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March 9, 2020 1:24 pm

Sanders Campaign’s Newly-Appointed Senior Adviser Once Denounced Zionism as ‘Racist, Exclusionary Ideology’

avatar by Ben Cohen

Democratic US presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at the Politics and Eggs event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, Feb. 7, 2020. Photo: Reuters /Mike Segar / File.

A progressive activist who denounced Zionism as a “racist, exploitative, and exclusionary ideology” has joined the presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, describing his new role as “a people’s position on a people’s campaign.”

The appointment of Phillip Agnew — a community organizer with a long record of advocacy on behalf of African-American civil rights concerns — was announced in a brief statement from the Sanders campaign on Sunday.

In an article for Ebony magazine in 2015 — written in his capacity as a founder of the Florida-based pro-Palestinian organization Dream Defenders — Agnew attacked former President Barack Obama’s comments about Israel in a May 2015 interview with The Atlantic magazine.

Rounding upon Obama’s call to “acknowledge the justness of the Jewish homeland” and recognize that there were still “people and nations that, if convenient, would do the Jewish people harm because of a warped ideology,” Agnew accused the ex-president of arguing that “ethnic cleansing, slavery, genocide, exploitation, and appropriation exist only as figments of our…imagination.”

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Agnew went on to furiously dispute the notion of a positive connection between the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and the African-American struggle for civil rights, invoking as well the antisemitic trope that Israel’s supporters in America were trying to “silence” pro-Palestinian voices.

“There is no direct line from Zionism to the Black Freedom struggle,” Agnew wrote. “No rhetorical imagination-acrobatics can conjure one and no amount of intimidation can chart one. It is a racist, exploitative, and exclusionary ideology; its eagerness to attack and silence detractors is only matched by its eagerness to co-opt the struggles of Blacks in this country (by a Black in this country) for its own survival.”

Over the weekend, Agnew’s appointment produced a flurry of negative media headlines, creating another unwelcome distraction for the flagging Sanders campaign. The controversy in this case was, however, unrelated to his inflammatory remarks about Jews, and instead concerned a series of misogynistic insults that Agnew leveled at former First Lady Michelle Obama back in 2009.

“Random thought while standing in Gas Station: Michelle Obama is an odd-looking woman,” read one of Agnew’s tweets. Another on the same theme stated: “Michelle Obama is just not pretty…I’ve tried looking at her from every angle possible…”

Agnew apologized for his comments about Michelle Obama in a tweet on Monday.

Pleading youthful ignorance — although he was already 23 years old in 2009, when he posted the offensive tweets — Agnew said he had grown up “socialized by false standards of beauty and success…Young, dumb Phillip spouted all manner of things that today I absolutely reject and regret.”

Agnew expressed no contrition for his past comments on Zionism, and his Dream Defenders organization continues to officially endorse the boycott movement targeting Israel, as well as advocating the Palestinians’ “right to return to the land that has been seized and stolen for the past 70 years.”

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