Four thoughts on Bernie Sanders’s Jewishness

02.25.16

Four thoughts about this New York Times piece on Bernie Sanders being the first viable Jewish candidate for President:

  1. He’s usually highly accessible to the media. But he declined to be interviewed for this article. Which is both admirable and highly telling: Admirable because the religious views of American politicians are usually front and centre in campaigns (unlike here in Canada, where we mostly consider it to be their personal business). But also telling, for the same reason, because any experienced US politician knows that NOT talking about religion is just as conscious a choice as talking about it.
  2. 92% of Americans said they would have no problem voting for a Jewish President. That’s refreshing. (Though I doubt the numbers would be nearly as high for a Muslim President.)
  3. The idea that many American Jews don’t feel the need to support Sanders out of a sense of loyalty. That’s nice, too, considering voting based on tribalism rather than ideology is far too common. It also speaks to a sense of security that the Jewish community has achieved in the US.
  4. But it also speaks to many Jewish Americans’ discomfort with Sanders, which is probably a result of the US Christian Evangelical right wing having politicized support of Israel as a right-wing issue — and, consequently, relegated the left wing to have to prove itself as NOT anti-Israel. Sanders may be Jewish, but he represents a socialist wing of the Democratic party that has ties to a lot of Israel’s enemies. Even those among the US Jewish Community who believe in Sanders’ domestic policies are somewhat wary of his foreign policy credentials when it comes to the middle east.

How any of this will play out in the Democratic primaries, or, indeed, in a general election, is anyone’s guess. I want to believe that even the most right wing Jewish Americans would stop short of casting a vote for the likes of Trump. But there isn’t much to suggest how votes would split in the primary in states with large Jewish populations like New York. An AJC poll puts support for Clinton at 40% versus only 18% for Sanders, but it dates from last September — long enough ago to be irrelevant.

Very likely Sanders will pick up support from younger, more left wing Jewish Americans, while older ones will continue to support Clinton. But I don’t think there will be a Lieberman-like surge among American Jews to throw their support behind Sanders as “one of our own”. Nor do I think Sanders will make an effort to campaign on that basis.

All that to say: It’s complicated.

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