Last night, depending on what spin you believe, was a very good night for Bernie Sanders. He lost the Kentucky primary by less than half of one percent – he was expected to lose by a much wider margin – and he won handily in Oregon. While the chattering class gives him little shot of actually winning the Democratic nomination he fully intends to take his fight to the convention and make sure every last vote is counted.
Bernie has reawakened in America a progressive political agenda that many hoped for but were disappointed by in Barack Obama. He has struck a chord with young people, under or unemployed middle aged men and a good portion of the populace that believe the system is rigged in favor of the rich and are frustrated with the largest income gap and wage stagnation in history. Most of his followers believe we wasted money on wars and corporate bailouts that would have been put to better use creating jobs and repairing infrastructure.
Bernie’s progressivism though, is not the typical European version and when it comes to foreign affairs he seeks more engagement than ideologically pure leftists on the other side of the ocean. But, since ideological movements tend to feed off of their international counterparts, progressivism is perceived, not wrongly, as anti Israel and sometimes outright anti Semitic – see Britain’s Labor party. Thus, I have the misfortune of supporting a candidate for president of the United States who has a great many followers who have little or no sympathy for the State of Israel, which frustrates me to no end. The candidate himself seems lost when confronted by supporters who blame “Zionist Jews” for controlling American foreign policy as happened at a campaign event in Harlem last month. Rather than denounce the blatant anti Semitism, Bernie swung and missed on a softball opportunity to set himself apart from the loony left and defend his impeccable record on Israel.
There was a time when being liberal meant you were a friend of Israel and supported her strength and survival. I understand that alliances change in politics and that Israel has become the darling of conservatives more than the liberals, Republicans more than Democrats. I also get that Prime Minister Netanyahu is polarizing, favors Republicans and makes supporting Israel difficult for some Americans. What I cannot swallow, what I cannot accept, what scares me and makes me ill is this demonization of Israel by elements of the left that borders on obsessive hatred.
To my progressive friends I have to defend Israel’s right to be a military power. I have to point out country after country with far worse human rights and war records than Israel. I have to remind them of Israel’s contribution to technology, science and medicine. I have to point out the ridiculous hypocritical obsession of the UN with Israel while it ignores every other hot spot in the world that produces genocide, starvation, beheadings and mass graves. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank according to my ideological friends is just as bad if not worse than Darfur or Aleppo. God help us!
I’m a dinosaur, I’m a progressive that still loves Israel and believes in the justice of her cause. While I lean towards the peace camp, favor sympathy for the Palestinians and pray they get a country of their own living in peace with her neighbors, I will not stand down when it comes to existential issues for Israel. The problem is that the majority of Bernie’s supporters, the progressive force he has unleashed here in US is very young and very ignorant about Israel. They need to be reached out to, they need to be explained the truth and educated on the reality of the world and Israel. Liberals like me? We are the front line for defense of Israel among progressives.
So to my right wing buddies who find me misguided for my political beliefs, who resort to gratuitous labeling and venomous name calling, remember, young progressives don’t listen to you about the economy, about social issues, about income inequality, about taxes, about anything – they certainly are not going to listen to you about Israel. Let people like me defend our defense of Israel from inside our camp; the world is simply not black or white and who better to point that out than us?