Bernie Sanders is, once again, rushing in where angels fear to tread. Or, at least, where American political candidates fear to tread. He is openly saying that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is oppressive. That this is dangerous, to say the least, is obvious. American political figures have traditionally voiced unquestioning support of Israel, regardless of its actions.
Zaid Jilani, writing in The Intercept, notes that “Sanders, speaking at the national conference of the Middle East advocacy group J Street in Washington, D.C., called on the U.S. to adopt a more balanced policy toward Israel-Palestine. He condemned recent Israeli attacks on nonviolent protesters, called for an alleviation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and even threw in some harsh words for Arab autocrats who express concern for Palestinians but don’t put their money where their mouth is.”
Of course, Sanders is somewhat protected from cries of anti-Semitism because he is, himself, (obviously) Jewish. But, still, his stance took real courage. Historically, criticizing Israel has not been a safe thing to do for an American presidential candidate. (Consider, for example, the case of Sheldon Adelson, who contributed millions of dollars toward the defeat of President Obama on the mere suspicion that he might not be sufficiently pro-Israel.)
But, perhaps, this will change in future. In recent years, there has been a growing tension between North American Jewry and Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (See, for example, Birthright Co-founder Says ‘Angry’ With Israel: Netanyahu Widening Already Dire Rift With Diaspora, by Shachar Peled in Haaretz.) Bluntly, Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalism, plus the perceived high-handedness of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, has led many North American Jews to question their relationship with Jerusalem.
If that process continues, and if Netanyahu (or his successors) and the Chief Rabbinate don’t mend their ways, Israel may have a very serious problem on its hands.