Voting your Faith or Conscience: The Rise of Bernie Sanders

Although I vehemently disagree with almost everything Bernie Sanders stands for, I nevertheless am impressed by his enthusiasm, passion, and level of energy. This is in spite of him being 78 years old and recovering from a recent heart attack. Perhaps even more shocking is that he has energized millennials and is currently the leading democratic contender in the presidential race. His passion is contagious and ideologies that were once condemned by all Americans are now seeping into the mainstream. His momentum seems to be defying gravity and to those who say he could never be elected let me remind them that similar words were said about the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

I must admit, though, that I’m frightened by his meteoric rise in polling and fear that if elected our personal liberties will be threatened and Wall Street will descend in a chaotic selloff. However, regardless of how I feel, I wouldn’t have written about him had he not crossed a sacred line in the sand. We Jews have been scapegoated and maligned over the millennia and have never been in a strong enough position to confront our antagonists. We shamefully accepted our lowly caste and being denigrated was the price we had to pay for survival. Well, thank God times have changed and we no longer are willing to silently accept anti-Jewish or anti-Israel rhetoric. And if Bernie didn’t say what was attributed to him, then there is plenty of time for him to clarify the slanderous demagoguery targeting AIPAC. Do I think Bernie Sanders is an anti-Semite or self-loathing Jew?Absolutely not. I think he is misguided politically and ignorant Jewishly and surrounds himself with people who exacerbate his limitations.

I’m not upset that he decided against attending AIPAC. As an American he has the freedom to choose where he goes and what he supports. What bothers me is his public pronouncements that are filled with inaccuracies and a blatant intent to defame an organization that strives to create a bipartisan support for American Israeli relations across anotherwise partisan divide. Bernie Sanders announced on Sunday that he won’t attend the annual AIPAC conference and accused the organization of giving a platform to “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic rights” for the Palestinian people. While claiming to be unashamed of his Jewish roots, he expresses attitudes that are stereotypical of proponents of the anti-Israel agenda. While It’s usually unwise to speak against a candidate, I believe it behooves any pro-Israel United States citizen to clearly enunciate the fallacy and lie that is being promoted by Bernie Sanders. I have nothing against Bernie, the human being, as I have little doubt that he sincerely believes in what he preaches. However, I’m against how Bernie may be the harbinger for a radical shift in American thought. I fear he may cast a dark cloud over the future of democracy, capitalism, and promote a radical realignment of who we perceive as our friends and allies. His words alone probably would never gain traction but his words are being constantly repeated. From professors at Ivy League universities and newly elected members of congress, a credible voice seeks to promote this fictitious reality. He is merely strengthening the echo chamberbut the sounds of dissent are reverberating throughout our country. Truth and justice is no longer the American way; it’s been hijacked by the newly framed agenda of ‘anti’.

I am against socialism and communism and can’t fathom how anyone in the United States can run on that platform.  It is the antithesis of everything I believeto be inherently American. Who can forget the phrase “better dead than red” decrying even the remotest association with the dreaded communist ideology? Who can forget what communist regimes did to our coreligionists immediately following the Holocaust? Have we forgotten the iron curtain and the brutality against the refuseniks?

Bernie joins Elizabeth Warren as pro J-Street advocates who believe that the current US relationship with Israel is harmful and wrong. He has stated that he doesn’t want to reduce US aid to Israel; he just a wants to allocate a meaningful percentage of those funds to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. In other words, he wants to reward anti-American terrorists at the expense of long serving allies. If he wouldn’t potentially be the next leader of the free world I would probably ignore his rhetoric. However, we as Jews have one memory etched in our collective; we know what happens when words and rhetoric are ignored. “Never Again” has to be strongly reiterated before anything catastrophic occurs. We can no longer be hushed into silence due to political correctness.

What AIPAC has achieved since its inception is monumental. They have shifted the agenda from political rhetoric to facts and truths. They bring politicians to Israel to see reality from ground level and have advocated a no conflict attitude during the conference. Jews, Muslims and Christians share the podium with the sole purpose of correcting the false narrative. AIPAC is colorblind as attendees and delegates span the political, cultural, and racial divide. Bigotry is the antithesis of what AIPAC stands for and to be leveled with an unverifiable accusation is a serious breach of integrity. And to tarnish AIPAC with being against the human rights of the Palestinians is falsifying the narrative. In Bernie’s world it’s either or; either you are for the Palestnians or for Israel. You can’t be both. However the exact opposite is true. The best option for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people is to live in harmony with one another. The economy would go into turbo mode and basic human rights would be afforded to all peoples of the region. Contrary to the stereotypical anti-Israel agenda, the Israeli public would delight in the Palestinians achieving greater parity in income, education and health. There would be a reduction in hostility and no longer any justified reason to foment anger and hatred. Mr. Sanders, this is the agenda I have always heard attending policy conferences. Maybe if you didn’t boycott, you too would hear this message.

Our sages write that a person who is willing to learn from all people is wise. Thus, I am going to ask you all to learn a little from Bernie and be as enthusiastic in supporting Israel and its citizens as he is in not supporting them.  Be a passionate advocate for AIPAC and acknowledge it by supporting their agenda and the candidates who uphold a strong commitment to America-Israel relations. Regardless of which party takes control in 2021 we are assured that because of AIPAC, Israel will continue to have great friends and supporters in the halls of the senate and the people’s house. Do I care who the next president will be? Absolutely. Am I really concerned that Bernie will be the first Jewish President? I remember my mother telling me: the higher you rise, the harder you fall, and my mother was never wrong.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jack

About the Author
Rabbi Jack and his wife, Miriam have reinvigorated Anshei Emuna, a Modern Orthodox Synagogue located in Delray Beach, Florida, in the ten plus years they have been at the Shul, through their experiences gleaned from serving in pulpits in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. They are advocates of a modern Orthodoxy, being open minded, yet adhering to the integrity of halacha. They believe that being an “ohr lagoyim” refers first and foremost to the entirety of our collective Jewish family.
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