Given the enormous crisis facing our country,” Bernie Sanders said to supporters the night of the Iowa Caucuses, “it is just too late for establishment politics.” In many ways, this is the essence of Sanders’s appeal. He doesn’t do high-dollar fundraisers. He doesn’t seek to ingratiate himself to Democratic Party power players. He doesn’t change his decades-old talking points.
Politics-as-usual is corrupt, dishonest, and incapable of addressing desperate poverty, racism, climate collapse, and other emergencies, so Sanders offers unusual politics.
Among the many ways in which Sanders has bucked convention, his persistent advocacy for the humanity and dignity of Palestinians stands out. It’s not that he is the leftist we’d like him to be on the question. But it is not customary to say, as he did at last night’s debate in Brooklyn, “In the long run, if we are ever going to bring peace… we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.”
Compared to Hillary Clinton’s March address to AIPAC, which, as Sanders noted in the debate, barely mentioned Palestinians, even his modest proclamation glimmers with humanity.
Which makes it all the more disappointing that, just hours before the debate, the Sanders campaign “suspended” its recently-hired Jewish Outreach Coordinator, Simone Zimmerman, over a year-old Facebook post wherein she described Israeli prime minister Netanyahu as “an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole.” (She later changed the expletive to “politician” and a “Fuck you, Bibi” to “Shame on you.”)
Even Netanyahu’s recent record — Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, ongoing expansion of settlements in the West Bank, continual agitation for war with Iran, and courting of the American right — reveals the generosity of Zimmerman’s assessment.
Right-wing Zionists could not abide it. “There’s no ambiguity whatsoever that Simone Zimmerman hates Israel,” declared Frontpage magazine. Abe Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League, piled on, bemoaning “her ugly characterization of the Prime Minister of Israel and the Israeli army and people defending themselves.”
Sanders has faced similar opposition. “He accused us of a blood libel,” Michael Oren, Israel’s former US ambassador, stammered after Sanders supported the people of Gaza, whose hospitals Israel has bombed, in his interview with the New York Daily News’ editorial board.
The New York Post’s comically overwrought Andrea Peyser subsequently offered her appraisal of the senator as a “not quite Jewish… a non-practicing, anti-Israel, kinda, sorta Hebrew” who is “not good for the Jews, or anyone else.” Jewish “establishment politics” mandates uncompromising fealty to the Israeli right.
Hiring Zimmerman was laudable. A former student leader of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization J Street and, like Sanders, the descendent of Holocaust survivors, Zimmerman helped found IfNotNow amid Israel’s 2014 bombing frenzy in Gaza. That organization’s strategy for fostering Jewish opposition to the occupation is mobilizing young Jews of various political stripes: those who support BDS and those who, like Zimmerman, don’t; those who favor a one- or no-state solution and those who, like Zimmerman, support two states.
You can tell that she’s on the moderate side of the Palestinian rights movement by the extent to which her critics rely on association to prove her guilt. According to an attempted hit-piece released by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Zimmerman “wrote favorably of the efforts of Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-BDS group, to get ‘international corporations to stop profiting off human rights abuses.’”
Zimmerman’s brand of liberalism-adjacent-to-radicals precisely mirrors Sanders’ coalition, situating her perfectly to reach out to the Jewish audiences the Sanders campaign stands the best chance of catalyzing: young, progressive-to-radical, and sick of the fanatical racism of politics-as-usual.
The 2015 LA Jewish Journal Survey concluded that, despite Netanyahu’s best efforts, American Jews supported the Iran deal by a wide margin — more supportive than Americans generally. Pew’s 2013 “Portrait of Jewish Americans” found that a plurality believe that continually building settlements — a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s legacy — hurts Israel’s security.
If not Bernie Sanders and Simone Zimmerman, who will represent the Jews who regard Netanyahu as an asshole? For her part, Hillary Clinton has promised to invite him to the White House in her first presidential month, vowing to kick US-Israeli relations “to the next level.”
Millions of Americans vociferously agree with Sanders, and the bloody rubble in Gaza testifies that “it is just too late for establishment politics.” If he means it, he’ll reinstate Zimmerman.
More than the right thing to do, it is politically essential: Clinton-supporters’ central argument that Sanders can’t win the general election is that he would crumble under pressure from conservatives. He must prove them wrong.
Simone Zimmerman might not share all of our politics but we should stand with her.