Sanders campaign must not sugarcoat Israeli racism

Smiling man raises arms

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his supporters celebrate his 11 February Democratic primary victory in New Hampshire.

Ivarsson Jerker ZUMA Press

Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary on Tuesday, supercharging his campaign to win the party’s nomination and challenge Donald Trump for the presidency in November.

The primary was resolved much more quickly than the Iowa caucuses, which are still in dispute because of incompetence, errors and confusion connected to weighting rural areas more heavily than urban.

Iowa foul play charges coming from the left and right alike along with profound conflict of interest concerns seem certain to put Sanders’ supporters on high alert all the way through the Democratic convention this summer.

My own conclusion is that the biggest concern Democrats should have in Iowa is the unconscionable decision not to adhere to the guiding principle of one person, one vote, but rather to weight the votes of white rural voters over those of people of color and other residents in urban areas. This worked to the advantage of the more conservative Pete Buttigieg and against Sanders. Voters should consider: Is it 2020 or 1964 in the Democratic Party?

Sanders, who is seeking to become the first Jewish president of the United States, had to contend with attacks from both the right-wing Israel lobby AIPAC and the corporate but ostensibly left-leaning cable news network MSNBC.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, while boosting Democratic centrist rivals to Sanders, warned Wednesday that in coming days, “Sanders’ strength will be seriously tested as he comes under brutal assault from Democrats who believe that his nomination would be suicidal for the party and guarantee Donald Trump’s re-election.”


Last week, the powerful and nominally nonpartisan Israel lobby group AIPAC ran an ad castigating “radicals” in the Democratic Party who are supposedly “pushing their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies down the throats of the American people.”

“America should never abandon its only democratic ally in the Middle East,” AIPAC exhorted.

One version of the ad attacks congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Betty McCollum – prominent supporters of Palestinian rights.

Omar and Tlaib, the first Muslim women elected to Congress, have been favorite targets of AIPAC and other Israel lobby groups.

Both are surrogates for Sanders, who has stood beside them as they have come under false attacks as anti-Semites.

AIPAC retreat

Pushback to the AIPAC ad was swift and the organization apologized Saturday.

“We offer our unequivocal apology to the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress who are rightfully offended by the inaccurate assertion that the poorly worded, inflammatory advertisement implied.”

The quick capitulation by a once feared lobby group is remarkable in itself.

It is also a bad sign for pro-Israel activists hoping that the all too successful smear campaign falsely tarring the UK Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn as anti-Semitic can be reproduced in the United States.

Activists in the US have been bracing for such a campaign, but it has so far failed to take root as Democrats have pushed back and because it is proving difficult for anti-Palestinian organizations to make the anti-Semitism charge stick against Sanders because he is Jewish.

Grassroots Democrats are also better informed than at any time in the past regarding Israel’s abuses and racism against Palestinians.

Lobby groups know that Israel and its policies are just not popular with the Democratic grassroots anymore. This was apparent when the political action committee of Democratic Majority for Israel ran an ad attacking Sanders in Iowa. The group’s ads cast doubt on Sanders’ health and socialist views, but not a word was said about Israel.

Democratic Majority for Israel must have concluded that highlighting Sanders’ views critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians would likely only boost his popularity with voters.

MSNBC desperate

Sanders has also had to battle news media which consistently favor his opponents.

MSNBC – the supposed lefty cable news source – on Monday passed along the suggestion that supporters of Sanders are a “digital brownshirt brigade” – crudely comparing them to Nazi thugs who helped Hitler seize power in Germany.

This followed Chris Matthews’ flight of paranoia on the same network that Sanders – or possibly just his followers – might have cheered on executing people in Central Park, including Matthews, had Fidel Castro and “the reds” won the Cold War.

The right-wing outlet NewsBusters joyfully joined the “left-leaning” assault:

The effort to demonize Sanders and his backers is on and knows no bounds.

Benny Gantz is a racist too

Sanders, the candidate I favor, has a tough road. He is not above criticism, however, such as when his staff make unforced errors of fact regarding Israeli officials’ racism against Palestinians.

Sanders’ foreign policy adviser, Matt Duss, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz shortly before the Iowa caucuses that one major difference between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opponent Benny Gantz is that the latter isn’t “stoking hatred and division.”

Palestinians would surely disagree. Gantz, after all, bragged in an election ad that in the 2014 war against Gaza, which he commanded, “parts of Gaza were returned to the stone ages.”

According to an independent UN investigation, Israel killed more than 2,251 Palestinians, among them 551 children, during the 51-day assault. That’s an average of nearly 11 children per day.

And just this week, Gantz affirmed that if he beats Netanyahu in next month’s Israeli election, he would ensure that any government he leads will exclude Arab parties.

Duss is searching for a silver lining where there isn’t one. Both Netanyahu and Gantz have done terrible things to the Palestinian people and have promised more to come.

In a terrible miscarriage of justice, Gantz late last month received immunity from a Dutch court for his part in the killing of six family members of Dutch citizen Ismail Ziada during the 2014 assault.

Ismail’s older brother Hassan, who survived that onslaught, is a former Gaza Community Mental Health Program colleague of mine.

Yes, Sanders is better than his rivals on Palestinian rights – though that is not a high bar in American politics.

But his position has shifted in the right direction in response to grassroots pressure. Sanders must continue to stake out positions that demonstrate full awareness of the discrimination and racist violence faced by Palestinians.

That must be accompanied by a commitment to take action to end the apartheid that Duss has previously noted in Trump’s “peace” plan.

However, Duss’ effort to sugarcoat the human rights violations and racism of Netanyahu’s possible replacement does not inspire confidence.




The fact Sanders is Jewish offers him minimal cover. Look at the vicious attacks on Noam Chomsky. The Zionist claim is that Jews who criticise Israel are pathologically self-hating. It's true there has to be care by the Zionist lobby not to inspire grassroots Democratic revulsion at factitious and exaggerated claims, but the traducing of Corbyn should make you wary. His record on fighting racism is second to none. Among Labour supporters there is wide scepticism over the claims that he and Labour are anti-Semitic; but beyond that the Centre and the Right have seized on the accusations and their supporters have swallowed them whole. Convinced Democrats alone will not unseat Trump and the Zionist lobby will tailor its message to waiverers. The decades-long US financing of Israel and its collusion in lying and hiding the facts about Israel's racism towards the Palestinians convinces millions of Americans that support for Israel in is the US's interest. It is, if all principle is set aside, if honesty counts for nothing and if the short-term dominates. The key argument is that the US spends billions propping up an Israeli economy which can't stand on its own two feet. What does the US get in return? Oil. But the age of oil is coming to an end. In the zero-carbon future why should the US prop up an apartheid regime when the need for oil will diminish and finally disappear? Americans are paying to uphold a regime which defies the principles of American democracy and whose usefulness, in terms of narrow, unprincipled interest it has to be admitted, is sure to diminish. Backing Israel will turn out badly for the US economy and its place in the world. It's an argument worth making.

Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.