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Bernie Sanders’ Alliance With Linda Sarsour Is An Insult To Jews

I narrowed my eyes back in September when Bernie Sanders announced that activist Linda Sarsour would be his campaign surrogate. Hadn’t she said all manner of terrible things about Israel and the Jews who support it?

There was the Women’s March, which she co-led, and its manifold issues with anti-Semitism. These included Sarsour’s own reluctance to disavow Louis Farrakhan, despite his many rabidly anti-Semitic comments. There was also the time she suggested a conflict of interest between feminism and Zionism, and the time she hinted that supporters of Israel had dual loyalties.

Still, despite all her rhetoric, it was hard for me to see her as an outright anti-Semite. She was, after all, working to put a very Jewish candidate in the Oval Office, and one who has explicitly called himself a Zionist, and “100% pro Israel”.

But last week, speaking at the annual conference of American Muslims for Palestine, Sarsour put all speculation to rest when she addressed a question to “progressive Zionists.”

“How can you be against white supremacy… but then you support a state like Israel that is based on supremacy, that is built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else?”

Sarsour’s attempt to label progressive Zionists as white supremacists was truly vile, as was her attempt to color Israel — the place Jews fleeing nationalist violence made their democratic home — as a supremacist state. And the outrage was swift. Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, blasted her on Twitter, noting that the idea that Israel is a Jewish supremacy is “morally offensive and utterly dangerous. Millions of Jews have been murdered in the name of white supremacy, incl. 12 in US last year alone.”

In an unprecedented move, Sarsour actually apologized, taking to Twitter to “clarify” her meaning: “I was specifically referring to the racist argument at the heart of the nation-state law recently passed by the Israeli government — not the Jewish people.”

Sarsour then went on to list what, exactly, was so morally offensive about the nation-state law, a law passed by Israel’s right wing government a little over a year ago which ratifies Israel as a Jewish state. The law has been widely criticized, even within Israel. And Sarsour’s tactic was, of course, a rhetorical trick, one worthy of Kellyanne Conway. One minute, we’re talking about Progressive Zionists, the next, about the Nation-State Law. From a vile comment made by Sarsour about American Jews, she pivoted to talking about a controversial law and a recent one at that. Does Sarsour believe that “Progressive Zionist” was a legitimate category before the passage of the Nation-State Law but illegitimate afterwards? None of it makes sense, especially given that in her comments she specifically stated that Israel is “based on” and “built upon” Jewish supremacy, while the Nation State law was passed a year ago.

Sarsour’s attempt at clarification is in truth an insidious attempt to obfuscate. And what she’s obfuscating is pretty dark: It is the accusation that a Zionist Jew has no place on America’s left — even a progressive Zionist Jew. Per Sarsour, we cannot support the rights of refugees. We cannot champion the rights of women. We cannot call ourselves allies to communities of sexual or racial minorities. We also cannot, presumably, champion the plight of Palestinians — unless we first disavow the Jewish state.

If there was any doubt about Linda Sarsour’s true feelings about Jews, these latest comments ring out with clarity. We shouldn’t be fooled by her attempt to deceive. This was not criticism of Israel. This was not criticism of an Israeli policy or law. This was a statement about Jewish people.

How can you support leftist social causes, Sarsour asked Jews, when you are a Zionist?

This question is insulting, and so nonsensical as to make answering it an exercise in absurdity.

A better question might be addressed to Bernie Sanders: How can you call yourself a progressive candidate when you align yourself with someone who makes vicious verbal attacks on Jews?

Matthew Schultz is a writer based in Tel Aviv. His first collection of essays, What Came Before, is forthcoming with Tupelo Press. His work has also appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Ecotone, Haaretz, Tablet and elsewhere.

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