I Don’t Feel the Bern

After a near cancellation a few weeks ago, a federal judge has decided that New Yorkers will have the chance to make our voices heard in the presidential primary. Previous primary dropout, including Bernie Sanders, will be on the ballot in June. None of candidates will be able to gain enough delegates to put them back in the race, but the primary is a chance for each candidates followers to voice their support. 

Bernie’s most ardent supporters are, obviously, thrilled. 

Me? Well, not so much. 

I’m not a big fan of Sanders and his campaign. I do believe he has decent policy ideas. He inspires people and gives them hope. He’s a passionate politician but…I just can’t bring myself to be a full-fledged supporter.

Mostly because of his relationship with the Jewish community.

This is really difficult to write about, especially on a public platform and in a way where words and thoughts can be twisted and misrepresented. I don’t question Bernie’s “Jewishness,” like some pundits are wont to do. I will, however, question his use of community and heritage when it suits him and abandoning it when it’s politically advantageous to do so. 

A pew research poll found that only 11% of Jewish Democrats would pick Sanders as their first choice. You’d think that a Jewish candidate would have more support from the Jewish community, right?

So why doesn’t he?

Bernie doesn’t really talk about being Jewish all that much. After his 2016 victory in the New Hampshire primary, he described himself as “the son of a Polish immigrant who came to this country speaking no English and having no money,” no mention of that fact that, at the time, no Pole would ever consider a Jew to be “really” Polish.

He tends to only bring it up when directly asked. And even then, it’s the same talking point over and over again: his political views were influenced by his family’s experiences during the Holocaust. 

It makes sense. My own political views have definitely been shaped by my family’s history. 

However, for Sanders (and by extension, his supporters) Jewish culture and history revolves around death. The focus is always on destruction. On powerlessness and victimhood. On being hunted and hated and making sure the same thing never happens to others. 

He forgets how much Jewish life there is. 

Why not draw inspiration from two thousand years of passionate discourse on justice and ethics? Why not draw inspiration from Jewish art, poetry, theater, and music? Jewish history encompasses far more than just Nazi Germany.

His focus is one-dimensional, even though he has a multi-dimensional community and history to draw from. 

The second reason I’m hesitant to support Sanders is…more difficult. And it’s an issue I promised myself I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

But I’m going to do it anyway.

Many of Sanders’ surrogates along the campaign trail have said and done things that are antisemitic. And when made aware of their problematic comments, they’ve told the Jewish community that we’re wrong. 

For example, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s now infamous remark on Twitter, “all about the Benjamins,” was met with outrage from the Jewish community. It calls to mind the caricature of the money-hungry monsters Jews are constantly accused of being. Her apology was half-hearted and centered herself, rather than those she had harmed.

Another vocal Sanders surrogate is Linda Sarsour, who was forced to leave the Women’s March last year after fostering an environment where many Jews, myself included, felt unsafe.

Sanders could have turned these moments into opportunities for discourse and education. But he didn’t. 

I’m going to let you in a little secret: Jews rarely agree on anything. And I mean anything. We love to argue with each other. We even have a saying that goes: “Two Jews, three opinions.” Sometimes we don’t even agree with ourselves. But somehow, the majority of the Jewish community agrees that Sander’s most outspoken and staunch supports need to explore their biases and be held accountable for the harm they’ve done.

But Bernie chooses to defend them, rather than distancing himself, because these surrogates are leaders and activists in their own right and bring him a substantial number of voters.

It’s a terrible feeling to see the first Jewish major-party candidate abandon the Jewish community when it becomes politically beneficial and only reach out when he sees that he has such low levels of support. 

Maybe he expects us to vote for him no matter what?

Sanders is not going to be the next president. But he will continue to be major force in U.S. politics. I believe in a lot of what he’s fighting for.

Moving forward, I hope he reevaluates his relationship with the Jewish community. I hope he becomes a politician and activist that I can whole-heartedly support.