Saturday, December 21, 2019

Unwise Assumption

Ezra Klein, who is Jewish and very likely secular (as the tweet below indicates) saw starbursts when he saw Senator Bernard Sanders at the Democratic presidential debate on Thursday night:

 As the tweets- mostly favorable to Sanders, some not- responding to Klein indicate, the Vermont senator has not changed his foreign policy views and has not demonstrated any particular increase in knowledge since 2016.  "Bernie" is, for better and for worse, always Bernie.

Yamiche "not Lou" Alcindor had asked

Thank you, Senator. Let's now turn to the issue of foreign policy and the Middle East. Senator Sanders, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently declared that the United States believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law. That broke decades-long U.S. precedent. How would you respond to Israeli expansion of settlements? Would you link that to foreign aid to Israel?

In not-response, Sanders commented

Israel has -- and I say this as somebody who lived in Israel as a kid, proudly Jewish -- Israel has the right not only to exist, but to exist in peace and security.

But what -- but what U.S. foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian, as well.


And whether, in my view -- we must understand that right now in Israel we have leadership under Netanyahu, who has recently, as you know, been indicted for bribery, who, in my view, is a racist -- what we need is a level playing field in terms of the Middle East, which addresses the terrible crisis in Gaza, where 60 percent or 70 percent of the young people are unemployed.

So what my foreign policy will be about is human rights, is democracy, is bringing people together in a peaceful way, trying to negotiate agreements, not endless wars with trillions of dollars of expenses.

Having asked whether the candidate would link expansion of settlements to foreign aid to Israel- and not received an answer, the hapless Alcindor responded "thank you, Senator."

Klein may have appreciated that Sanders referred to himself as "proudly Jewish," a wise remark given that the Senator has been inaccurately accused of being anti-Semitic. Further, no one ever loses a vote among Democratic audiences by noting one's status as a minority- a "person of color" (colored person), African-American, woman, or gay. "Proudly Jewish" would be the same, though "proudly Christian" is unlikely to be heard at a Democratic debate.

There is no reason not to be proud of one's religion, whatever it may be. However, there are two remarks which Sanders made which should concern everyone who considers herself at least nominally pro-Israel.

Of relatively minor concern is Sanders' reference to Benjamin Netanyahu as "in my view" a "racist." Given the Prime Minister's attitude toward the peace process, that might be fair- but it is decidedly, demonstrably, inaccurate. The Vermont senator has not stated whether he believes it is the Arabs of the Middle East or the Jews of the Middle East who are not white, perhaps because it is unlikely that the two are of different races.

We do know that the two groups historically have something vital in common because the Encyclopaedia Brittanica explains that a Semite is a

member of a people speaking any of a group of related languages presumably derived from a common language, Semitic (see Semitic languages). The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, Hebrews, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes. Mesopotamia, the western coast of the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Horn of Africa have all been proposed as possible sites for the prehistoric origins of Semitic-speaking peoples, but no location has been definitively established.

Two conditions would have to be met for Sanders' claim to be valid: 1) Netanyahu to dislike Arabs because of who they are rather than the threat he believes they pose to his country; and 2) Arabs to be of a different race than Israeli Jews, which never has been clearly determined. It is strikingly ignorant or arrogant to assume that the Jews of Palestine and the Arabs of Palestine are of two distinctly different races.

Anthropology and science- two areas evidently not within his expertise- aside, more critical is Sanders' assurance "Israel has the right not only to exist, but to exist in peace and security."

This is hardly a major concession.  Even the head of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, never has denied the right of Israel to exist, nor to do so in peace and security. He simply denies its right to exist as a Jewishstate. That is a fundamental difference of which a U.S. Senator, particularly one who lived in Israel, would understand.

Perhaps Bernie Sanders believed it was unnecessary to specify in the debate that he fully accepts, and is committed to, Israel as a Jewish state. But being one of his prominent supporters is the following, don't bet any of your money on it:

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