Bernie Sanders’ Guardian op-ed on antisemitism has one big blind spot

In his recent Guardian op-ed, US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (“Fighting antisemitism is at the heart of the left’s struggle against oppression”, Nov. 12) aptly defines antisemitism thusly:

“it is important to understand that that is what antisemitism is: a conspiracy theory that a secretly powerful minority exercises control over society”.

Whilst Sanders, whose father left Poland at age 17 due to antisemitism, and who lost family in the Holocaust, clearly has a personal connection to the subject, he also seems to have a big blind spot, as he appears convinced that those who peddle Jewish conspiracy theories come entirely from the political right.

Like other forms of bigotry – racism, sexism, homophobia – antisemitism is used by the right to divide people from one another and prevent us from fighting together for a shared future of equality, peace, prosperity and environmental justice.

Conversely, he sees the left (progressiveness) as, by definition, in opposition to antisemitism.

Opposing antisemitism is a core value of progressivism. So it’s very troubling to me that we are also seeing accusations of antisemitism used as a cynical political weapon against progressives.

He entirely ignores Muslim and left-wing antisemitism, focusing his fury almost entirely on “the right”, the “right-wing media” and “intolerant, authoritarian” right-wing political leaders who “exploit people’s fears by “promoting constant paranoia about foreign plots”.

Yes, we agree completely. Stoking “paranoia about foreign plots” does often evoke antisemitism.

A gratuitous shot at Jeremy Corbyn, you say? No, not at all. This clip is quite relevant, as the Labour leader represents a perfect illustration of the left-wing antisemitism that the Vermont Senator seems so blind to. 

In fact, Sanders has been quite open about his support for Corbyn.

And, this:

Whilst Sanders can’t be held responsible for who endorses him, it’s certainly fair to hold him accountable for who he chose to endorse: a man running for British prime minister who 85% of Jews in the country believe is personally antisemitic due to his long and well-documented record of expressing support for anti-Semites – including Islamist terrorists who openly call for the mass murder of Jews.

Though we should be careful not to overstate the political commonality between the two politicians, both Sanders and Corbyn certainly do seem to share the astonishingly dense and self-serving view that since those on the left are, by definition, anti-racist, those who identify as such should – regardless of what they actually say or do – often be granted moral impunity against charges of antisemitism.

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18 replies »

  1. I think his argument is that opposing antisemitism is a core value of progressives and the left, and anyone who engages in it is ipso facto betraying that core value. Probably he would also actually listen to critics and adapt his views, something that right-wingers who minimize antisemitism never ever do.
    Why don’t you reach out to him with your criticism, and see if he responds?

    • Thanks for your comments. I added his handle in my tweet of the post, so I’ll see if he, or his social media person, responds.

    • Dream on, Richard. Bernie is not going to look at the evidence and adapt his views. He is an ideologue surrounded by ideologues, and likes it that way. The interesting question here is how did Marxists infiltrate and embed themselves successfully into the mainstream of the Democratic Party. The answer is depressing and a cautionary tail from the days of the “folkish movement” in Germany. “Progressive”? Well, that’s a very nice word. The Soviet Union too claimed to be “antisemitismrein,” – an extraordinary claim which plainly was not the case. The roots of modern anti-Zionism come from the Soviet variety which was soaked in antisemitic conspiracy theories.

      The very idea that only right wing people can be antisemitic should be too stupid even to entertain. The “progressive” left takes this to absurd heights by demanding conformity and denouncing all dissenters as “right wing” or “alt-right.” People who were liberals 20 minutes ago are now “right-wing.” That’s how it works. It’s how it has always worked.

      Bernie’s first instinct will always be to err on the side of those who defame Israel if they come from the left. He gave a speech in Harlem in 2016. During question and answer, when someone from the audience, never mentioning Israel, came out with the most typically vile antisemitic conspiracies against Jews – not Israelis – Jews, Bernie launched into a monologue about “Palestinians,” and how the problem there is that Israelis need to treat them better, I guess because they are really just cuddly bunny rabbits.

      Luckily, Bernie is not getting the nomination. Unhappily, the red/green alliance looks to be in good shape. You should worry.

  2. Bernie not only endorses Corbyn (and it’s hard to imagine having heard of Corbyn without hearing about the antisemitism issues), but associates in his campaign with the likes of Sarsour and Tlaib – two women who meet HIS OWN definition of antisemitism. So yeah, not only does he have a definite blind-spot about the issue, but like many others he only seems to care about antisemitism as a political cudgel against his opposition.

    • Bernie endorses Corbyn? When and for what? They are on different continents. He may support Corbyn. But he doesn’t say, Corbyn should be PM. Vote for Corbyn.

      That’s a Trump move, Chief.

      • ” I have been very impressed by the work Corbyn has done and the campaign he is running, and I wish him the very best.” – Bernie Sanders

        That’s a Sanders move, Chief.

  3. My question is this, Is it possible to criticize the policies or actions of the Israeli government without being accused of antisemitism? If so, could you provide some examples of what sort of criticism of the policies or actions of the Israeli government are deemed acceptable?

  4. I’m not surprised by your interpretation, Adam, but it is merely your interpretation. The Right wing does have anti-Semites in its ranks, and they are a menace. Will Bernie face down BDS actors? He has in the past. At the moment, it doesn’t look like it. I would look at the DSA shift into BDS as more of an answer.

    For what it’s worth, not that your crowd will care, the other “far left Dem” (i.e. the other candidate who thinks that health care and education are way too expensive and should be as important to our nation as the funding the freaking Pentagon and their $250 paper clips) is supporter of Israel, so much that the DSA lost favor with her.