Sanders sees anti-Semitism through distorted lenses

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at the J Street National Conference, with the 'Pod Save the World' hosts Tommy Vietor, left, and Ben Rhodes, October 28, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at the J Street National Conference, with the 'Pod Save the World' hosts Tommy Vietor, left, and Ben Rhodes, October 28, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

With the rising incidents of violence and hate crimes against Jews throughout the world, as well as in the United States, it was encouraging to hear that US Senator Bernie Sanders has an interest in addressing the problem. But the senator’s claim that “I will always call out anti-Semitism when I see it” is empty as long as he allows his vision to be clouded by party politics.

Sanders correctly points out that in evaluating possible solutions to the Middle East Crisis, we need to consider the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and political freedom. As such, he opines that it is not anti-Semitic to both support Israel as well as the rights of Palestinians, which is surely true. But the senator’s comments completely ignore the practical and dire issue of how to ensure Israel’s security while addressing Palestinian claims. Sander’s statements in his article, and his stated policy position, shows only a concern with Palestinian “rights.” He ignores regular acts of terrorism upon Israeli civilians. He offers no thoughts at all about how Israelis can be guaranteed safety in the setting of solutions that have been proposed, and that he himself seems to support. He seems to ignore the numerous compromises that have been made by the State of Israel in an effort to secure peace, only to find itself in worsened positions again and again.

Sanders has a curious view of anti-Semitism. For him, Jew hatred is subsumed by intersectionality — the rights of oppressed people to be supported throughout the world. That construct denies the atypical and lethal history of anti-Semitism and its presence for two millennia, unrelated to current politics. Are these historical blinders genuine or meant to play to the growing anti-Israel fringe of the Democratic party that Sanders recognizes as his base? Regardless, it is an intellectually dishonest approach to the problem.

Sanders implicates President Donald Trump in anti-Semitic attacks and minimizes the presence and importance of politically progressive anti-Semitism. He calls hatred from the Left “primarily a creation of those who want to use it for cynical, political attacks.” But by acknowledging only right-wing anti-Semitism, he misses — purposefully or otherwise — what might be by far the most dangerous aspect of the current rise of anti-Semitism: Intrinsically linked, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bias have gained a growing respectability as part of the mainstream value. This bias is incorporated into the successfully propagandized falsehood that Israel continually and unreasonably suppresses Palestinian rights.

While Sanders’s personal view of Judaism may be legitimate, it is certainly not all-encompassing. His Jewish tradition, he tells us, is all about social justice. But that social justice umbrella should include Israelis. Someone who is genuinely concerned about anti-Semitism would recognize that for other Jews, a myriad of other aspects defined as Judaism are also important: the belief in G-d, a belief in self-determination, a belief in the rights to protect and defend one’s family, and a belief in the unique mission of the Jewish people. For those Jews, some of whom are more overtly and obviously Jewish than Bernie Sanders, manifesting their religion and culture has in itself become dangerous. And that danger is as often from the Left as it is from the Right. No single group has a monopoly on what it means to be a Jew. Neither does either political extreme have a monopoly on anti-Semitism. The responsibilities of a true leader should include acknowledging the diversity of opinion… and of dangerous hatred, regardless of the source.

About the Author
Dr. Alan Kadish is president of the Touro College and University System.
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