Sanders’s anti-Israel sentiment stems from his old-Left roots.
Part of Bernie Sanders’ charm is that for all of his arm-waving jeremiads, he appears unthreatening. He’s the weird old uncle in the attic, Larry David’s crazy Bernie. It’s almost a matter of style. Who can be afraid of a candidate so irascible, grumpy, old-fashioned and unfashionable?
After all, he’s not going to win the nomination, so what harm can he do? A major address at the party convention? A say in the vice presidential selection? And who reads party platforms anyway?
Well, platforms may not immediately affect a particular campaign. But they do express, quite literally, the party line, a written record of its ideological trajectory.
Which is why two of Sanders’s appointments to the 15-member platform committee are so stunning. Professor Cornel West not only has called the Israeli prime minister a war criminal but openly supports the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions), the most important attempt in the world to ostracize and delegitimize Israel.
West is joined on the committee by the longtime pro-Palestinian activist James Zogby. Together, reported the New York Times, they “vowed to upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.”
This seems a gratuitous provocation. Sanders hardly made Israel central to his campaign. He did call Israel’s response in the 2014 Gaza war “disproportionate” and said “we cannot continue to be one-sided.” But now Sanders seeks to permanently alter — i.e., weaken — the relationship between the Democratic Party and Israel, which has been close and supportive since Harry Truman recognized the world’s only Jewish state when it declared independence in May 1948.
West doesn’t even pretend, as do some left-wing “peace” groups, to be opposing Israeli policy in order to save it from itself. He makes the simpler case that occupation is unconscionable oppression and that until Israel abandons it, Israel deserves to be treated like apartheid South Africa — anathematized, cut off, made to bleed morally and economically. The Sanders appointees wish to bend the Democratic platform to encourage such diminishment unless Israel redeems itself by liberating Palestine.
This is an unusual argument for a Democratic platform committee, largely because it is logically and morally perverse. Israel did in fact follow such high-minded advice in 2005: It terminated its occupation and evacuated Gaza. That earned it (temporary) praise from the West. And from the Palestinians? Not peace, not reconciliation, not normal relations but a decade of unrelenting terrorism and war.
Israel is now being asked — pressured — to repeat that same disaster on the West Bank. That would bring the terror war, quite fatally, to the very heart of Israel — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ben Gurion Airport. Israel is now excoriated for declining that invitation to national suicide.
It is ironic that the most successful Jewish presidential candidate ever should be pushing the anti-Israel case. But perhaps not surprising considering Sanders’ ideological roots. He is old left — not the post-1960s, countercultural New Left. Why, the man honeymooned in the Soviet Union — not such fashionably cool communist paradises as Sandinista Nicaragua where Bill de Blasio went to work for the cause or Castro’s Cuba where de Blasio honeymooned. (Do lefties all use the same wedding planner?)
For the old left, Israel was simply an outpost of Western imperialism, Middle East division. To this day, the leftist consensus, most powerful in Europe (which remains Sanders’ ideological lodestar), holds that Israeli perfidy demands purification by Western chastisement.
Chastisement there will be at the Democratic platform committee. To be sure, Sanders didn’t create the Democrats’ drift away from Israel. It was already visible at the 2012 convention with the loud resistance to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But Sanders is consciously abetting it.
The millennials who worship him and pack his rallies haven’t lived through — and don’t know — the history of Israel’s half-century of peace offers. They don’t know of the multiple times Israel has offered to divide the land with an independent Palestinian state and been rebuffed.
Sanders hasn’t lifted a finger to tell them. The lovable old guy with the big crowds and no chance at the nomination is hardly taken seriously (except by Hillary Clinton, whose inability to put him away reveals daily her profound political weakness). But when he makes platform appointees that show he does take certain things quite seriously, like undermining the U.S.-Israeli relationship, you might want to reconsider your equanimity about the magical mystery tour. It looks like Woodstock, but there is steel inside the psychedelic glove.