Senator Bernie Sanders, the son of a Polish immigrant father, grew up in Brooklyn and spent a summer working on a kibbutz. That experience seems to have been formative, not only stoking his left-wing politics but poisoning his view of Israel.
His recent column in the New York Times (May 15) lays bare this noxious mixture, also known as Jewish self-hatred, that drives him to castigate Israel. He begins with the commendable, if obvious, affirmation: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” But he quickly segues to the question: “What are the rights of the Palestinian people?”
That leads him to Sheikh Jarrah, a prosperous neighborhood located just north of Jerusalem’s Old City. It has become the spark igniting waves of violence sweeping through Jerusalem, spreading across Israel and triggering a fusillade of rockets from Hamas in Gaza. According to the Sanders narrative, Palestinian families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah “have been living under the threat of eviction for many years, navigating a legal system designed to facilitate their forced displacement.” Blame falls on “extremist settlers” who “have intensified their efforts to evict them.” But these “extremist settlers” are Yemenite Jews who want their property returned.
Sanders’ indictment provides a classic example of ideology obliterating truth. The four Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah who now face “expulsion” from “their” homes are living on Jewish-owned property in a neighborhood that is the site of the tomb of a renowned Jewish High Priest in the Second Temple era. In 1876 Jews purchased the burial cave and adjoining land, where Yemenite Jewish immigrant families lived until the property was seized by Arabs during Israel’s Independence War. He is oblivious to the 1970 Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim East Jerusalem property owned by Jews before their forced eviction in 1948.
In Sanders’ warped view, “extremist settlers” are to blame for the current eruption of violence. These evictions, he claims, are part of “a broader system of political and economic oppression” that includes “a deepening Israeli occupation” — of Judea and Samaria, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people — and “a continuing blockade on Gaza that make life increasingly intolerable for Palestinians.” He ignores the current fusillade of Hamas rockets from Gaza.
In Sanders’ contrived “reality,” Israel ranks among “similar authoritarian nationalist movements” that “exploit ethnic and racial hatreds in order to build power for a corrupt few.” Americans, he insists, must cease to be “apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior.” In his closing, now familiar, American refrain for oppressed minorities, he insists: “We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter.” In translation, Palestinians are the new Black Americans, oppressed by white racists — also known as Israelis.
The anti-Israel virus seems to have spread from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times. According to the myopic vision of Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, Palestinians have been fighting against a population replacement policy in Sheik Jarrah that is illegal under international law. A “one-sided Israeli legal system” allows Jews to settle in homes that they can claim to have at one time been Jewish. Kuttab is oblivious to the reality that these homes were indeed owned by Jews who were driven out by Arabs during Israel’s Independence War.
But Daoud Kuttab cannot match Bernie Sanders, who betrays his own people with his Israel-bashing diatribe. The New York Times, which denigrated Zionism and opposed Jewish statehood because its Sulzberger publishers were fearful that as American Jews they might be accused of divided loyalty, is the perfect forum for him. Sanders’ left-wing dogma has led him to defile the Jewish state and, in the process, demean himself.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of twelve books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.