The Bernie I Know (and See Right Through)

February 18, 2020
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Disclaimer: The writer was 3 years old and lived in Manhattan with his parents when Bernie Sanders lived on a kibbutz. This is a work of fiction.

Dear Bernie,

It’s been far too long. Time passes and brings with it unexpected surprises. I sold my dry goods business and moved to Florida; you are the leading contender for the Democratic nomination in your bid to become our next president.

For many years, I boasted about my friend Bernie, whom I met in Israel in 1963. He became a congressman from Vermont. Years later, he got himself elected to the Senate. All along, he called himself a socialist. Now he might become the first Jewish Democratic Socialist president of the United States! (By the way, I don’t know what a Democratic Socialist is.)

What a macher! (In case you’ve forgotten, it means “big shot.”)

We haven’t seen each other since we lived on the kibbutz. I invited you to the bar and bat mitzvahs of my children. You declined each invitation, usually writing back to say, “Sorry, not really my thing.” 

I wasn’t surprised. On the kibbutz, Sha’ar HaAmakim, you never attended services; you weren’t interested in learning Hebrew or, for that matter, singing Hebrew folk songs. (How ironic that years later you collaborated on a folk music record, “We Shall Overcome.” None of the songs were Israeli.)

I am writing now, respectfully, to offer some advice as you embark on a crucial point of your campaign. 

First, you are no longer a Jewish novelty. Mike Bloomberg is now running, too. He also was a mayor, and of a much larger and far more Jewish city than Burlington, Vt. 

I make this point because I see that after decades of virtual silence about your Jewish heritage, you now are saying that you are a proud Jew, and that the Holocaust has “impacted [you] the most.” 

The problem is that the “authenticity” that has endeared you to so many of your supporters is going to come across as inauthentic when it comes to your professed connection to the Jewish people.

The problem is that the “authenticity” that has endeared you to so many of your supporters is going to come across as inauthentic when it comes to your professed connection to the Jewish people.

Bernie, honestly — you might be the least Jewish person on the debate stage. Nothing about you, other than your Brooklyn accent and a face that has made Larry David your natural doppelganger, suggests that you have any affinity for Jews or their religion. Voters will sense you are faking it, and Jewish voters will feel it in their kishkas. (The word means stomach.)

We go way back; I know you well. You journeyed to Israel because of its socialist leanings and communal, agricultural life. It had nothing to do with helping to build a Jewish state, which at the time was only 15 years old. 

So much of your time back then was spent sitting under a date tree reading Karl Marx. Given your present ambitions, your Jewish journey from kibbutz to the Rose Garden might have been better spent influenced by Groucho, rather than Karl. 

How can you be so removed from the everlasting lessons of exile, inquisitions and annihilation of your own people? Didn’t living in Israel do anything to shape your political imagination? We lived there four years before the Six-Day War. Have you no memory of the vulnerable contours of Israel’s map back in those days, and all that Arab animus that has never abated?

During your 2016 presidential run, you misstated that 10,000 “innocent people” were killed in Israel’s last war in Gaza. Where did you get your facts? Noam Chomsky? The actual Palestinian body count was 2,000; more than half were terrorists, not civilians. And you condemned Israel for defending itself with “disproportionate” force. 

Yet, you never faulted Hamas for its corruption and its misdirection of foreign aid in funding rockets and terror tunnels. You have nothing to say about the Palestinian Authority inciting violence or incentivizing the killing of Israelis with lavish stipends. The murderous refrain, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is not an innocuous folk song, Bernie. It is a death chant that you are mistaking for grassroots activism. 

I hold you primarily responsible for normalizing the attacks against Israel by elected officials from the Democratic Party. They have all followed the lead of a Brooklyn Jew who tacitly gave them permission to associate apartheid and ethnic cleansing with the Jewish state. 

These bedfellows of yours are not just strange — they are downright toxic to Jews. What do you and your confidante Linda Sarsour, and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib talk about at night? What do you imagine they are saying behind your back? They have an agenda that they intend to carry out in a Sanders administration, and you will be too beholden to them to object.

You wouldn’t be the first useful idiot in American political history, but you will surely be remembered as a naïve Jew taken in by Machiavellian friends who then trampled all over the coattails of their Manchurian candidate.

The Oval Office will not be yours, Bernie, and America will be better for it.

But then where will you go? You built bridges with the kind of people who live in a house of cards. You moved to Vermont with your accent intact but with a rootless Jewish soul. 

Think about that as election day approaches. You’re going to need someone to welcome you back. 

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and distinguished university professor at Touro College where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society.  He has written numerous works of fiction and nonfiction and hundreds of essays. He is the Legal Analyst for CBS News Radio and appears frequently on cable TV new programs. His forthcoming book, “Saving Free Speech . . . from Itself” will be published on March 17, 2020.

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