Hillary Clinton’s campaign promises not to call Bernie Sanders a fake Jew (updated)

Last night, Bernie Sanders made some history by becoming the first Jew to win a presidential nominating contest held by any major political party.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign responded by calling him a fake Jew.

From Haaretz:

Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu, via Wikimedia Commons

Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu, via Wikimedia Commons

In a message tailored specifically to Jewish voters, [former congressman Paul] Hodes, who has been working closely with the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire, zoomed in on Sanders’ apparent lack of interest in Israel as a factor that should cause voters from the community to re-think their support for the Jewish American who has just climbed higher than most others in Democratic politics.

“Bernie is a secular Jew and I don’t think his religion influenced his stance on Israel,” said Hodes. “We know Hillary and we know she has an unshakeable bond with Israel, so this shouldn’t pose a great dilemma for Jewish voters.”

UPDATE 2/11: I guess the trial balloon didn’t go over so well. The Clinton campaign is now saying that they have no plans to attack Sanders on his record with Israel.

This is a particularly offensive attack from a Clinton surrogate, and would be a particularly stupid road for Clinton’s campaign to go down, as Haaretz suggested her campaign plans on doing. To be clear, “secular Jews” such as myself are used to hearing that our failure to be sufficiently supportive of the Israeli government makes us fake Jews, but we’re used to hearing it from Republicans like Steve King, not fellow Democrats. (And, for what it’s worth, some of us actually prefer “cultural Jew” or, if we’re being particularly cheeky, “Jewish atheist.”) What’s more, mountains of polling data have shown that American Jews, particularly in the Democratic Party, are if anything closer to Bernie Sanders than they are to Hillary Clinton on Israel/Palestine.

Like many if not most American Jews, Bernie Sanders is in favor of a two-state solution and supports Israel’s right to exist, but avoids describing himself as a Zionist. He is at times critical of the Israeli government, but he certainly doesn’t have nice things to say about Hamas (quite the contrary). As is the case with his broader foreign policy platform, Sanders is slightly to the left of center on Israel, but doesn’t make a big deal out of it. He’d simply rather talk about other things like social welfare and equality — things that American Jews happen to think are incredibly important. This means that, unlike Hillary Clinton, Sanders has not made promises to donors to undermine pro-Palestinian groups on college campuses. And when Israel-specific issues have arisen — say, the issue of using cluster bombs on children in order to prove one’s pro-Israel bona fides — Sanders has often come down on the right side of them. Hillary Clinton has not:

In other words, when it comes to broad strokes, there isn’t actually much separating Sanders and Clinton on Israel. Neither would change the United States government’s official position in favor of a two-state solution. Due to the increasingly deteriorating relations between Israel and its occupied territories, neither Sanders nor Clinton would be very likely to successfully broker a peace agreement. But when it comes to specifics, Clinton has gone out of her way to be part of the problem. Sanders has mostly just gotten out of the way. For an American Jewish electorate that is becoming increasingly skeptical of their leaders bromides regarding a two-state solution, it isn’t too hard to imagine them siding with the candidate who simply doesn’t want to do any harm.

All this is to say that it would be particularly offensive to hear Hillary Clinton, a devout Christian, tell me as a Jew that I’m not actually Jewish if I don’t adopt her specific Israel/Palestine politics. It would arguably be even more offensive for her to tell me as a Jew that I am supposed to base my vote on that issue and that issue alone. When you actually ask American Jews what they care about, making sure that the Palestinian people are perpetually denied a homeland is pretty far from the top of the list.

If this is the lesson her campaign learned from last night’s drubbing in New Hampshire, she’s in more trouble than I thought.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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