Politics & Media
Dec 19, 2018, 05:55AM

Some Attacks on Bernie Sanders Are Anti-Semitic

Critics shouldn’t provide fodder for bigots.

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There are legitimate reasons to criticize Sen. Bernie Sanders. He tends to center on white people when he talks about the working class. He has a shaky record on gun control.  And if you're a conservative, Sanders' push for progressive economic reforms will probably annoy and/or infuriate you. Many people, from many perspectives, have legitimate reasons to adamantly disagree with Sanders. And since Sanders is currently running for president in the 2020 election, we can expect to hear all of those disagreements voiced over and over.

Criticism is fine. But people need to be careful to watch for moments when criticism slides over into bigotry. Sanders is Jewish, and it's not an accident that there has never been a Jewish president. People vote for candidates because they think that candidate represents them or is one of them—and prejudice is one powerful factor which affects who is considered "one of us" and who is not.

Many writers have talked about this dynamic in the campaign of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Clinton, too, obviously, has done many things worthy of criticism. Her recent call to reduce immigration in Europe, for example, was an awful compromise with racism and fascism.

But many feminist critics have pointed out that attacks on Clinton often were influenced by, and activated, misogynist stereotypes and prejudices. Caroline Siede explains that Clinton was seen as unlikable in part because "we don’t yet have cultural touchstones for flawed but sympathetic women." Men who are imperfect—like, say, Trump—are seen as more human and relatable for their missteps. Women who are imperfect, in contrast, are seen as conniving, wicked, or disgusting. Men who are ambitious are seen as admirable. Ambition in women is seen as culpable

There hasn't been as much discussion of possible prejudice against Sanders. But that doesn't mean such prejudice doesn't exist. In fact, a number of common attacks on Sanders dovetail uncomfortably with anti-Semitic stereotypes.

One recent high-profile right wing attack on Sanders, for example, involved his use of a private jet for campaigning. The right was arguing that Sanders was a hypocrite for burning so much fuel when he supports restrictions on carbon emissions. But the articles dwelt obsessively on the amount of money Sanders spent on the trips.

This focus on Sanders’ wealth is echoed in other criticisms you see on social media and elsewhere. Sanders is running for president as a way to enrich himself, detractors insist. He's unusually selfish or unusually greedy.

Sanders is wealthy by the standards of the average American. But he's not especially well off compared to the average Senator. He's certainly ambitious and egotistical—but that's true of virtually every national politician. You don't get into the Senate without thinking highly of yourself. The fact that Sanders is seen as especially conniving or self-centered resonates with anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish wealth and Jewish greed. Ambition is okay in people who are supposed to be in power. But Jewish people seeking to be president are getting above their station; therefore they must be selfish, arrogant, and presumptuous.

Anti-Semitism also lurks in another common attack on Sanders—that he’s inauthentic or disloyal. Martin O'Malley criticized Sanders in 2016 for not being a real Democrat, and it's become a common talking point since. Sanders supposedly isn’t a team player. He's untrustworthy. He doesn't belong.

Sanders runs for Senate as an Independent, not a Democrat. But he caucuses with Democrats, and he's long been a reliable vote. It was red state Democrats who wavered on voting for Bret Kavanaugh for Supreme Court, not Sanders. He campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016; on Twitter you can find him reliably hitting whatever talking points Democrats are hitting at any given moment. He does criticize Democratic policies sometimes—but do Democrats really want to make intraparty criticism verboten?

Activists always push politicians to hew to the party line. Attacking Sanders for policy deviations is reasonable. But if you start to label him as disloyal, or as sneakily impersonating a Democrat, you're starting to emit dog whistles, whether that's your intention or not. Jewish people are always seen as insufficiently assimilated, and as adopting identities they don't really deserve or believe in. Painting Sanders as a traitor or a pretender is especially tempting, and especially damaging, therefore, in part because he's Jewish.

People who disliked Hillary Clinton (including women) tend to be resistant to the idea that they may be influenced by sexism. By the same token, Sanders' critics (some of whom are Jewish) will no doubt bristle at the suggestion that they may be picking up on anti-Semitic prejudices or stereotypes. No one wants to think that they're influenced by bigotry. No one wants to have to moderate their criticisms of public figures they despise.

Anti-Semitism in the United States has increased, thanks largely to Trump's cultivation of and encouragement of the far right. To counter that, it's important to acknowledge that anti-Semitism exists, and that it’s ubiquitous—so ubiquitous that it may influence even people of good will.

I don't think it's likely that Sanders will win the Democratic nomination in 2020, but if he does, there will almost surely be an outpouring of ugly anti-Semitism from the right. Democrats will be ill-prepared to fight against that if they spend the primary blowing more subtle dog whistles. 

