take up this challenge personally. I would like to see a two-state resolution to the conflict in the Middle East. I have never voted for a party associated with the right in either the United states where I am from or in Israel where I now make my home. I regularly argue against many of the positions of the right wing that rail against values that I treasure.
And yet, I am very concerned about Senator Sanders’ appointment of Simone Zimmerman to oversee Jewish outreach for his campaign. The recent controversy surrounding Zimmerman has drawn attention to a Facebook post that she wrote last year. The vulgarity of this post has raised eyebrows. To be fair, Zimmerman quickly took down this post and replaced it with an edited version. And yet the toned down adaptation is still extremely troubling, even without the expletives.
There are three points in particular that one might not expect to hear from someone hired to reach out to the Jewish world. Firstly Zimmerman refers to Operation Protective Edge as “a war of choice.” Secondly she accuses Prime Minister Netanyahu of sanctioning the murder of over 2,000 people. Finally she attacks Netanyahu for the audacity to insist that he legitimately represents “even a fraction of the Jews in this world.” Each of these statements betray an insensitivity to the nature of the Jewish world to which Zimmerman has been hired to reach out to.
The consensus of Jewish Israelis from all across the political spectrum holds that Operation Protective Edge, was not “a war of choice.” It was a war of self defense. The constant barrage of missiles and the tunnels through which Hamas sent their operatives were lethal threats that Jewish (and many Arab) Israelis understood could not be tolerated. Thank goodness that Israel has the defensive tools in shelters and antimissile technology to mitigate the threat. However, these defensive methods are not foolproof. Remaining unresponsive to the threat and disruption of hundreds of daily rocket strikes from an enemy sworn to our destruction is not a viable option. This was not a war that was chosen, but rather one that was thrust upon us. To suggest otherwise belies a lack of concern for life and limb of the Jewish people living in Israel.
One could easily challenge Zimmerman’s cavalier use of the term murder for any of the two thousand plus tragic deaths of Palestinians during the operation in the summer of 2014. Yet, for arguments sake, let us focus only on the deaths of Palestinian combatants. How many of those killed were combatants? According to the IDF at least 750 were combatants. According to the UN more than 700. Even according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, nearly 500 were not civilians.
To fully understand the import of these numbers, one should compare the ratio of combatant to civilian casualties in other conflicts. One will find that Israel fares well in comparison. Moreover, one needs to take into account Hamas’ placement of combatants and military targets within civilian areas. Yet without contextualizing the numbers, even Palestinian sources admit that hundreds of the casualties were military targets. Zimmerman’s presentation lumps all two thousand plus casualties into the same category of murder. Are we to understand that taking the life of a Hamas operative in the act of firing a missile indiscriminately into an Israeli town is murder?!?!
There are currently some six million Jewish citizens living in the state of Israel. We are joined by an additional two million non-Jewish citizens. Each of us has a right to vote in free and democratic elections. Nearly one quarter of the ballots in 2013 went to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party. To suggest that Bibi Netanyahu doesn’t represent “even a fraction of the Jews in the world” is absurd. He certainly represents the 885,000 who voted for the party which he leads. Yet, he represents even more than them. Through Israel’s parliamentary system, the other members of Knesset played a role in choosing the Prime Minister. While I didn’t vote for Netanyahu myself, I did participate in the system that elected him. He is my and every Israeli’s elected representative. I may wish it were otherwise, but that doesn’t make it so.
Zimmerman’s problematic statements underscore a problem that is all too common in critiques of Israel from some on the left. They minimize Israel’s security threat and underestimate Israel’s democratic institutions. Ignoring Israel’s legitimate security concerns, demonizing its military response, and belittling its electorate only strengthen the trends that drive the Israeli electorate rightward. While Zimmerman accuses Netanyahu of “pushing Israel, in word and deed, farther and farther away from the international community,” I am worried that she is doing the very same thing.
So I say to Jews for Bernie Sanders, I am not on the far right and yet I am displeased. The Sanders campaign’s pick to reach out to the Jewish community is on record for being callous to Jewish life and dismissive of the Israeli electorate. Almost makes one wish she had just cursed Netanyahu out and left it at that…