During this past week’s Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders launched a vitriolic attack against Israel’s democratically-elected leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him a ”reactionary racist.” Days before, Sanders tweeted that AIPAC, the pro-Israel, bipartisan organization, gives a ”platform” for ”leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” As one of our nation’s few leaders who has never been to an AIPAC Policy Conference, his tirade exposes a great deal of hatred and ignorance.
Hundreds of rabbis have penned a letter to Senator Sanders rejecting his irresponsible use of language and accusations. AIPAC represents one of the last bastions of bipartisanship in this country, and its Policy Conference, beginning tomorrow night, brings in speakers from all political persuasions, both in Israel and America. Spreading this destructive falsehood against AIPAC and the large pro-Israel community could easily lead to an uptick in Anti Semitism.
Mr. Sanders often speaks of his Jewish heritage before launching into scathing criticism of Israel or AIPAC, or as he cozies up to anti-Israel congresswoman or staffers. I invite him to learn more about his Jewish heritage, concepts such as lashon ha’rah (slander), as well as tochecha (the art of rebuke). Both are cornerstones of healthy relationships and strong communities, ideas he purports to promote.
This is one message Shabbat message I wish I did not have to write. I try to never talk politics in public or from the bimah, and yet sometimes it cannot be avoided. As this synagogue’s rabbi, I feel it is my job to stand up for the Jewish People wherever possible. Mr. Sanders’s comments were untrue, and represent either a willful distortion of facts or outrageous ignorance. Neither of these is acceptable from a presidential candidate. On several occasions I have called out President Trump for his language regarding Jews and Israel, and I will continue to do so…no matter from which side of the aisle it originates.
Unlike Senator Sanders, I will be flying to Washington DC tomorrow to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference, as I proudly engage in our country’s democratic process. There, I will hear inspiring leaders, Democrat and Republican, hawks and doves, all of whom challenge me to think in new ways as I express my support from the American/Israeli alliance.
Perhaps Mr. Sanders will surprise the Jewish and Zionist community and show up. As someone who backtracks rarely on his statements, I doubt that he will. In the words of the progressive Jewish organization Zioness ”We hope to engage in dialogue with the Sanders campaign, his staff, and his supporters, in the weeks ahead about how they can run an inclusive campaign%u2013one that is more attentive to the unabashedly progressive, unapoogetically Zionist pride of the American Jewish community.”
Even if you cannot make it to the Policy Conference, you can stream the general sessions free of charge, and still participate in that way. I look forward to ”seeing” you there. I wish you all a Shabbat of peace and tranquility. May we use our words to build up and elevate, and never to cut down or destroy.
PS: Given the state of elevated health consciousness, please take precautions in synagogue and beyond. We have placed bottles of hand sanitizer at several locations around the building. Consider fist bumps instead of hand-shakes and hugs, wash hands frequently and keep them away from the face. Though this is not the time for hysteria, it is a time for heightened awareness.