Politico reports: If Bernie Sanders defeats Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination, he’ll be the first Jewish presidential nominee of a major political party.
But when it comes to his views on Israel, some Jewish Democrats are scratching their heads in confusion.
“His voting record on Israel recently is fine, absolutely fine,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a media consultant and former Clinton White House aide who supports Clinton. “I haven’t heard him once talk about it on the campaign trail. It’s as though he doesn’t utter the word Israel. It just strikes me as odd.”
But over his career Sanders has cast some votes and made critical statements about Israel that unnerve some in the pro-Israel community. That’s all the more puzzling, some say, given his own heritage as the son of a Jewish immigrant father from Poland whose family was wiped out by the Nazis — and someone who spent time working on an Israeli kibbutz.
As Clinton has struggled in recent days to prevent Sanders from notching twin victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, she has zeroed in on what she calls his naive statements about Iran — a country that Israel happens to consider its greatest enemy.
How many Democratic primary voters might have qualms with Sanders is unclear, however. President Barack Obama himself has grown increasingly critical of Israeli policy toward Iran and the Palestinians. Many liberal voters agree: A recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that only 4 in 10 Democrats consider Israel to be playing a positive role in the Middle East.
“The faction of the Democratic base that supports a strongly pro-Israel point of view is shrinking,” said Matthew Duss, president of the left-leaning Foundation for Middle East Peace.
But the Democratic Party still features a strong network of wealthy Jewish donors, such as the Hollywood mogul Haim Saban and American Jewish Congress president Jack Rosen, who hold candidates to high standards when it comes to Israel. It also boasts better political organization than liberals who pressure Israel to take a more conciliatory line with the Palestinians and Iran. [Continue reading…]
Some Jewish Democrats are scratching their heads in confusion? If so, that’s probably because Sanders hasn’t offered himself to the highest bidder.
At the same time, there’s no evidence that Sanders has a progressive view of Israeli-Palestinian politics. As Joseph Dana writes:
The problematic and least radical aspect of the senator’s foreign policy is his unwavering support for Israel. When it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Mr Sanders’s economic radicalism falls by the wayside.
He has endorsed continuing military aid to Israel along with economic aid to the Palestinians, which has proven to be an effective tool for both Israel and the United States to exercise undue influence over Palestinian decision-making, as evidenced by the withholding of aid after the PLO pursued statehood recognition at the United Nations. Additionally, the senator has seldom condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and said nothing of Israel’s aggression in Gaza over the last decade.
Some have argued that Mr Sanders’s support for Israel is because he is Jewish. Yet, he has barely spoken about a faith-based connection to Israel. He has only cited his religion as an inspiration for progressive activism, especially regarding the struggle for civil rights equality.
Instead of taking a progressive stance, Mr Sanders relies on the security-based narrative that Israel has spun over the international community for decades. Where is the passion and critical thinking that has captured the imagination of millions of Americans and has demonstrated that fresh conversations are possible?
For a politician running a campaign against the “rigged” political and economic system that continues to disenfranchise millions, he is surprisingly content with the prevailing Washington orthodoxy on Israel (and also gun control, but that is a separate issue altogether).
The perplexing part is that Mr Sanders’s orthodoxy comes at a time when American diplomats in Israel are signalling a readiness to chart a new course on the conflict, one that doesn’t accept Israeli PR at face value.
For American single-issue voters whose sole concern is the resolution of the Middle East conflict, the 2016 presidential election won’t be different from any other: there won’t be a single candidate who ranks this as their primary issue (or even top foreign policy issue).
Is this a failure to acknowledge the defining issue of our times? On the contrary, it’s a reminder to be wary of polemicists who pound their podiums when talking about “the defining issue of our times.”
Indeed, if it turns out that throughout this election season, the subject of Israel rarely comes up, on balance that’ll probably be a good thing.
After all, when the subject does get raised, more often than not it is simply for the purpose of finding out who has the least amount of shame in presenting him or herself as a loyal Zionist.
Let’s be thankful if we are subject to as few as possible of these obsequious and obscene exercises.