Earlier this year, many liberals faced up to the problem of left-wing anti-Semitism. Despite the widespread sympathy generated by the Women’s March, the group that had organized the first and largest “resistance” protests against Donald Trump, the Democratic National Committee and other leading liberal groups and individuals disavowed the organization prior to planned January marches, because its leadership had become compromised by accusations of anti-Semitism. The March splintered in two, because its problem with Jews was too important to ignore even for those who shared its goal of creating one big tent of leftist and liberal Trump critics.
Nine months later, many on the left seem to have forgotten the lessons of that moment. Senator Bernie Sanders’s announced last week that Palestinian-American activist and Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour would be joining his presidential campaign as an official surrogate. Sanders is in a fierce competition with Senator Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats for the votes of the party’s left-wing base, which united behind him in opposition to Hillary Clinton four years ago. So it says something important about the tone of the nomination battle that Sanders and his team think Sarsour will help them more than her baggage will hurt them.
Sarsour became a celebrity in the months after Trump’s election as one of the organizers of the Women’s March, which mobilized the “resistance” to the new administration even before it took office. The group gave her a prominent platform, but from the very start of the massive anti-Trump rallies that launched it on the day after Trump’s inauguration, it was clearly tainted by anti-Semitism. Some Jewish activists who were initially involved with the March have spoken about how the group’s leaders marginalized them and allowed what many had initially thought to be a mainstream movement to be dominated by radicals, who professed hard-core opposition to Israel’s existence and openness to being allied with anti-Semites such as the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan.
Sarsour was at the center of the controversy over the group’s anti-Semitic elements, and for good reason. She is an open advocate for the BDS movement, which is drenched in anti-Semitic invective, and unlike some of those who flirt with BDS, she isn’t coy about her objectives. She opposes the existence of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn and refers to all of Israeli territory as “occupied.” She has made a habit of personally attacking Jews who support Israel. And she has made it clear that pro-Israel women are not welcome in the Women’s March. She has also remained an ardent defender of other March leaders, such as Tamika Mallory, who are open fans of anti-Semitic hatemongers such as Farrakhan.
Sarsour and her apologists on the Jewish left claim that she is misunderstood. They point to gestures such as her fundraising to help vandalized Jewish cemeteries, even if it is unclear how much, if any, help she has ever actually given such causes. And they will surely cite her statement supporting Sanders, which she spoke of her pride in helping elect the first Jewish president and opposition to anti-Semitism, as further proof of their case. But her record and stated beliefs can’t be so easily waved away.
The activities and statements of both Mallory and Sarsour have done much to discredit the Women’s March among liberal Americans who may disdain Trump but don’t want to be associated with anti-Semites. That’s what caused the January split in the group’s ranks. So it is significant that Sanders is willing to bring Sarsour onto his team at a time when he is battling to overtake both Warren and former vice president Joe Biden with just months to go before the first votes are cast.
Does Sanders think his Jewish origins make it acceptable for him to employ someone who not only works for Israel’s destruction but has also done much to promote anti-Semitic invective? They don’t, and his trumpeting of Sarsour as a key member of his campaign is historic in a way that should shock American Jews.
Sanders has at times been among Israel’s most strident critics in Congress, denouncing its campaign of self-defense against Hamas terrorists in 2014 and frequently calling for even more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel than Barack Obama sought to create. But he has always defended Israel’s right to exist, criticized Palestinian terrorists, and spoken of his time as a volunteer on a kibbutz in his youth, which has angered anti-Israel activists and BDS supporters such as Sarsour. By bringing her aboard his campaign, he is tossing these voters a bone.
Sarsour’s designation as a Sanders surrogate passed without a mention in either the Washington Post or the New York Times. Jewish groups such as the Reform Movement of Judaism were silent about the alliance between the man who wants to be the first Jewish president and someone whom even liberals were denouncing for anti-Semitism only a few months ago. Sanders’ embrace of an anti-Semite such as Sarsour ought to be disqualifying even for progressives who are worried about the rising tide of anti-Jewish hate. The fact that it apparently isn’t speaks volumes about the way her views have become legitimized within the Democratic party.