No, Bernie Sanders Does Not "Hate Israel"--a blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

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The Jerusalem Post online edition (June 2, 2016) includes an article headlined: “Why Bernie Sanders Hates Israel.” It begins: “Throughout history, the Jewish people have seen fellow Jews turn against their own people.”

I am not endorsing Bernie Sanders. I am highly displeased with his choice of people to serve on the Democratic Party platform. I think he has made very problematic statements in regard to Israel.

But I am deeply offended when Bernie Sanders is characterized as hating Israel. He has said many times that he is absolutely committed to the security of Israel. He has stated that he has lived in Israel and has relatives and friends in Israel. He does not want the State or people of Israel to be placed in danger.

We may strongly disagree with his views on Israel, but it is unfair to identify Bernie Sanders as a “fellow Jew who turns against his own people.” Bernie Sanders does not claim to be a religiously observant Jew. His wife is not Jewish. He has not made Jewishness an issue in his campaign. Indeed, when asked about his Jewishness, he has stated unapologetically that he is proud of his Jewish background. He has not “turned against his own people.”

What he has done is take stands that are in line with the far left of Israeli society and the far left of American society. Many of us do not like those stands, and find them leading to dangerous policies. But he takes these stands not in order to destroy the Jewish State, but in order to move the Jewish State toward policies he thinks are in Israel’s own best interests.

There are plenty of Israelis—many of whom devote themselves to their country, and serve in Israel’s defense force—who feel that the current “right wing” policies of the Israeli government are wrong. They sincerely believe that hawkish policies endanger Israel’s security. They strongly feel that Israel’s positions vis a vis Palestinians are not in Israel’s own best interest. None of these people—even if we sharply disagree with them—can be accused of being anti-Israel or as turning against their own people.

Just as the extreme left takes positions that many Israelis and many Jews find distasteful, so the extreme right also takes positions which many Israelis and many Jews find distasteful. Yet, we don’t generally read articles accusing such individuals as being haters of Israel or self-hating Jews.

I write this blog not to make a political statement this way or that, but to object to the extremist, alarmist rhetoric that too often accompanies discussions about Israel. We each feel very strongly about Israel, and we each think we know what is best for Israel’s future. We too often seem to believe that those who disagree with us must be “anti-Israel,” or self-hating Jews.

Instead of applying negative epithets to others, it would be proper to make our arguments calmly and intelligently—and to listen to the views of those who think differently…even if we are sure they are wrong. If we will be honest with ourselves, we will realize that very good, perceptive and devoted pro-Israel people have different views on what is in the best interest of the Jewish State. We don’t gain anything by denigrating or calling names; rather, we demonstrate our inability to seriously consider views other than our own.

Many people who love and support Israel also feel sympathy for the Palestinian people who are pawns in the political battles between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Many people who love and support Israel also feel that Israel’s “settlement” policies are a problem. Many people who love and support Israel would prefer to see an Israeli government that projects itself with sweetness and light. These people—whether we do or do not agree with them—should not be branded as anti-Israel or as self-hating Jews.

I sometimes wonder if partisans of Israel tend to view people as either being pro-Israel or anti-Israel, without carefully considering how wide a spectrum can be included in either of these categories. We also sometimes forget that of the 7 billion people in the world, a great many are not vitally concerned about Israel. They are not “pro” or “anti”—they are concerned about their own problems, and Israel is not high on their agendas. By branding people as anti-Israel, when in fact they are not anti-Israel, we artificially create a new set of enemies or push “neutral” people into the enemy camp.

Unfortunately, there really are Jews who hate Israel and who hate their own Jewishness. But I do not believe that Bernie Sanders is one of them.