San­ders’ big­oted ap­pointees en­dan­ger Clin­ton’s elec­tion


For many years now, sup­port for Is­rael has been a rare point of bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus in an in­creas­ingly po­lar­ized po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. Bernie San­ders ap­par­ently seems de­ter­mined to un­der­mine that con­sen­sus.

San­ders has demon­strated a con­sis­tent bias against the na­tion-state of the Jewish peo­ple and sur­rounded him­self with for­eign-pol­icy “ex­perts” who of­ten de­scribe Is­rael as an apartheid state, and have re­peat­edly ac­cused the IDF of com­mit­ting war crimes. San­ders has clearly ab­sorbed some of this rhetoric, as demon­strated in a se­ries of re­cent in­ter­views, in which he grossly over­stated the num­ber of Pales­tinian civil­ian deaths in Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge, and ac­cused Is­rael of us­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate force in re­sponse to Ha­mas’ rocket at­tacks.

Fol­low­ing these state­ments, pri­mary vot­ers in New York and across the North­east de­ci­sively re­jected San­ders’ can­di­dacy, and ef­fec­tively en­sured that Hil­lary Clin­ton will be the next Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. But San­ders’ ef­forts to end the Demo­cratic Party’s sup­port for Is­rael may well en­dan­ger Clin­ton’s prospects in the gen­eral elec­tion. Rather than mod­ify or mod­er­ate his po­si­tions on Is­rael, San­ders now seems in­tent on re­mold­ing the Demo­cratic Party to re­flect the views of his most rad­i­cal anti-Is­rael (and anti-Amer­i­can) sup­port­ers. San­ders ap­par­ently wants to use his new­found po­lit­i­cal clout to re­vise the lan­guage of the Demo­cratic Party plat­form as re­gards the only true democ­racy in the Mid­dle East.

San­ders claims that he wants Democrats to em­brace a more “bal­anced ap­proach” to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, but his ap­point­ment of James Zogby and Cor­nel West to the Demo­cratic Plat­form Com­mit­tee sug­gests any­thing but. In­deed, both Zogby and West are no­to­ri­ous for es­pous­ing pol­icy po­si­tions that are ex­tremely crit­i­cal of Is­rael, and for us­ing rhetoric that some­times bor­ders on anti-Semitic.

Zogby, for ex­am­ple, has fre­quently used provoca­tive and even big­oted lan­guage when com­men­tat­ing on the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. He has com­pared the plight of the Pales­tinian peo­ple to that of the Jews dur­ing the Holo­caust. He has de­scribed Gaza as “the world’s largest con­cen­tra­tion camp,” and has re­peat­edly ac­cused the Is­raeli govern­ment of per­pe­trat­ing crimes against hu­man­ity. Com­par­ing Is­rael’s self de­fense ac­tions to the Nazi geno­cide against the Jews is a not-so­sub­tle form of Holo­caust de­nial: if all Nazi Ger­many did was de­fend it­self against Jewish ag­gres­sion, then there were no gas cham­bers, no round­ing up of Jews from the most far-flung cor­ners of Europe and trans­port­ing them to Auschwitz, and no geno­cide.

More­over, Zogby has en­dorsed the Boycott, Di­vest­ment and Sanc­tions move­ment, which calls for the boycott only of Is­raeli goods and in­sti­tu­tions, un­til Is­rael al­lows for the so-called “right of re­turn,” which would turn Is­rael into yet an­other Arab-Mus­lim ma­jor­ity state. In ef­fect Zogby is sup­port­ive of a group whose stated ob­jec­tive is to undo over 30 years of ne­go­ti­a­tions, and end the ex­is­tence of Is­rael as the na­tion state of the Jewish peo­ple.

Zogby, how­ever, seems like a mod­er­ate in com­par­i­son to West, whose fre­quent di­a­tribes against Is­rael at times speaks to a propen­sity for bor­der­line anti-Semitic stereo­types. Ac­cord­ing to West, for ex­am­ple, the Iraq War was caused by “the close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Amer­i­can im­pe­rial elites and Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cials.” He has re­peat­edly ac­cused Is­rael of killing Pales­tinian ba­bies – an al­le­ga­tion that echoes his­toric at­tacks on Jews for “blood li­bel” – and fre­quently claims that Is­rael is de­lib­er­ately seek­ing to an­ni­hi­late the Pales­tinian peo­ple.

