Accusing Bernie Sanders of antisemitism? That's a new low
Bernie Sanders – son of Dorothy and Elias Ben Yehuda Sanders, who emigrated from Poland in 1921 to escape antisemitism, and whose family that remained in Poland was slaughtered in the Holocaust – is not antisemitic. But some are trying to convince you that he is.
The conservative Washington Examiner’s Tiana Lowe published a story accusing the Sanders campaign of being the “most antisemitic in decades”. Worth noting is that Lowe expressed gratitude several months back for her grandfather’s service to the Chetniks, a nationalist armed front which collaborated with the Nazis and delivered thousands of Jews to them in service of building an ethnically homogenous Greater Serbia. She also posed for a picture with Milo Yiannopoulos, who once sent $14.88 on PayPal to a Jewish journalist, a reference to Nazi slogans.
For Lowe and others on the right that have jumped on this bandwagon, though, details don’t really matter. Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, simply belongs to an opposing political camp with opposing values. Like the attacks against Corbyn abroad and Ilhan Omar at home, those now being lobbed at Sanders aren’t about defeating antisemitism so much as using it as a narrative device to undermine a worldview that offends them. Sanders’s solidarity with Palestinians suffering under occupation is not an affront to Jews but to the right’s propaganda that looking out for their best interest means a blanket, unquestioning support for whatever the Israeli government happens to be doing, which at the moment includes maintaining a brutal apartheid state.
This all stands in wild contrasts to Sanders’s actual views on antisemitism. As the Vermont Senator himself explained a recent essay for Jewish Currents entitled How to Fight Anti-Semitism, we now live in one of the most dangerous periods Jews have faced in recent memory, from the deadly shootings like the one at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last year to a wave of of far-right energy in Europe that waxes nostalgic for the continent’s fascist past.
“Opposing antisemitism is a core value of progressivism,” Sanders writes. “So it’s very troubling to me that we are also seeing accusations of antisemitism used as a cynical political weapon against progressives. One of the most dangerous things Donald Trump has done is to divide Americans by using false allegations of antisemitism, mostly regarding the US–Israel relationship. We should be very clear that it is not antisemitic to criticize the policies of the Israeli government.” He goes onto lay out how a Sanders administration will confront antisemitism at home and abroad: immediately appointing a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, rejoining the United Nations Human Rights Council and “helping to shape an international human rights agenda that combats all forms of bigotry and discrimination”, among other measures.
That the Sanders campaign is somehow abetting antisemitism seems absurd on its face, but more outlandish blows have landed. As I wrote last week, antisemitism itself has been a reliable tool of a right looking to ward off the left, and anti-socialism has often peddled in antisemitic tropes. Accusations coming from rightwing pundits and politicians now follow proudly in this tradition, albeit with feigned concern for Jews now used to defend against policies they disagree with. Just last week, Trump called a room of Jews “brutal killers, not nice people at all” before selling an executive order to criminalize campus protests as a defense of the Jewish people. Trump and his xenophobic allies abroad are undoubtedly bad for the Jews, and so are smear campaigns that play into their hands.
Before they snowball into something worse, the right’s allegations of antisemitism against the left – and the first Jew within striking distance of the White House, at that – should be called out for what they are: cynical politiking in service of politicians who will put more Jews in danger.
Kate Aronoff is a writer based in New York.
This article was amended on 18 December 2019 to correct the spelling of Milo Yiannopoulos’ name.