Sanders Is Israel's Best Friend in 2016 Election -- Precisely by Refusing to Bow to Its Current Reactionary Government

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters during a rally for local union members in San Francisco
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters during a rally for local union members in San Francisco, California on May 18, 2016. / AFP / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

I wasn't surprised when the NY Times on May 26th made a front page story out of the alleged damage Senator Bernie Sanders was doing to the Democratic Party by placing among his 5 appointees on the Democratic Party's Platform Committee a few people who might support Sanders' view that the US needs to be "more even-handed" in the Israel/Palestine struggle.

The New York Times has consistently turned its news pages into the loudest cheerleader for Hillary Clinton's bid for the nomination. If mentioned at all, they bury deep in their paper, Bernie Sanders' primary wins and the many polls that indicate he'd be more likely to win against Trump than Hillary.

So it's no surprise that when Bernie won permission to appoint 5 of the 15 members of the Platform Committee of the Democratic Party Convention, the Times made the story focus on the possibility that 2 of these appointees, James Zogby and Cornel West, would turn the convention into a debate about US policy towards Israel, and thereby weaken Hillary's capacity to fight off Trump in the general election. There was nothing in the story to confirm that these appointees had any such intention, but that didn't keep the Times from making this front page story a way to once again stir worries that Bernie pursuing the nomination vigorously (as Hillary Clinton herself had done in 2008 against Obama even after it was clear she would not win the nomination) was going to hurt Hillary's chances in the Fall election--thus creating the story should Hillary lose that it was really all the fault of that socialist Jew from Vermont!

The Times ignored the important Bernie appointments of Congressman Keith Ellison, a leader of the Congress' Progressive Caucus, a supporter of social justice for middle income people and the poor, universal healthcare and a $15 minimum wage, and an opponent of Obama's use of drones, Rebecca Parker, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State, who is likely to emphasize rights for indigenous peoples and criminal justice reform, and Bill McKibben, founder of who is likely to push for a tax on carbons and other aggressive policies to save the planet's life-support system. To turn the discussion solely to Israel, and suggest that somehow Sanders' very mild call for an even-handed policy that took into account the needs of the Palestinian people, is a threat to Israel's existence is irresponsible and ludicrous.

As if not to be undone by the Times, Jane Eisner, editor of the center/right Forward, issued a statement today that insisted that Bernie unveil a full plan for how to achieve peace in Israel and Palestine. Hillary's plan has been to give 100% unconditional support to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Eisner knows that some of her readers might have doubts about the wisdom pursuing Obama's legacy, which only recently included a ten-year military aid package (larger than any the U.S. has ever given to any country). This agreement was reached even after Netanyahu rejected every attempt by the US and Western countries to push him to stop expanding West Bank settlements and end the Occupation. Why does Eisner not call on Hillary to similarly state what her full plan is for achieving peace?

Eisner worries about a recent Pew poll which shows that the share of liberal Democrats who side more with Palestinians than with Israel has nearly doubled since 2014 -- to 40% from 21% -- and is higher than at any point dating back to 2001. Only 30% of liberals say they side more with Israelis. But she misses what most center/right apologists for Israel always ignore: that the decreasing support for Israel among liberals is not a product of some irrational hatred of Jews, but rather of the growing recognition that Israel's oppressive policies toward Palestinians (soon to enter its 49thanniversary of the Occupation) and its denial to them of the same rights for self-determination that we Jews rightly fought for ourselves in creating the State of Israel, is generating a worldwide anger at the Jewish people that is bad for Israel and bad for Jews everywhere.

We at Tikkun magazine and the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives want to see Israel achieve security while returning to the Jewish value articulated frequently in the Torah: "You shall love the Stranger/Other, and remember that you were strangers/others in the land of Egypt." In this respect, Bernie is closer to this traditional Jewish value than any of the other candidates, and his approach is far better for the Jewish people and for the future security of the State of Israel.

The Netanyahu government may be able to hold on by force and by endlessly scaring the Israeli people, aided by Netanyahu's defacto best ally, Hamas, which obligingly digs tunnels or sends bombs to Israel so as to head off any support the Israeli peace movement and the moderates of the Palestinian Authority might be gaining.

Pushing Israel to negotiate a sustainable peace arrangement that would grant Palestinians an economically and politically viable state is the only path toward a sustainable peace. Sander's rather temperate remarks indicate a willingness to push Israel and Palestine both in this direction. 23 years ago when Hillary Clinton invited me to the White House and told me that she agreed with Tikkun magazine's stance in support of the Israeli peace movement, she too seemed to be willing to push for a stronger stance by the U.S. in opposing Israel's harsh occupation of the West Bank and subjugating 2.5 million Palestinians. But as in so many other areas, when her assessment of what was in her political interests changed, so did her principles.

Tikkun and our education arm the Network of Spiritual Progressives are non-profits that do not endorse any candidate.

And if we did endorse, like most progressives we'd have many other issues to consider besides a candidate's stand on Israel/Palestine.

Our priorities include: Saving the earth's life-support system, switching U.S. foreign policy from a strategy to achieve "homeland security" through military, economic, cultural and diplomatic domination of the world to a strategy of generosity as provided in our proposed Global Marshall Plan (introduced into Congress by Keith Ellison), a guaranteed living wage (not a "minimum wage") and guaranteed income and guaranteed health care for all, abolishing any money in politics except corporate funding and requiring corporations with incomes over $50 million/yr to prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility every five years (see our ESRA--Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution here) .

We give priotiy to advocacy for a New Bottom Line that would judge corporations, government policies, our education system, our legal system and our economic system as rational, productive and efficient not only to the extent that they maximize money and power (the OLD Bottom Line) but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, environmental and ethical responsibility, and enhance our capacities to respond to others as embodiments of the sacred and respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement. This is what spiritual progressives would be seeking were they to endorse a candidate, and it is not obvious that anyone, not Bernie or even Green Party candidate Jill Stein, is ready to put forward this kind of a spiritual progressive agenda.

So saying Bernie is Israel's best friend in the 2016 election is not meant to be an endorsement. It's just meant to speak the obvious truth that Israel and the Jewish people would benefit greatly if some US political leaders were willing to push Israel to negotiate a peace that would work for both Israel and Palestine.

I've presented the outline of what that would look like in my 2012 book Embracing Israel and Palestine.

Bernie appears to be one of the very few politicians in the U.S. willing to state publicly that he wants to change the one-sided policy which pretends to be pro-Israel but actually is in fact destructive to the best interests of Israel and the Jewish people. As someone who wishes Israel to be strong and secure, I have to acknowledge this fact. And his appointment to the Platform committee of Cornel West, Jim Zogby and Congressional Representative Keith Ellison should bring Sanders praise for using his moment of fame to support his ideals, not just himself as so many other politicians might have chosen to do.

So we will not remain silent when manipulative and unscrupulous politicians, political advisors, and their allies in the New York Times, the Jewish Forward, and the Israeli Lobby, play fast and loose with Israel's future and the well-being of the Jewish people globally, in order to gain short term electoral advantage for their preferred candidates.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, Ca. and author of 11 books, including the national best seller The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right(HarperÇollins, 2006), and most recently Embracing Israel and Palestine. Tikkun magazine is winner of the "Best Magazine of the Year" in both 2014 and 2015 from the mainstream media's Religion Newswriters Association. To reach Rabbi Lerner, email him at

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