Bernie Sanders wrote a piece in Jewish Currents on antisemitism
. People are talking about it. I read it this morning (I've been traveling -- I knew of its existence, but I only had time to actually read it today). Here are my thoughts:
1) It is, on the whole, a very good piece. I like it. It's not perfect, but I don't expect perfect pieces on antisemitism from my politicians. On the spectrum of political analyses of antisemitism offered from a progressive vantage point, it definitely falls on the good side. I'd frankly be hard-pressed to think of another such essay by a prominent politician
on this subject that I like better.
2) While I liked the piece, the reaction by some of his supporters to the ensuing conversation about it -- that if you didn't snap your neck violently nodding in agreement with every word, you were a traitor to the progressive cause
-- really encapsulates the giant gulf between how I feel about Bernie (positively!) and how I feel about "the Bernie movement" (decidedly more wary).
3) That notwithstanding, my impression is that the essay is generally
being well received, though of course those commenting on it tend to emphasize their points of disagreement or where they think there needs to be an expansion (generally on a more robust tackling of distinctively progressive
iterations of antisemitism) -- which is reasonable and how commentary works. This isn't to say that every reaction to it is a good one (it pains me to say it, but I found Deborah Lipstadt's reply
to be actually quite tendentious). But there was a lot of good out there, and not just from those naturally disposed to be Sanders' allies. See, for example, pieces by Yair Rosenberg
and Alex Zeldin
, as well as (from a further-left perspective) Abe Silberstein
4) In particular, it is extremely
notable, and laudatory, that Sanders expressed admiration for Israel's founding, and the reality of antisemitism that manifests as "criticism of Israel" in terms of seeking dissolution of the state outright or conspiratorial assertions of Jewish hyperpower. And it's especially notable, and laudatory, that he did it in this forum, with this audience. He deserves tremendous praise for that, just as he did for going on al-Jazeera and rejecting BDS
5) It is also striking how little
pushback I've seen (though I confess I haven't had time to do a full canvass) from Sanders allies -- some of whom are publicly rather ... let's go with "zealous" ... on this issue -- regarding Sanders' positive statements about Israel, the importance of its founding, the reality that anti-Israel rhetoric can be
antisemitic, and his own personal connection and attachment to the nation. There have been few howls of betrayal that I've seen, few angry denunciations. That, too, tells us that the demand for uncompromising
anti-Israel positioning as a political litmus test is weaker than it's often made out to be, even on the political left that makes up Sanders' base.
6) Finally, on that note -- one thing I'm hearing a lot from Bernie's critics dismissing this article is something like the following:
"What do we make of Sanders' claims that he's pro-Israel, thinks we should respect the enormous achievement of establishing Israel, and opposes calls to dissolve it given that people like Linda Sarsour and Rashida Tlaib (etc.) are his surrogates?"
But this cuts both ways -- for we could and should also ask:
"What do we make of Sarsour and Tlaib's (etc.) supposedly extreme and uncompromising hostility to Israel and all of its supporters, given that they both have enthusiastically endorsed a Jewish candidate who has publicly and explicitly declared his affinity for Israel, the need for progressives to respect its accomplishments, and the antisemitism latent in calling for its dissolution?"
If you harmonize the two questions with the answer "it means Bernie Sanders is lying, and his surrogates know he's lying", ask yourself what reason he has to lie -- given this publication, given his base, given what you say
is the current trajectory of the left wing of the Democratic Party. Why would he bother?
So no: I don't think he's lying, and I don't think his surrogates think he's lying. What does it mean, then, that he's telling the truth -- and that he is nonetheless drawing in the supporters that he is?
Well, maybe it means that Sarsour and Tlaib and their fellows are less uncompromising on this matter than one might think. Maybe everyone's views are more nuanced, or less rigid, than we make them out to be. Maybe there are opportunities to make connections and do work together that are being falsely portrayed as impossible -- and perhaps the tenacious clinging to the belief in their utter impossibility is really just an excuse to avoid doing the hard work.
That'd be what I'd make of it all, anyway.