  • It's not possible to dog whistle without intent, by definition. Therefore if you actually believe that Bernie's not loyal, not a real Dem, etc., and your opinion has nothing to do with his religion - this is quite possible - you cannot be accused of antisemitism. Nobody can be immunized against certain allegations because of their religion.The real problem with antisemitism on the left is in the Women's March, where three of four leaders have ties to antisemite Louis Farrakhan. There's other evidence that they're antisemitic as well. Yet you blame antisemitsm's rise on Trump when it's a major problem on the left. Sorry, not buying a word this argument.

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  • From my knowledge of the Right-O-Sphere, I'd say Bernie is one of the least-attacked Lefties over in that corral. If anything, he's respected as a useful gadfly, and respected for some of the same reasons Berlatsky here seems to like him. And I just haven't seen any attacks on him for being Jewish. Certainly John Kerry's being half-Jewish was never mentioned as a negative. Nor do I think Hillary Clinton took serious flack for reasons of sex; people just didn't like her. However, HOWEVER this is not to say the author may not be onto something. He's apparently read some things that I haven't. What he seems to be suggesting is that Senator Sanders is being pre-empted from serious 2020 consideration because he doesn't just have a couple of big strikes against him (age, not being a actual Democrat) but because, possibly, he's seen as a spoiler who can't win. And that's when all the other baggage is tossed in, perhaps as a suspected dog-whistle. The real problem is that the Democrats are naturally going to steer toward the most normative candidate they can get—a Kerry, not a Howard Dean; ideally a kind of Rob Portman who's a Democrat. That means possibly Sherrod "The Voice" Brown or, failing that, the ever-ready and jovial Joe Biden, who is at least slightly younger than Bernie. This will be interesting.

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  • Dogwhistles are designed to be deniable, often even to the people using them. So no, antisemitic dogwhistles don't require you to know the intent of the person using them.

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  • Obviously intent is key, as in criminal law. You can't be accidentally antisemitic. Any socialist who had several homes would get attacked like Bernie has been. You apply a univariate analysis here because it suits your argument. Your bias is obvious in that you make no mention of the left-wing antisemitism that's so rampant.

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  • A huge scandal re:antisemitism is breaking at the moment in the Women's March, but you ignore it totally. The Nation of Islam, whose Jew-hating leader has called Jews cockroaches, has been providing security for Women's March leaders. WM leader Tamika Mallory has called Louis Farrakhan, who's also homophobic and transphobic, the GOAT - greatest of all time. Now there's a dog whistle. Yet we're supposed to be most concerned with accidental dogwhistles only coming from the right? Makes no sense at all. You are right, however, that the Democrats will not be prepared to counter an outpouring of antisemitism if Bernie gets elected. They've been ignoring it on their own side for too long to do that.

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  • I've talked about the women's march and antisemitism extensively on twitter, Beck. I can't talk about everything at once in every piece. But yes, right wing antisemites were just responsible for the worst antisemitic terrorist attack in history. Thanks for telling me what I should be most worried about as a Jewish person though. I really appreciate it.

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  • I didn't say anything about what you, as a Jewish person, should worry about. That's your business. If you happened to live in France, however, where the vast majority of Europe’s recent anti-Semitic killings have occurred, right-wing anti-semitism would not be your main concern. Europe has a much more serious anti-semitism problem than the U.S. It's safe to say that, as a worldwide phenomenon, anti-semitic violence is not primarily a phenomenon of the right wing.

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  • You did, in fact, tell me what to think in a condescending manner.// Right wing antisemitism is in fact of major concern in France (the yellow vest protests have been dominated by fascists.)// And since the history of antisemitism in Europe is dominated by the Holocaust, arguing that people should be more concerned with left wing antisemitism is the sort of thing you would say only if (a) you're incredibly ignorant, (b) you're very biased, or (c) both.

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  • I just corrected you, which you interpret as telling how to think. That's your prerogative. You like being angry. Also, don't know why you mentioned left wing antisemitism in Europe when I didn't refer to it in Europe. I said only that it wasn't right wing. Read it again, and show me where I said left wing. And, once again, right wing antisemitism isn't responsible for the bulk of antisemitic violence in Europe. If you doubt this, I can provide evidence. The yellow vests didn't kill anyone. Finally, the Holocaust was a long time ago. I think it's clear that I'm referring to the present, and the situation has changed. Imported antisemitism is the major problem currently.

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  • This article explains anti-semitic violence in Europe over the past decade. 14 Jews killed, none of them by right ringers. I guess that would be sufficient evidence to conclude that right wing anti-semitism is not the kind to fear the most nowadays: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/10/28/how-pittsburgh-shooting-compares-attacks-jews-europe-where-anti-semitism-has-been-growing/?utm_term=.e69d767b2727

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