Uncle Bernie’s Anti-Semitism Problem

February 25, 2020
CHARLESTON, SC – FEBRUARY 24: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at the South Carolina Democratic Party “First in the South” dinner on February 24, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. South Carolina holds its Democratic presidential primary on Saturday, February 29. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders announced he will boycott this week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference because of the “bigotry” of leaders it hosts. If Sanders wants to boycott bigotry, he should look closer to home: at his anti-Semitic political cheerleaders. 

Last Labor Day weekend, Sanders was the headliner in Houston at the 56th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, where the theme was, “What’s your super power for social good?”

Some misguided “super powers” suggested at the conference for “social good” include actual bigotry laced with anti-Semitism: the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks a “one-state solution” with a “right of return”  for Palestinians so they outnumber Jews; the elimination of Israel from “the river to the sea,” as ally Marc Lamont Hill, a professor and author, declares; and violent hate, including a book, “Reliance of the Traveller,” which I bought in the conference bazaar for $39.99, sanctioning jihad as “war against non-Muslims” and “war upon Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians.”

To my chagrin, as someone who voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary, these anti-Semites enjoy growing influence on Sanders, building a disturbing coalition with anti-Israel groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow and Code Pink. Sanders’ supporters say they are “only anti-Zionist,” and Sanders denies his allies are anti-Semitic. But when you cheer a plan to destroy the state of the Jewish people, it is anti-Semitism. Hate of the Jewish state is anti-Semitism.

In Houston, activist Linda Sarsour slipped into the Grand Ballroom to cheer “Uncle Bernie,” as she calls Sanders. She has backed Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who condemned “Satanic Jews” and said he was “anti-Termite,” not an “anti-Semite.” The year before, at the same conference, I heard Sarsour say it’s a “problem” to “humanize”  Israelis.

Then, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir stepped onto the main stage. At the Think Progress website of the Center for American Progress, Shakir was editor when anti-Semitism became national news. Think Progress writer Zaid Jilani had tweeted Jews are “Israeli Firsters,” which Shakir acknowledged as “terrible, anti-Semitic language.”  Sanders campaign official Matt Duss, then a Think Progress writer, came under fire for anti-Semitism. Later, working at the ACLU, Shakir defended BDS as “free speech.” 

In Houston, anti-Semitic imams and activists cheered Sanders’ call BDS free speech.

That weekend, Sanders champion Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who supports BDS, spoke. In Tlaib’s congressional office in early 2019 after her swearing-in, comedian Amer Zahr, a new Sanders surrogate, put a Post-it Note with “Palestine” written on it on a map of the Middle East where Israel sits. He once claimed Jewish Americans believe Israel is “their ISIS.”  Soon after, Sanders supporter Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) declared U.S. support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.”

This past week, Sanders said it is “an honor”  to be endorsed by Emgage PAC, where chief executive Wa’el Alzayat defended Omar’s anti-Semitism. The Sanders team also won the support of Council of American-Islamic Relations leader Zahra Billoo, whom the Women’s March dropped from its board amid backlash for her saying Israel does not have “the right to exist.”  Former Council of American-Islamic Relations staffer Hoda Katebi, a former member of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that harasses Jewish students on campuses, campaigns for Sanders. In Houston, Hatem Bazian, a UC Berkeley lecturer and cofounder of Students for Justice in Palestine and American Muslims for Palestine, anti-Israel groups pushing BDS, was among early Sanders supporters, 

Sanders also enjoys the growing support of Ali Abunimah, founder of Electronic Intifada, a propaganda machine against the “inherently racist Israeli regime,”  though he recently published an article that Sanders doesn’t oppose Israel enough: “Good, but not perfect.”

When Uncle Bernie throws out words like bigotry, he ought to look a little closer at the anti-Semitic company he keeps.

Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and codirector of the Pearl Project, which investigated the murder of her friend and colleague Daniel Pearl and now investigates anti-Semitism. @AsraNomani

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