14 April '16..
Update: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders suspended his new Jewish outreach coordinator Simone Zimmerman, his campaign said Thursday night, after reports surfaced of her harsh and foul-mouthed criticism of Israeli policies and of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “She has been suspended while we investigate the matter,” spokesman Michael Briggs told the New York Times.
We already know that Bernie Sanders has already positioned himself as the presidential candidate that is the most hostile to Israel’s government in either party. He not only stated a wildly inflated number of “innocent” Palestinians that he claimed Israel had killed in the 2014 Gaza war that was several times the figure put out by Hamas terrorists. Though he backtracked on that claim, it’s more important to note that he doubled down on the inflammatory and false charge that Israel’s campaign of self-defense against Hamas terrorists in Gaza was “disproportionate.” In neither his full length Middle East policy speech (that he chose not to give at the AIPAC conference) nor his subsequent statements has he demonstrated any interest in noting that it’s the Palestinians that continue to turn down Israeli peace offers rather than the Israelis saying no to an end to the conflict.
Given these facts, it can hardly be considered a surprise that the person his campaign hired to be in charge of outreach to Jewish voters is a vicious opponent of the Netanyahu government. Simone Zimmerman has achieved a degree of notoriety for having put out statements in which she profanely denounced Prime Minister Netanyahu in which she accused him, the state of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces of “murder” and “war mongering” because he opposed the Iran nuclear deal.
Zimmerman’s comments weren’t merely wrong-headed. They were disgusting and an outrageous attempt to delegitimize not merely Netanyahu but also consensus positions held by Israeli parties across the political spectrum.
In response to criticisms of Zimmerman, Sanders’ campaign has no apologies. To the contrary, a Twitter account that goes under the name of “Jews for Bernie” claimed that all those who opposed her hiring had “far right connections.”
Let’s concede that Zimmerman isn’t important in and of herself. She’s a minor functionary in a campaign that has zero chance of success. Which is to say that no one should expect her to be serving as a White House liaison to the Jewish community next year. But there’s more to this story than just one nasty piece of work that is flogging one of the Democratic candidates.
One of the primary talking points of left-wing critics of Israel is the charge that democracy is under assault from Netanyahu and his supporters. There is very little substance to this accusation. What there is of it generally revolves around claims that efforts to create more transparency and accountable for leftist non-governmental organizations is a grave offense to the spirit of democracy. But the main point to be gleaned from such controversies is that the groups involved are unpopular because they get most of their funding from hostile foreign governments and seem to have as their purpose to either harass or spy on Israeli forces defending the country against terrorists.
But there’s a more important conclusion to be drawn from the willingness of so many on the left — even someone who works for a candidate who claims to be very “pro-Israel” as Sanders does — is that their main complaint isn’t so much with Netanyahu as it is with the people of Israel.
Let’s remember that Netanyahu has been elected three times consecutively by the votes of the Israeli people. Moreover, though he is not personally popular, his policies on the conflict with the Palestinian aren’t so much right wing as they are representative of a broad consensus within the country.
Let’s remember, even if Sanders and Zimmerman don’t, that all major parties including the left-wing opposition opposed the Iran nuclear deal as a dangerous empowerment of a genocidal Islamist regime in Tehran.
As for peace with the Palestinians, even the head of the opposition Zionist Union/Labor party agrees with Netanyahu that a two-state solution is not possible. Virtually no one outside of marginal far-left parties there are in favor of the sort of measures that “anti-occupation” activists like Zimmerman favor. The Israeli people have already seen what happened when their government evacuated every soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and have no interest in replicating that experiment in the West Bank. Gaza is, for all intents and purposes, an independent Palestinian state in all but name. Its Hamas rulers operate it as a terror base. The odds are the same thing would happen if the “occupation” were to be ended in the West Bank. That’s why the overwhelming majority of Israelis regard any such proposal as not merely wrong but insane.
So the point to be gleaned from Zimmerman’s foul invective about the man who has been elected his country’s leader four times by a democratic vote is that the real argument she and Sanders have is not with Netanyahu or the “far right” but with the people of Israel and with Israeli democracy. People like Zimmerman don’t just want to save Israel from itself, as leftist critics are fond of asserting. The only way they can do so is by invalidating the verdict of Israeli democracy and by disenfranchising an electorate that knows a lot more about their country’s security dilemmas than foreign critics.
That’s why the pose of friendship for Israel by people such as Sanders and Zimmerman rings false. They don’t merely disagree with Netanyahu’s policies; they have no respect for the Israeli people or concern with their genuine and realistic fears of terrorism. Nor do they have any interest in combating the tide of anti-Semitic hate that emanates from both the Palestinians and the BDS movement that serves as a front for a new anti-Semitic movement.
The question that Zimmerman’s notoriety poses is one that must be answered not only by Sanders but also by all those who have flocked to his cause. Are they prepared to respect the people of Israel in their just struggle for survival? Or are they prepared to stand silent as a mob preaching hate that is forming around left-wingers like Zimmerman advance their campaign to delegitimize Israel and its democratically elected government? If Sanders’ youthful supporters are the future of the Democratic Party then that is something Jewish Democrats and all Americans who care about Israel must worry about.
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