Bernie the Yid: The invisible message behind Sanders’ stigmatisation – Plus61 J Media

Posted By on March 27, 2020

DAN COLEMAN: Sanders politics has been attacked as beyond the acceptable limits of politics; the critics have not recognised his otherness is also his Jewishness

LIKE BERNIE SANDERS, I am a New York-raised, secular Jew, a former elected official, and a veteran of many campaigns, some very intense and very close. I hold to a left political persuasion not far afield from his. We have a lot in common. As Sanders prospect of victory fades, I have pondered the role of anti-Semitism in the relentless attacks on the presidential contender and the fear he seems to generate in the minds of so much of Americas political centre.

Sanders, of course, rarely speaks of his ethnic background. A notable exception was in a Town Hall meeting hosted by CNN in February where he was asked directly about the impact of his Jewish heritage and replied, It impacts me profoundly. When asked about the Israel-Palestine conflict at the Las Vegas debate, he prefaced his reply with, I am very proud of being Jewish, before forcefully advocating a just and secure solution for both nations.

For centuries, Western peoples have viewed Jews as the essential carrier of otherness and the scapegoat for all evils. This led to a day-to-day experience of oppression which flared up into national atrocities including the thirteenth century expulsion of Jews from England, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian pogroms, and, ultimately, the Nazi holocaust.

Those scapegoated as the other become the object of fear as well as hatred, fears stoked by demagogues of all stripes. In Donald Trumps America, the overt scapegoating is targeted at Hispanics and Muslims. Still, Trump found good people among the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in 2017.

Over his 30 years in Congress, Bernie has been an Independent, not a Democrat. He caucuses with the Democrats, perhaps the way Saint Paul, also a Jew, caucused with the Romans before they beheaded him.

Although Jewish characters, weddings and barmitzvahs have become a staple of Hollywood fare, a sense of the Jew as other persists in the United States. According to a study by the Anti-Defamation League, tens of millions of Americans harbour virulent views towards Jews.

Some 44% of those surveyed believe Jews stick together more than other Americans, and thereby hold themselves apart from mainstream society. Although fully secular, Bernie Sanders has, throughout his political career, cultivated his own brand of otherness.

Over his 30 years in Congress, Bernie has been an Independent, not a Democrat. He caucuses with the Democrats, perhaps the way Saint Paul, also a Jew, caucused with the Romans before they beheaded him. How many times have we heard criticism of Sanders include the phrase hes not even a Democrat? No, he is something other, despite that his politics stand squarely in the progressive Democratic tradition going back to FDR.

Sanders identifies as a democratic socialist, rather than as a capitalist. When progressive former candidate Elizabeth Warren was asked in Las Vegas about her assertion that she is a capitalist to my bones, she was quick to reply, Yes, I am, as if reassuring voters that I may sound like him but, dont worry, I am really one of you.

Sanders erstwhile rivals joined in a free-for-all in attacking him for his socialism. I believe in capitalism, echoed Amy Klobuchar, who dropped out of the race and endorsed Joe Biden just before Super Tuesday. Americans will never vote for a socialist, they tell us, emphasising Sanders otherness rather than his policies.

They warn voters to fear Sanders, fear that he would lose to Trump, fear that his policies mainstream in much of the world will alienate voters, fear that his legislative agenda would never be passed by a conservative Congress. These attacks seem to have found purchase, as the key factor behind Joe Bidens resurgent and now front-running campaign is voters perception of electability.

The association of redbaiting with anti-Semitism is long established, having had its heyday through the 20th century, going back at least to the roundup, imprisonment, and deportation of many Jewish leftists after passage of the 1917 Espionage Act, and cresting with the blacklists of the McCarthy era, a time when the words red, Jew, and commie rolled off the tongue as if interchangeable. I have personally experienced redbaiting and anti-Semitism, both as a candidate for public office and as a supporter of Sanders.

Sanders has spoken of how his politics derives from his experience of growing up in a family that didnt have a whole lot of money, and as the child of immigrant Jews, tearfully aware of the horrors of the Holocaust and the toll bigotry and division take from so many.

It seems likely that during Sanders tenure at Brooklyns James Madison High School which also gave us Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Chuck Schumer and in his neighbourhood of ordinary secular Jews, he would have breathed in the justice tradition embedded in progressive Judaism.

The New Yorker has reported that Sanders friend, Rabbi Richard Sugarman, has said his Jewish identity is strong. Its certainly more ethnic and cultural than religious, except for his devotion to the ethical part of public life in Judaism, the moral part.

Sanders has certainly lived his life as if in embodiment of the progressive Jewish interpretation of Tikkun Olam to heal the world and build a better society.

The New Yorker has reported that Sanders close friend, Orthodox Rabbi Richard Sugarman, has said, If you talk about his Jewish identity, its strong. Its certainly more ethnic and cultural than religiousexcept for his devotion to the ethical part of public life in Judaism, the moral part. He does have a prophetic sensibility.

Indeed, in a packed arena, before Covid-19 shut down his immensely popular rallies, Sanders can sound like the prophet Amos calling for justice, or like Jeremiah assailing the unrighteous. Are you willing to fight for that person you dont even know as much as youre willing to fight for yourself? Sanders asks. If I am only for myself, what am I? asked Hillel.

What might Amos have accomplished had he lived in a democracy? Perhaps Bernie Sanders means to find out. In this years debates, with fingers jabbing, voice raised, and eyes flaming, he has railed against the fossil fuel companies, pharma, the health insurance industry, and the National Rifle Association.

Asked if Sanders message is right for America, then candidate Pete Buttigieg dismissively characterised it as all the way to the edge. Sanders has a different idea. Echoing Martin Luther King Jr in quoting Amos two prophets murdered for their work Sanders calls on America to let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.

And poll after poll validates that Sanders policies and the vision of justice that underlies them are supported by most Americans.

The anti-Sanders forces attack him as one who has strayed beyond the acceptable limits of politics, as irredeemably too far left. To the extent that there is anti-Semitism in some of the attacks coming from mainstream Democrats, it is an anti-Semitism that does not recognise itself. Sanders is assailed for his otherness, without recognition that his otherness is also his Jewishness.

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Bernie the Yid: The invisible message behind Sanders' stigmatisation - Plus61 J Media

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