Personnel is policy, or so the saying goes. So it is troubling that the two leading left-wing presidential candidates—Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—are empowering people who at best hate Israel and support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement intended to destroy the Jewish state.
Over the weekend, Sanders tweeted a video identifying Linda Sarsour as a campaign surrogate:
“I would be so proud to win, but also to make history and elect the first Jewish American president this country has ever seen and for his name to be Bernard Sanders.” –@lsarsour pic.twitter.com/INPRlvmMur
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 6, 2019
Sarsour’s record on Israel and Jews is no secret. She supports a one-state solution to Palestinian attacks on Israel that would effectively destroy the Jewish state. In 2012, she tweeted that “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.” She has claimed Zionists cannot be feminists. Sarsour supports the BDS campaign which, as Anti-Defamation League director Jonathan Greenblatt notes, “encourages and spreads anti-Semitism.”
In 2017, she literally embraced Rasmea Odeh, a convicted terrorist who killed two Hebrew University students in 1969. At last year’s convention of the Islamic Society of North America, she accused the Israeli police and military of training American police to kill blacks, and opposed humanizing Israelis.
More broadly, Sarsour has asserted anti-Semitism is “different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic.” This is news to anyone who has spent more than a moment studying the subject. She reportedly has dismissed articles in the “Jewish media” accusing her of anti-Semitism. And she was one of the first to meet with anti-Semitic Rep. Ilhan Omar after she was sworn into office.
As a co-leader of the Women’s March, she has pretended to be sorry for associating with Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, only to defend BDS activism a few hours later. Sarsour later brazenly lied that she never met Farrakhan or attended a Farrakhan speech (both spoke at one of his rallies in 2015). Earlier this year, Sarsour promoted an article on Facebook claiming the Jewish community is waging a “profound war on black people.”
Given the obviously anti-Semitic thrust of Sarsour’s record, her claim that she supports Sanders because of rising anti-Semitism in America is irony thick enough to cut with a chainsaw. Sarsour’s bigotry, repellent in its own right, has managed to sow discord within the feminist movement. (She is an unlikely feminist considering she is in an arranged marriage and has defended Sharia law, which is hardly a model of sexual equity.) She also displays a penchant for trying to incite hatred of Jews among blacks, much as Farrakhan does.
Sanders cannot have missed all of this. For a candidate who has tended to downplay the role of identity politics in his campaign, making Sarsour a campaign surrogate represents a new low. Unfortunately, his chief rival in the progressive “lane” of the 2020 campaign is not doing much better.
Elizabeth Warren has made Max Berger her campaign’s director of progressive partnerships. Berger was the co-founder of an anti-Israel group called If Not Now (INN). In July 2014, Berger and other INN activists were arrested after occupying the lobby of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Berger was protesting Operation Protective Edge, launched by Israel to stop rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians and destroy Hamas attack tunnels. During the same period Berger tweeted (but later deleted): “What Israel is doing in Gaza should be familiar to Jews. It’s called a pogrom. You’d think Jews would be against those.”
A month earlier, Berger had tweeted: “Sometimes I feel the biggest obstacle to peace in Israel-Palestine is the bigotry of American Jews.” And in April 2014, Berger had tweeted: “I dare anyone to visit Hebron and tell me what’s happening there doesn’t look an awful lot like apartheid.” The accusation that Israel is an apartheid state is a classic anti-Semitic canard. That smear is the premise of the BDS movement, which Berger supports.
Berger also defended Omar and her anti-Semitic colleague, Rep. Rashida Tlaib. He even wrote a piece for Think Progress titled “American Jews must stand with Ilhan Omar.” In the column, he defended Omar’s attacks on American supporters of Israel with the same anti-Semitic tropes, writing that “American politicians of both parties have been afraid to criticize apartheid in Israel and occupation in Palestine for fear of angering pro-Israel lobbying groups and right-wing Evangelical supporters of Israel.”
To bring things full circle, Berger has also defended Linda Sarsour, tweeting that she “embodies solidarity in a way her Jewish critics do not. #JewsForLinda.”
Berger’s record is a matter of concern outside the right. The Progressive Zionists of California (PZC) have written two letters to Warren’s campaign asking that Berger “step down” from his position.
“He has positioned himself firmly against even the most progressive Zionism, the liberation movement that helps to ensure a safe and secure homeland for the Jewish people while also standing for Palestinian sovereignty and self-determination,” PZC co-founders Susan George and Paul Kujawsky wrote. “We must stress that Berger is not merely criticizing Israel’s policies he deems unfair or unjust–progressive and liberal Zionists do that regularly—Berger is opposing the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state.”
Concerns about the rise of anti-Semitism within the Democratic Party have focused largely on Congress, and on the outspoken rhetoric from Omar and Tlaib. The overwhelming condemnation of the BDS movement, even among House Democrats, is a welcome development. But the elevation of people like Sarsour and Berger by top-tier Democratic presidential candidates is potentially more troubling, given the latitude a President Sanders or a President Warren would have constitutionally on foreign policy.
Warren Henry is the nom de plume of an attorney practicing in the State of Illinois.