Bernie Sanders may be the most influential Jew alive today. He is the undisputed leader of the global radical left.
This is remarkable. Fiery revolutionaries and indignant community activists typically lead the extreme left, not some dishevelled septuagenarian who looks like your dad’s accountant.
But the Jewish radical leftist tradition runs deep. Karl Marx, no less, descended from rabbis on both sides of his family. He inspired thousands of Jewish communists, socialists and others who went on to lead the Russian Revolution, drive European social transformation and fight South African apartheid.
In Israel, leftists not only invented kibbutzim, but were the central creators of the state itself and of its military. And across the Americas, Jews were at the forefront of manifold social democracy movements. I myself had a relative who was blackballed from employment after the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Uncle Charles responded as any sensible young Jewish leftist would, and moved back to Revolutionary Russia.
These days, however, the left is abandoning its universalist roots. Long a movement that eats its young and transforms comrades into enemies, the radical left now eagerly seizes extreme positions on divisive causes. Today’s left focuses on rage, not hope.
This should concern us, for Jews always become the focus of rage.
Social media amplifies rage, as figures who once would have laboured in obscurity and achieved nothing but a catalogue of unread leaflets instead command huge audiences. Many of these young, radical activists drive the leftist agenda but also have troubling relationships with our community.
Tamika Mallory, co-founder for the Women’s March, for instance, holds hands literally and figuratively with notorious anti-Semite and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Fellow Women’s March co-founder Linda Sarsour argues that Zionism and feminism are incompatible and tweeted “nothing is creepier than Zionism.” Shaun King, a respected leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, “goy-splains” anti-Semitism and likewise has a soft spot for Farrakhan.
Of course, it’s old news that the extreme left plays footsie with anti-Semitism, often cloaking it with an invisible coat of anti-Israel sentiment.
Beyond these sinister similarities, however, these individuals and many others have one more thing in common: they all “feel the Bern.” They give Sanders platforms at their events and he returns the favour at his. Theirs is a collectivist love-in.
That the hero of this increasingly dangerous, blinkered movement is someone who lost family in the Holocaust, had a bar mitzvah and volunteered on a kibbutz is simply astonishing.
Unquestionably, Sanders has since drifted from his Jewish roots, even referring to himself as “the son of a Polish immigrant.” These days, he feels at home with people who wouldn’t stomach him but for his progressive politics, and thus risks becoming his own movement’s useful idiot. But because of his improbable charisma, his evident sincerity and his Jewish heritage, Sanders keeps getting a pass.
But no one should get a pass on anti-Semitism. It is well past time for our community to demand that Sanders forcefully address the tension between his movement’s ostensible idealism and its intolerance. We must press Sanders for a full-throated denunciation of leftist anti-Semitism and for a clear articulation of Israel’s simple right to exist in peace and security.
Such a statement would be positively transformational for his movement, putting the despicable U.K. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn on his heels and fostering some much-needed reconciliation between estranged communities.
More importantly, Sanders may run again in 2020. And if U.S. President Donald Trump can win, surely Sanders can, too. (Twelve per cent of Sanders’ primary supporters voted for Trump in the general election.)
Hopefully, Sanders’ Jewish roots – or perhaps his universalist socialist roots – still have sufficient resonance to motivate him to put this garbage behind him before he hits the hustings again.
Otherwise, we face the very real prospect of America’s first Jewish president all but denying his Jewish heritage – but owing his victory to a motley crew of anti-Semites and their sympathizers.
Note: The original version of this story omitted the last five paragraphs. The CJN regrets this error.