Activist Linda Sarsour ignited a media firestorm when video surfaced of her telling the American Muslims for Palestine conference “Israel ‘is built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else’” on Nov. 29. Sarsour adopting white supremacist rhetoric and blatantly lying about Israel — the realized, radical notion that Jews deserve a homeland like every other people — wasn’t so surprising.
No, what’s been notable is that Sarsour remains Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign surrogate. Sarsour is too antisemitic for the Women’s March, but not for Sanders.
Many campaigns would have consciously uncoupled from Sarsour by now. Surely no one believed Sarsour’s apology, insisting her remarks criticizing modern Israel’s founding in 1948 were, in fact, about Israel’s 2018 nation-state law. But Bernie Sanders remains loyal, and it’s worth considering why.
Sanders Thinks Antisemitism Is a Right-Wing Problem
In a November essay titled “How to Fight Antisemitism” in the far-left Jewish Currents, Sanders promised, “I will always call out antisemitism when I see it.” That sounds good until you understand Sanders’ view of antisemitism: “Like other forms of bigotry — racism, sexism, homophobia — antisemitism is used by the right to divide people from one another and prevent us from fighting together for a shared future of equality, peace, prosperity, and environmental justice.”
In other words, antisemitism is a problem of the right, and Sanders’ definition of the right is fairly expansive; he doesn’t differentiate here between mainstream conservatives and the far-right.
The other flaw with Sanders’ narrow definition is that it ignores two other major sources of antisemitism, namely the far-left and Islamists. Without those last two, there is no way to understand either Corbynism or the genocidal hatred of Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet Sanders strikingly overlooks them.
For this reason, Sanders not only promises that as president, “I will direct the Justice Department to prioritize the fight against white nationalist violence,” but also says he would “rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council,” which is best known for demonizing Israel.
Bernie Sanders Associates with Antisemites
The most significant section of Sanders’ essay is him maintaining that “some criticism of Israel can cross the line into antisemitism, especially when it denies the right of self-determination to Jews, or when it plays into conspiracy theories about outsized Jewish power.” This is where things get interesting, given the company Sanders keeps as a presidential candidate.
Beyond Sarsour’s surrogacy, Sanders has accepted the endorsement of Rep. Ilhan Omar, who accused Israel of “hypnotizing the world,” alleged Jewish dollars drive congressional support of Israel, and raised the antisemitic canard of dual loyalty. Omar has also spearheaded a Squad-supported resolution championing the movement to boycott Israel — the very same movement Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House overwhelmingly condemned in a July resolution because it “does not recognize, and many of its supporters explicitly deny, the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination.”
Sanders has also been endorsed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has accused pro-Israel senators of dual loyalty and described the “calming feeling” she gets when thinking about the Holocaust, whitewashing history during a podcast interview. Contra Tlaib, the Palestinian Arab population did not, in fact, offer a safe haven to Jews fleeing the Holocaust.
Tlaib also lost the endorsement of left-wing J Street in 2018 because she supports a one-state solution, rather than two, for Israelis and Palestinians. Interestingly, the women of “the Squad” were the only four Democrats to vote in favor of Tlaib’s one-state view last week.
Sanders’ Campaign Staff Has Been Problematic
Closer to home, there’s the matter of Sanders’ campaign staff. And if personnel is policy, Sanders’ hires should raise some eyebrows.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this year, the campaign’s inner circle includes “foreign policy adviser Matt Duss and campaign manager Faiz Shakir, both of whom faced charges of promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories during their time at the Center for American Progress, or CAP, a liberal think-tank.”
On Friday, the campaign parted ways with its deputy director of constituency organizing after a mere two days. He had made news Thursday for tweeting about “Jew Money” and other similarly offensive comments.
Sanders’ national deputy press secretary made headlines in March for “questioning whether the ‘American-Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the state of Israel.’” And lest we forget, in 2016, Sanders’ campaign fired the national Jewish outreach coordinator two days after announcing her appointment because of a “vulgar attack she wrote against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on social media,” which generated bad publicity.
Veterans of Sanders’ 2016 campaign also traveled overseas to help the antisemitic Jeremy Corbyn run for British prime minister in 2017, “providing assistance in the form of lessons and the introduction of new digital tools.” The political cross-pollination makes sense, since Sanders described himself as “very impressed” with Corbyn that same year.
These associations paint a pattern of proximity to antisemitism that’s hard to miss. That raises the thorny question: Is it that Sanders really doesn’t notice, that he’s willing to tolerate it, or that he somehow also supports it? Because there’s no doubt that by surrounding himself with so much antisemitism, Sanders is not only helping to broadcast that toxic hatred to his (often young) supporters, he’s also helping to normalize it.