Like many hard-left anti-Is­rael big­ots, West also has dis­dain for Amer­ica and its cur­rent pres­i­dent, whom he has ac­cused of be­ing a war crim­i­nal for sup­port­ing Is­rael’s military in­ter­ven­tions in Gaza, and for es­ca­lat­ing the use of drones in op­er­a­tions against Is­lamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaida. He has also called Pres­i­dent Barack Obama “the first nig­ger­ized pres­i­dent of the United States,” a re­mark which was widely con­demned by Repub­li­cans and Democrats alike. West jus­ti­fied his crit­i­cisms of Pres­i­dent Obama by ex­plain­ing that the pres­i­dent “feels most com­fort­able with up­per mid­dle-class white and Jewish men who con­sider them­selves very smart, very savvy, and very ef­fec­tive in get­ting what they want” thereby in­vok­ing an­other anti-Semitic stereo­type, that of the savvy Jewish busi­ness­man.

West has a long his­tory of ac­cus­ing Jews of be­ing racist. He claimed that “large num­bers of Jews tried to se­cure a foothold in Amer­ica by fall­ing in step with the wide­spread per­pet­u­a­tion of anti-black stereo­types and gar­ner­ing of white-skin priv­i­lege ben­e­fits to non­black Amer­i­cans.”

Yet it is West who is do­ing the stereo­typ­ing: when West an­grily left Har­vard for Prince­ton in 2002 be­cause of a feud with Har­vard’s then-pres­i­dent Larry Sum­mers, he said that Sum­mers had “messed with the wrong Ne­gro” and called Har­vard’s Jewish pres­i­dent “the Ariel Sharon of higher ed­u­ca­tion.” West also called Black Lives Mat­ter a “mar­velous new mil­i­tancy... with courage, vi­sion,” and be­lieves that the shoot­ing of Michael Brown was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of “Amer­i­can ter­ror­ism.” West also does not shy away from as­so­ci­at­ing him­self with 9/11 con­spir­acy the­o­rists, go­ing even him­self so far as to sug­gest that one can­not be cer­tain whether Mus­lims were be­hind the at­tacks.

San­ders’ de­ci­sion to el­e­vate rad­i­cals like West and Zogby to po­si­tions of power within the Demo­cratic Party speaks to either a stun­ning lack of judg­ment or an un­der­ly­ing hos­til­ity to­ward the na­tion-state of the Jewish peo­ple. Either way, it must be re­sisted by the much-ma­ligned Demo­cratic Party es­tab­lish­ment come the con­ven­tion in July.

Hil­lary Clin­ton has al­ready made sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sions to the so-called pro­gres­sive wing of the party rep­re­sented by San­ders. On is­sues like free trade, the min­i­mum wage and reg­u­la­tion of the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try she has moved to­ward San­ders in mean­ing­ful ways. As far as Is­rael is con­cerned, how­ever, Clin­ton must stand her ground and op­pose the fringe po­si­tions of the far-left. If she does not, she may well suf­fer among cen­trist vot­ers in sev­eral swing states.

San­ders seems de­ter­mined to turn Is­rael into a par­ti­san is­sue by ap­point­ing sur­ro­gates like Zogby and West to re­write the Demo­cratic Party plat­form. It is up to cen­trist Democrats, who still rep­re­sent a ma­jor­ity of the party, to re­sist this at­tempt, and to en­sure that sup­port for Is­rael re­mains a point of bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus. Weak­en­ing this his­toric con­sen­sus would be bad for Is­rael, for Amer­ica, for peace – and for the elec­toral prospects of the Demo­cratic Party.


PRES­I­DENT OF the Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute James J. Zogby tes­ti­fies be­fore the House Com­mit­tee on the Ju­di­ciary on Capi­tol Hill in 2005.

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