Be bold, Bernie

Bernie Sanders makes a point with his finger

Vermonters are urging their senator, Bernie Sanders, to be bold on Palestinian rights.

Rod Lamkey CNP/AdMedia

Let’s face it, doing legislative advocacy for Palestinian rights can be a drag. But we’re making progress.

Ten years ago, we didn’t have the small but dedicated group of elected officials in the US Congress that we do today. More legislators are signing onto bills like the Palestinian Children and Families Act (H.R. 3103) and sending occasional letters to the US State Department about increasing settler violence, discriminatory visa entry practices, refugee assistance cuts, and demolitions of Palestinian communities.

These officials are willing to stand up to a formidable opposition that demands complete allegiance to the Israeli government.

Polls show support for Palestinian rights is growing steadily in the United States, especially among youth and Democrats. More organizations are bringing constituents to Capitol Hill and training people in legislative advocacy for Palestinian rights.

But as the situation on the ground in Palestine and Israel continues to deteriorate, we need to find more champions in the House of Representatives and US Senate to take bold actions for Palestinian rights. A presidential election year looms, a time when we find even our loyal supporters in Congress recalculate the risks of speaking out. So now is the moment for us to strengthen our allies, build power with our grassroots activists, and push for our leaders to speak more forcefully for ending US support for Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Right now, a group of Vermonters is finding a creative way to do exactly that.

After meeting with Bernie Sanders’ staff earlier this summer, we were challenged to get more Vermont residents to write to the senator, explaining in personal terms why they feel he should be a leader in the Senate and introduce a long-desired Senate bill about supporting Palestinian rights and ending US complicity in Israel’s ongoing human rights violations.

Thus the “Be Bold Bernie” old school letter-writing effort was born.

Vermont Quakers working with the American Friends Service Committee on the “Apartheid-free Communities” initiative decided that they would dedicate time starting in August to getting Vermonters to write to Senator Sanders.

Back in the habit

They started their outreach by setting up letter-writing tables in community spaces, organizing a virtual letter-writing party, and posting in Vermont email listservs and community newsletters.

“I think we have gotten out of the habit of hand-writing a letter to our elected officials. Sure, it takes more time to compose a personalized letter than to click and send a form letter, but we hope that the extra effort shows our dedication,” said Anita, an activist from Vermont. “I’ve seen some of the letters people have sent and they are really moving. I hope they are reaching Bernie directly.”

Organizers know that Bernie thinks of himself as a “bold” leader, and indeed he has taken some bold actions for many important social justice issues, including for Palestinian rights. In a guest essay for The New York Times in 2021, he wrote, “[I]f the United States is going to be a credible voice on human rights on the global stage, we must uphold international standards of human rights consistently, even when it’s politically difficult. We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter.”

The idea of asking Bernie to do something positive – to be bold – was motivating to the organizers, who are hoping to arrange a visit for Sanders to Gaza and the West Bank.

“We know the impact of witnessing apartheid directly, and we believe Bernie hasn’t been to the region since becoming our senator,” said Scott Rhodewalt, one of the Vermont organizers.

“We want him to see the impact of apartheid as it manifests in the West Bank including Jerusalem, inside Israel, and especially in Gaza. We’re asking him to be bold because Bernie’s voice is the only one that can break through the silence in the US Senate.”

In September the organizers placed an ad in the free Vermont weekly, Seven Days, asking Vermonters to join in sending letters to Senator Sanders.

“We feel Bernie is genuinely dedicated to [peace], which is why we hope he will be a leader on this issue so critical to world peace,” said Susan Jones, a Vermont activist.

In her own letter Jones wrote: “Senator Sanders, it is time that you returned to that beautiful, traumatized land to see it for yourself, and to see what our $3.8 billion/year in unconditional US ‘aid’ to Israel has done.”

The “Be Bold Bernie” initiative doesn’t have an end date.

“We plan to help generate more letters once we get campuses involved this fall and more people get back into the swing of things,” said Zoe Jannuzi, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee.

“We will be closely following what Bernie does these next few months, and we hope he knows that when he does take bold action for Palestinian rights, he has a lot of support at home.”

Jennifer Bing is the National Director of the Palestine Activism Program at the American Friends Service Committee.




I'd like to think that this initiative will do some good. But Sanders is an old man and seems only to have become more intransigent with the passage of time. He doesn't listen to constituents and his loyalty to Israel has never wavered. He retains to this day as a precious memory his youthful stint on a kibbutz, that golden dream of racist egalitarianism.

In terms of high office, this is a man who has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The closer he's drawn to power, the more his opinions have reflected that alignment. He was cheated out of the Democratic Presidential nomination- by some counts, twice- while never bothering to register as a Democrat, itself a strange position. He then endorsed the very people who undermined his candidacy. He's a staunch backer of Zionism both in principle and for what he regards as practical reasons. He spouts Russia-gate propaganda and votes every time for more war and less diplomacy in Ukraine. Even during the most horrific IDF massacres in Gaza, Sanders has never failed to opt for more weapons to Israel. A man who does that is never going to take meaningful action on behalf of Palestinians.

Frankly, trying to convince Bernie Sanders of anything looks increasingly like a waste of political energy. His day came and went. He told us things we already knew about the rich and how Americans needed universal public health care. But he accomplished nothing in that area while tying himself ever more closely to the political leadership of a party adamantly opposed to the moderate reform projects he espouses.

He's been in office in Washington since 1991. It would be wrong to say that he has no accomplishments to show, but any expectation that the man will undergo a dramatic conversion to the cause of Palestine or that his doing so would produce a similar awakening among his colleagues seems at this stage nothing more than a pipe dream.


Fortunately EI is infallible and needn't be concerned with having it's ideas stand up to criticism.


John, as you can see from the comment above yours, we welcome thoughtful criticism. What our comments policy does not permit are the kinds of personal attacks you appear increasingly apt to engage in. Please accept this gentle reminder to abide by the comments policy. Thanks.


What your readers see is you scolding me for comments you are in a position to portray as unwarranted vindictiveness. What they don't see is your censorship. Please don't take this personally but censorship is the most antidemocratic, unethical of acts a journalist can engage in. It's not necessarily cowardly, just very misguided and destructive. It's a kind of lying and spins the same kind of webs. I'd tell you that you should be ashamed but with your bonafides, you can easily dismiss me.
I didn't see one thing in Tom Halls comment that wasn't right up your alley, but it doesn't matter as long as you can leave the desired impression.
Again, don't take this personally, I'm only trying to help you find the truth again.


John, this will be my last request to you to refrain from personal attacks on authors of the type you have been regularly posting. These violate our comments policy and add nothing to the discussion. We have published your comment above in order to provide an opportunity for you to read this, notwithstanding how you have once again leveled completely unfounded, unfair, vitriolic, personal accusations. It would be much easier for me to, in fact, dismiss and ignore you, but instead — knowing your longstanding interest in the issue of Palestine — I am respectfully asking you to abide by the comments policy if you want to contribute to discussions. We are under no obligation to publish your or anyone else’s personal abuse and refusing to do so is not “censorship,” it’s called editing, which is our job.


Have it your own way Ali. We'll call it editing. Which I welcome, because sometimes I need it. I just hope that it won't be required every time I disagree about resorting to forms of violent resistance, which play right into Israel's hands, because nothing offends our liberal international community as much as it's use by those they haven't cleared to level death and destruction on anyone challenging their ultimate authority.
But, believe me! I appreciate your patience with my surliness. I'm a little out of touch you see, and tend to expect thicker hides on reporters. All the best, keep up the good work and thank you very much!