The Attack Against Bernie Sanders for Having Spent 3 months on a Kibbutz

So now we know that Bernie Sanders spent three months on Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim in 1963, a kibbutz belonging to the Hashomer Hatzair socialist-Zionist youth movement.  This news immediately led to right-wing attacks smear attacks against Sanders, hoping to spook American Jews into voting for the Republican candidates.  This despite the fact that American Jews voted overwhelming for Barack Obama in 2008 (78%) and 2012 (70%), and the fact that similar majorities will probably vote for whoever the Democratic candidate will be in 2016.

A prominent example of the attacks against Sanders appeared in an article entitled “Bernie Sanders’ 1963 stay at a Stalinist kibbutz” by Thomas Lifson.  The article appeared in something called American Thinker, edited and published by Lifson. According to Wikipedia,”The Huffington Post has said of American Thinker, “It is your typical, garden-variety right-wing site, created by and for fact-challenged people who believe that liberalism is the root of all evil, and that Jesus Christ personally hand-delivered the U.S. Constitution to the founding fathers.”[8]


Bernie Sanders spent three months on Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim in 1963: (Photo: Bernie

But let’s look at the substance of the attack. Lifson writes the following: “In 1963, Sanders had told Yossi Melman that he had been at Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim as a guest of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. Israel had all sorts of Kibbutzim affiliated with various political movements. Hashomer Hatzair was about as bad as it got.” He then continued: “Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim was, in fact, part of the communist organizational support system, dedicated to the triumph of communism under the leadership of the Soviet Union.”

Members of Hashomer Hatzair were among the leaders of the Jewish resistance to the Nazis, the building and defense of the State of Israel and the quest for peace with its neighbors.

Lifson’s article accusing Bernie Sanders of having been a Stalinist because he spent 3 months on Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim is a ridiculous smear. I am a Zionist, like Bernie Sanders born in Brooklyn, who arrived on another Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, Barkai, in 1963. That’s the same year that Sanders was on Sha’ar Ha’amakim. Like Sha’ar Ha’amakim, Barkai was a kibbutz dedicated to building a progressive Israeli society, based on equality for all it’s members.

During World War II, members of Hashomer Hatzair were among the leaders of Jewish struggle against the Nazis. Member Mordechai Anielewicz was the leader of the heroic Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1942. Member poet Abba Kovner was the leader of the Vilna Ghetto uprising, and also of a group of Inglorious Bastard-type Nazi hunters in the post-war period. And Haviva Reik, a member of Hashomer Hatzair Kibbutz Ma’anit gave her life as a partisan-heroine who parachuted behind enemy lines.

Members of Hashomer Hatzair were among the founders and leaders of the Palmach, the pre-state underground fighting force.  Members of Hashomer Hatzair who fought in the American army during WW II served as sailors on the immigration ship “Exodus” in 1947.  The sons of the kibbutzim were the elite of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) who defended the existence of the State. One IDF Chief of Staff, David Elazar, grew up after his immigration from Yugoslavia on Hashomer Hatzair Kibbutz Ein Shemer, and another, Moshe Levi, lived out his last years on another Hashomer Hatzair Kibbutz, Beit Alpha. Even the first Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin was a member of Hashomer Hatzair in his youth in Poland. And members of Hashomer Hatzair were among the young IDF reserve officers who founded the Peace Now movement in 1978, believing that war was not an eternal given, and that it was possible and necessary for Israel to achieve peace with it’s neighbors.

Hashomer Hatzair member Abba Kovner (right) led the Vilna Ghetto uprising against the Nazis: (Photo. Hebrew Wikipedia).

I have no doubt that Bernie Sanders was profoundly influenced by his 3 months of experience on a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz in 1963.  It  helped to shape his views in favor or a more equitable society and economy, and also probably influenced his decision to move to Vermont.

On Friday, the International New York Times published an article entitled “America’s young voters flock to Sanders.”
In the same issue, another article appeared by Nicholas Kristof, “Questions for Bernie Sanders”, in which he asks “can he accomplish his goals, and is he electable?”

These are good questions.  However, whether the Democratic candidate will be Hillary Clinton, the most experienced of all the candidates in both parties, the idealistic Bernie Sanders who inspires the younger generation,  Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary of State John Kerry, any and all of them are clearly preferable to any of the current right-wing Republican candidates, both for America and for Israel.

Bernie Sanders has no reason to be ashamed of his 3 months on a kibbutz in 1963. On the contrary, it’s something to be proud of. And one thing is clear. McCarthyite claims of guilt by (false) association are alive and well on the American right.

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv