Bernie Sanders is Kamala Harris for Jews (1/2)
It's pretty well-known that in conservative circles the topic of identity politics today is considered to be a distraction and an element of grievance culture. Discussing a political issue within the prism of a specific ethnic, religious, racial, or sexual minority is taken to be a position of weakness. But the fact is that people do want to talk about race, religion, gender, and sex and it's an easy marsh to wade into in the current climate of culture wars. Conservatives like to believe they don't care about identity politics, because they see it as beneath their level of debate. So with that let's take a quick dip in the stink pit that Bernie Sanders and his progressive movement use as their natural habitat - identity politics and victimhood as a virtue.
Let me first say that even though I'm Jewish my votes do not go to candidates based on their being Jewish or not, nor for that matter regarding their attitudes towards Jews. The last few candidates that I've donated money to or purposely supported through my writings or other work are not Jewish:
- VA Shiva (Hindu Tamil)
- Larry Sharpe (mixed race, religion unknown)
- Rand Paul (white Presbyterian)
- Tim Canova (Italian, religion unknown)
- Donald Trump (German-Scottish, Presbyterian)
The first presidential race that I was old enough to care about was at age 15 in 2000 when Joseph Lieberman was included as Al Gore's running mate and was immediately crowned as the new hope for Jewish Americans. But when hearing Lieberman speak, even in a debate with as uninspiring an opponent as Dick Cheney, I got the sense that he was just a professional political actor and there was literally nothing of any substance in what he was saying. I distinctly remember at the time that I would have rather voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Even though my politics have moved considerably away from Nader's since then, I still think he would have been a less awful president than either Bush or Gore.
But this isn't about me, it's about the senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. In 2016 when he first ran for president a friend of mine asked why I wouldn't vote for him since he is like me Jewish. I told him that if that's the case he as an Indian should have to vote for Lousiana Gov. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal. But the truth is that nobody asserts that Jindal represents Indian Americans, because he converted from Hindusim to Catholicism. I propose that we relate the same way to Bernie Sanders since at some point he converted from Judaism to thrift store Unitarianism. It should become apparent from the examples below that whatever one's attitude or beliefs toward Bernie Sanders, Judaism, socialism, or religion writ large, the Bernie vision is not only incompatible with the scriptural worldview of Jewish tradition, it is actually contrary to it. But first a sidebar.
Minority identity cannot coincide with a universal vision
What if Sanders belonged to a different minority community? I believe the standards would be much different. A major conversation has erupted concerning one of Sanders' colleagues and rivals, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and her misrepresentation of herself as a candidate from the black community. Many voters that call themselves the American Descendants of Slavery (#ADOS) are objecting to Harris, the daughter of two immigrants from Jamaica and India, encroaching on the mantle of black leadership when their parents never had to go through any of the struggles of slavery and the Jim Crow era. The #ADOS movement's leaders Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore have created an army of followers that have successfully eroded Harris's ability to pander to black voters given her record on incarceration as Attorney General of California. Moore and Carnell also are of the opinion that further illegal immigration is not in the interests of poor black workers. By demonstrating that Harris is a) usurping the social and cultural image of black Americans and b) is in her policies betraying them the duo of grassroots activists have thrown cold water on her campaign. In the current poll for the 2020 South Carolina primary, the first one to have a significant black vote share - 27.8% - she is logging only 14%. Sometimes I wish that there was a counterpart to the #ADOS in order to deal with Bernie Sanders. But the fact is that many American Jews have diminished their own proper identity for the sake of multiculturalism to a degree beyond black Americans. There will be no Jewish #ADOS movement, because many of these people love crapping on their own heritage even more than Sanders does. Does anyone know of an Asian or Latino politician filled with such a degree of self abnegation?
The Roots of the Bernie philosophy?
|Unlike textile miller and utopian socialist Robert Owen Bernie Sanders does not have the excuse of ignorance that such social models lead to eventual disintegration.|
Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that you shouldn't be able to choose to support him. By all means take him. The fact of the matter is that Bernie Sanders would rather represent anyone but the Jews. The ideas of Democratic Socialism are assumed by many to be consistent with those of Judaism, but that's only because most westernized Jews have a completely corrupted if not vacant concept of what their religion is about. As documented in Jonathan Neumann's new book To Heal The World, many of them are of the impression that the most important Jewish ideal is Tikkun Olam, which is the Hebrew term for his book title. This is a truly Utopian vision of a human future where all social and ecological ills are cancelled as the world is returned to a nirvana-like balance. But the truth is that Tikkun Olam, as Neumann points out, was only introduced as a central value of progressive Judaism in the aftermath of World War II. Prior to that classical Reform Judaism had embraced a more mainstream progressive ethic more closely aligned with Mainline Protestantism's Social Gospel. By this logic the Tikkun Olam vision is twice removed
Democratic Socialism owes most of its roots to 19th century secularist philosophers like the Frenchman Charles Fourier, Welsh businessman and social experimenter Robert Owen, and yes the Germans Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marx's family was indeed Jewish by origin but his father Heinrich had converted to the Evangelical Church sect of German Protestantism. As such Marx in all likelihood grew up in a home that eschewed the Torah, Talmud, Midrash, or any other Judaic texts. In a sense Bernie Sanders is not comparable to Karl Marx but to his father Heinrich. In 2016 he was quoted as saying: “I think everyone believes in God in their own ways. To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.” This is a Unitarian Universalist approach to spirituality consistent with Enlightenment thinking, meaning that no one person or group has any separate destiny or role in the world apart from anyone else. Do many American Jews agree with Bernie Sanders? Yes.
But Judaism teaches otherwise, which is ironically an area that its opponents and haters focus on. There is an idea of a "Chosen people" in Judaism, whether one believes in it or not. Deuteronomy 7:6 outlines clearly: "For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your G-d: of all the peoples on earth the Lord your G-d chose you to be G-d’s treasured people." Earlier versions of the type of philosophy proposed by Sanders were rejected by the core leaders of every Jewish generation. Many are unaware that the festival of Hanukkah is explicitly a rejection of Hellenism, the universalist religion imposed by the Greek overlords of all of their realms including Judea in the 3rd century BC. Unfortunately the festival has been diluted in modern times in order to fit it alongside the wintertime Christmas and New Years holidays while losing the central context of it. The Jewish belief system is not a rejection of a different religion like Christianity or for that matter Hindusim in exchange for a generic platitude about everyone being connected.
Victims vs. Vindicators
"The Last Indian War", A 1980s documentary on MISURATA, a Nicaraguan indigenous movement opposed to the Sandinista regime. ( Produced by National Indian Youth Council)
When does Sanders mention Judaism? It seems to be when the subject of the Holocaust comes up. This is of course understandable for someone born in 1941 at the height of World War II. I met someone from the same generation of Jews born in America that once said that he was wonder struck by the fact that there were very few Jews that were in the ten year age group above his growing up because most of them had been young enough to have been children sent to the death camps. Like Sanders many American Jews have drawn a lesson from the Holocaust and taken part in the anti-war movements regarding Vietnam, Iraq and other US-led interventions.
It is not healthy to focus one's connection to his heritage primarily to its worst period. Like every Jew Sanders' family was affected by the Holocaust, but he seems to dedicate his own life to associating with genocidal lowlifes so long as they have the right politics. Let's put the Jews and the Arabs to the side first. In July 1985 Sanders, then Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, visited Nicaragua in order to demonstrate his opposition to President Reagan's policy of supporting the Contra insurgency against the communist Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega. In 1981 the Sandinistas had perpetrated the forced resettlement of 8,500 Miskito Indians in what was known as Navidad Roja (Red Christmas). Even Charles Hale of the left-leaning North American Council on Latin America (NACLA) published in 2007 an account that suggested the Miskitos were effectively under military occupation. The cause attracted the attention of noted American Indian Movement activist Russell Means.
Sanders also visited the USSR in 1988 at the height of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and during their intervention in Ethiopia that coincided with a famine imposed by the communist Derg regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. There is no indication that Sanders criticized any aspect of those policies or interventions by the USSR. These details are important to remember because while it is indeed necessary that America have an active anti-interventionist movement, members of such a movement should object to other nations' bloody interventions as well. Bernie Sanders certainly would have criticized German and Japanese imperialism should he have been an adult during World War II, so why was he so silent during the 1980s? It could be that he didn't want to believe that the side he saw as just was willing to destroy nations and peoples in order to achieve the better society that he was seeking.
The Sanders mindset
This attitude is very common among intellectuals of the Jewish Left. Oftentimes they embrace militant radicalism in their youth and then become milder as they are ensconced in socially acceptable professions while maturing. But the kernel of that belief system seems to remain. It's rare that they admit that they were wrong, and in many cases they shrug it off as claiming that they had evolved.
Princeton Prof. Norman Finkelstein for example claimed in an interview (see above) that his parents had been devoted to Stalin as a result of the Soviet triumph over Germany in WWII and he himself would become a Maoist and committing to the "new socialist man". In another moment he laughed at how his parents believed that the Sino-Soviet Split and the assassination of Trotsky by Stalin. Eventually with the trial of the Gang of Four Finkelstein abandoned Marxism-Leninism. What is ironic is that despite the misery caused by Maoist rule in China and Cambodia, Finkelstein apparently was disillusioned by the rapid shift in China from Maoism that proved that Mao's theories of the "new socialist man" were flimsy and could not be sustained beyond his death. But his change in attitude did not include any expression of remorse for supporting a philosophy that was brutal in practice to the same degree as any other genocidal regime. According to former Xinhua news correspondent Yang Jisheng 36 million Chinese citizens were killed by Mao's Great Leap Forward. Maoism was replaced in China by a more pragmatic administrative system under his successors starting with Deng Xiaoping.
Finkelstein, like his mentor MIT linguistics Prof. Noam Chomsky are both central pillars of the Jewish left. They also both endorsed Sen. Sanders in 2016. During that election cycle Donald Trump was pilloried because former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke had endorsed him. Duke's murderous racial philosophy has been a magnet for media coverage since he began revamping and "cleaning up" the Klan's roughneck image in the 1970s. Yet while Duke is rightly panned by the media as a crackpot and financial scammer and is a social pariah, Chomsky and Finkelstein are or were tenured professors at Ivy League universities. Both are entitled to the same rights under our Constitution, but in the court of social acceptance the followers of one violent system are granted greater slack than the other.
Both of these philosophies, National Socialism and Marxism, embrace a form of collective identity and responsibility, one based on bloodline and the other on class. The Jewish religion has an ambiguous attitude toward collective responsibility. The Old Testament, in particular the Five Books of Moses and early prophets show several instances of collective punishment by G-d against the Children of Israel or their neighbours. I was personally blown away by Jeremiah 29:18 in which the prophet of doom says to the Judean remnant in Jerusalem: "[And] I will pursue them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, for an oath, for astonishment, for hissing, and for a reproach among all the nations where I have exiled them." This was to me a sign that Jeremiah was foretelling the existence of Jew hatred up until modern times. Where does personal choice and liberty come into play there?
In other aspects of Judaism however the role of the individual is emphasized. The most solemn Jewish festival is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in which every person has to do repentance for transgressions against both G-d and other Jews. The Book of Genesis contains many subplots where one person is selected over another one: Abel over Cain, Abraham over his father Terah, Isaac over his brother Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Joseph over all of his brothers. Indeed in Joseph's case the jealousy of the other brothers is seen as the reason why he was sold to Egypt. At one point even his father Jacob rebukes him saying (Genesis 37:11): "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will we come I, your mother, and your brothers to prostrate ourselves to you to the ground?" The lives of the prophets Moses and Jonah can be seen as those of two men that were compelled by hook or by crook through divine intervention into the roles that they had. In the former case a stuttering abortion survivor (Moses) flees from his adoptive family in Pharaoh's palace after murdering a slave driver and leads the Hebrews to redemption. In the latter Jonah attempts to evade the Lord's commandment to warn the people of Nineveh of impending doom by boarding a ship, which then is caught in a storm. The sailors draw lots as to who should be pitched overboard and he draws the short stick and is hurled to the sea. He is then swallowed by a fish and deposited ashore near Nineveh.
One can choose to believe or disbelieve, but Judaism has never been a religion that encourages elimination of social divisions and roles of leadership in favor of a collective mindset. There is a hereditary clan of priests and Levites as well a rabbinical court system that seeks to preserve the rights of every party. This system does not seek to force its way of life on people that come from other traditions or walks of life. There is no sin intrinsic to being an Algerian, Austrian, or Mexican. Good and evil do exist in the Judaic spiritual world, but there is no mass societal program that is applicable to eliminating evil. The philosophy of Bernie Sanders holds that an individual is a captive of the system and therefore society must be altered both on a psychological and material level in order to liberate him or her. Judaism prescribes a different formula: "Repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil decree" as is proclaimed every Yom Kippur as Jews plead for absolution by G-d and good tidings for the coming year.
Personal choice is a part of spirituality
It is therefore baffling that the Jewish Americans have fallen into this pit of collectivism. I take no issue with those that support Sanders out of opposition to foreign wars or criticism of corruption in the American political system. Indeed, it is demonstrable that through the fleecing of his campaign in 2016 that a major problem with the American political system was exposed.
But in terms of who he is and what he stands for, Bernie Sanders is a hideous scar on our community. This is the man that claimed in a famous gaffe that white people "don't know what it's like to be living in the ghetto". Bernie should talk to white rapper Eminem who literally grew up in a ghetto, or spend a week in the hills of Kentucky where it might as well be a ghetto. No one should be looked at as more miserable or poor based on what race they are - otherwise why even collect metrics? Of course Sanders later clarified that he meant that black poverty is concentrated in ghettos, but taken on its face the statement reveals that the Senator values the misery of one group over another.
Jews have parochial and community concerns just like black, Mexican, and Asian Americans. However a person that leads a nation cannot afford to do that, not even under the Judaic system of government. This means no social justice, not even by order of a king. According to Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20 the monarch may not interfere with the judiciary. In a sense the Lord of the Old Testament desired a system of separation of powers that was even more extreme than our own system. Can Bernie Sanders and other progressives, with their theories of packing the courts in order to override an obstinate judiciary, be trusted to respect the separation of powers under the American system? The answer should be clear. We do not need a leader that demonstrates the superficial cultural trappings of being Jewish, but rather one that is will preserve the liberties that attracted so many people to immigrate here in the first place. That's not Bernie.