If any of my fellow Orthodox Jews were naïve enough to expect presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ recent essay entitled “How to Fight anti-Semitism” to have a single word about how to combat the daily violent attacks we are facing, they would be sorely mistaken. Indeed, while purporting to hold the key to fighting anti-Semitism, Senator Sanders has written a guide for how to blame others for the problem while simultaneously erasing it.
Rather than putting to rest concerns his fellow Jews have about supporting him due to his embrace of people like Linda Sarsour and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, both of whom have complicated relationships with the Jewish community, Sanders’ essay on anti-Semitism merely served to underscore the reasons Jews are so hesitant to support him in any way.
The biggest tell is that Sanders never really gets around to telling us how he — or anyone else for that matter — would or should “fight anti-Semitism.” Instead, Sanders informs us that “the forces fomenting antisemitism are the forces arrayed against oppressed people around the world, including Palestinians; the struggle against antisemitism is also the struggle for Palestinian freedom.”
In other words, if you think what the current fight against anti-Semitism lacks is sufficient expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians in their struggle against the Israelis, Sanders is your guy. His only other substantive suggestion is reappointing a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and rejoining the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body which is so vital to the global fight against anti-Semitism that it has condemned Israel more than every single other country in the world combined.
It is obvious to any Jew who cares about combatting anti-Semitism that these are not actions that would solve any of the problems Jew-hatred has caused.
Still, Sanders uses his oped to insist upon his own Jewish identity and to assure us that he cares deeply about this issue, despite all the evidence to the contrary. He acknowledges that anti-Semitism is rising across the United States, particularly in New York City, where — he fails to mention — Orthodox Jews are subjected to almost daily beatings, harassments, and acts of vandalism. But then, almost immediately, he pivots away from the subject of Jews and into the more familiar confines of politics.
Suddenly, the subject matter isn’t Jew-hatred any longer; it is white nationalism. And it isn’t just about white nationalism; it is about how Donald Trump is to blame for the rise of white nationalism more broadly, and how anti-Semitism is just one small part of that more significant problem. That is the only context in which Sanders feels comfortable discussing anti-Semitism in any way.
The problem with that sort of argument is not just that it’s incredibly naïve; it’s also dangerous. In redefining Jew-hatred as nothing more than subtext of white nationalism, Sanders does two things, both disturbing. First, like the people who shout “All Lives Matter” at activists pointing out police brutality that uniquely affects African Americans, Sanders denies anti-Semitism its inherent uniqueness. There is no need to deal with anti-Semitism qua anti-Semitism, he asserts, just to recognize that “the fight against antisemitism and for Jewish liberation [is] connected to the fight for the liberation of oppressed people around the world.”
Secondly, by reducing it to nothing more than a subtext of a broader hatred — that of “anyone who does not fit a narrow vision of a whites-only America” — Sanders provides cover for all the anti-Semites who don’t necessarily fit that specific mold of the white nationalists.
The problem with that is that anti-Semitism is not of any party. And to present Jew-hatred as a political issue, as Sanders does, is to deny it.
Indeed, nowhere is the bipartisan pact of anti-Semitism clearer than in the very example Sanders himself cites — that of those targeting the Orthodox Jews with violence in New York. Sanders tries to force that into the bucket of white nationalism, but that is only an argument that can work if you’re making it to people who know nothing about Jews, white nationalism, and the attacks taking place.
The perpetrators of the attacks against us Orthodox Jews can’t be white nationalists, because they aren’t white.
There are two ways leftists have chosen to deal with this fact, and neither is by choosing to fight anti-Semitism. Instead, they will deny it is even happening.
On what planet are Orthodox Jews “chased and beaten and pelted and terrorized” every day in New York City? https://t.co/fQhHogTFXD— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) November 12, 2019
Alternatively, they deem all Jew attackers as right wingers — by virtue of nothing more than the very fact that they are attacking Jews.
Being antisemitic is inherently fascist—meaning right-wing. All antisemitic attackers are right-wing. And yes—that includes the Black youth assailants you’re all so terrified of.— I Ain’t No Woman ✡️☭🌹 (@thespinsterymc) November 12, 2019
The Sanders approach to anti-Semitism is a mixture of the two, pledging to “always call out antisemitism when I see it” while employing a spokeswoman who posted on Facebook in March that it was unquestionable that the “American Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the state of Israel.” He then retreats beyond the veil of “white nationalism” when he has to discuss Jew-hatred from sources inconvenient to him — precisely the sort of anti-Semitism he is better positioned to actually fight.
In the end, Sanders is not telling us how to fight anti-Semitism. His piece would be more accurately titled “Don’t want to deal with your anti-Semitic allies? Blame everything on Trump.”
Doing that is so incredibly cynical, and of course it doesn’t help the Jews getting beaten every other day on the streets of New York. While those on the right should undoubtedly be dealing with the anti-Semites on the right, we ought to expect those on the left to deal with the anti-Semites on the left.
And together, we should be able to fight the Jew-hatred which doesn’t identify with a political party.
Instead, what we got from Sanders was a concerted effort to avoid dealing with the issue when it presents in his backyard, choosing instead to polish his intersectional bonafides. And meanwhile, Orthodox Jews continue getting beaten, harassed & demeaned.
Pardon us for not seeing in the Senator a champion, or even a lightweight, in the fight against those who hate us.
Eli Steinberg lives in Lakewood, New Jersey with his wife and five children. They are not responsible for his opinions, which he has been putting into words over the last half-decade, and which have been published across Jewish and general media. You can tweet the hottest of your takes at him @DraftRyan2016.