Bernie Sanders smashes the Israel status quo

At CNN, Jeremy Diamond writes: Bernie Sanders is taking a sledgehammer to the political status quo on Israel.

Sanders refused to back down Thursday night from his claim that Israel in 2014 used “disproportionate” force to respond to Hamas rocket fire from Gaza while calling for the United States to stop being “one-sided” in the conflict there. In doing so, he upended a long-standing tenet of American politics: that unflinching support for Israel is non-negotiable.

Sanders’ unorthodox remarks at CNN’s Democratic debate came just days before voters head to the polls in New York, where Sanders is fighting to narrow the significant, but not insurmountable, deficit he faces against former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The Empire State’s 19.79 million residents include the country’s largest Jewish population — some 1.8 million of the country’s 6.8 million Jews live there, according to the 2014 American Jewish Year Book — and one of the most active pro-Israel constituencies.

Sanders’ nationally televised stance could represent a watershed moment in Democratic politics, as the sole Jewish candidate in the race — and only one to have lived in Israel — smashed a taboo that could lead others to follow suit. [Continue reading…]

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Criticizing Israel, Bernie Sanders highlights split among Jewish Democrats

The New York Times reports: It was the sort of question — Does Israel have a right to defend itself as it sees fit? — that had often caused candidates, especially those with designs on winning a primary in New York, to produce paeans to the strength of the Israeli-American relationship and a stream of pro-Israel orthodoxy.

But Senator Bernie Sanders dug in.

“There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time,” Mr. Sanders said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, amid cheers from the crowd at Thursday’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn. He added: “All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.”

Jewish Democrats, like the rest of the party, have been struggling for years over the appropriate level of criticism when it comes to Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But that debate burst onto a big national stage this week thanks to Mr. Sanders, the most successful Jewish presidential candidate in history.

Mr. Sanders’s comments, in the de facto capital of Jewish American politics, buoyed the liberal and increasingly vocal Democrats who believe that a frank discussion within the party has been muzzled by an older, more conservative Jewish leadership that is suspicious of criticism of Israel. [Continue reading…]

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Why did Bernie Sanders suspend a staffer for speaking the truth about Israel-Palestine when he has done the same?

Ali Gharib writes: During Thursday night’s heated Democratic debate in Brooklyn, Senator Bernie Sanders came out firing on Israel. A candidate who initially sought, seemingly at all costs, to avoid foreign policy altogether finally spoke out on the most politically charged issue of global affairs in Washington — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and he took it by the horns.

That’s why it was so disappointing that, only a few hours earlier, the Sanders campaign suspended one of its young staffers, Simone Zimmerman, who served only briefly as its Jewish outreach coordinator. (Disclosure: I edited Zimmerman at a blog where I worked in 2013, and we have remained friends.) Zimmerman’s sin was to call the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “asshole,” adding “Fuck you, Bibi,” using his nickname, for good measure, in a Facebook post last winter, when she was all of 24 years old.

At the time, Netanyahu was coming to Washington to marshal support against the Iran nuclear deal, claiming to speak on the behalf of all “Jewish People” everywhere, not just Israelis. Zimmerman, who has been deeply involved for years in Jewish and liberal pro-Israel activism — often critical, though it may be — took umbrage at the notion, resulting in her expletive-laden post on social media. Within half a day, Zimmerman edited the Facebook post to remove the curses — mentioning in a comment that she did so to “reflect the seriousness with which I take this issue” — but not soon enough. Someone had screen-captured the original text, and lay in waiting for more than a year to leak it to the McCarthyite smear artists at the right-wing Washington Free Beacon (one only needs to scan the post, where liberal Zionist groups are derided as anti-Israel, to see what ideologues this lot are).

Then the pressure came. [Continue reading…]

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Sanders slams Clinton for ignoring Palestinian needs and thinking Netanyahu is ‘right all the time’

Philip Weiss writes: It’s finally happened: the issue of Palestinian human rights came up in the Democratic debate tonight on national television, and Bernie Sanders repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton–for siding with Israel singlehandedly, for her support of Benjamin Netanyahu and her indifference to the plight of Palestinians.

On the same night that he caved in to rightwing fools and suspended his Jewish outreach director over her criticisms of Benjamin Netanyahu, Senator Sanders stood up for Palestinians and against Netanyahu to cheers from the Brooklyn crowd.

Toward the end of a bruising debate, the two Democratic candidates tangled over Israel and Palestine for more than six minutes, beginning when Wolf Blitzer asked Sanders if he stood by his criticism of Israel for “disproportionate” attacks on Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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Sanders campaign’s new Jewish outreach director is outspoken Israel critic

The Times of Israel reports: Simone Zimmerman, the Bernie Sanders campaign’s newly hired national Jewish outreach coordinator, is quite familiar with the American Jewish establishment.

She is used to fighting against it.

During the 2014 Gaza war, Zimmerman was one of the leaders of a group of young Jews that held regular protest vigils outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, reading the names of Palestinians and Israelis killed in the conflict.

She opposes Israel’s occupation, wants Hillel to allow participation by groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, is against Jewish federation funding for Israeli projects in the West Bank and 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.” (The Anti-Defamation League has called JVP one of America’s top 10 anti-Israel groups.) [Continue reading…]

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Sanders: ‘You can’t just be concerned about Israel’s needs. You have to be concerned about the needs of all of the people of the region.’

Think Progress reports: Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke out on Sunday against Israel’s military response during the 2014 war with Gaza, calling the country’s actions “disproportionate.”

Sanders, who is the first Jewish candidate in U.S. history to win a major presidential primary, discussed the seven-week armed conflict between Israeli and Gazan forces during a taped interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Was Israel’s response disproportionate? I think it was,” Sanders said. The 2014 conflict, which was sparked after Hamas forces in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel, resulted in the deaths of more than 2,130 Palestinians — 70 percent of whom were civilians, according to the United Nations. Israel, which lost 65 soldiers and 3 civilians in the fighting, claims only 50 percent of Palestinians killed were civilians. [Continue reading…]

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Papal official denies report Sanders invited himself to Vatican

Reuters reports: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was invited to speak at an April 15 Vatican event by the Vatican, a senior papal official said on Friday, denying a report that Sanders had invited himself.

“I deny that. It was not that way,” Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo told Reuters in a telephone interview while he was traveling in New York. Sorondo, a close aide to Pope Francis, is chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is hosting the event.

He said it was his idea to invite Sanders.

A Bloomberg report quoted Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that Sanders had broken with protocol by failing to contact her office first.

“This is not true and she knows it. I invited him with her consensus,” said Sorondo, who is senior to Archer. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reported: Archer, an English social scientist appointed the head the pontifical academy in 2014, said that while she “quite liked” Sanders’s program on paper, his failure to contact her first is a breach of protocol. “The president of the academy organizing this event has not been contacted with monumental discourtesy,” she said, referring to herself. [Continue reading…]

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The politics of backlash

Roger Cohen writes: There is a global backlash against rising inequality, stagnant middle-class incomes, politicians for sale, social exclusion, offshoring of jobs, free trade, mass immigration, tax systems skewed for giant corporations and their bosses, and what Pope Francis has lambasted as the “unfettered pursuit of money.”

The backlash takes various forms. In the United States it has produced an angry election campaign. The success of both Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left owes a lot to the thirst for radical candidates who break the mold. Trump is unserious and incoherent; Sanders is neither of those things. But they both draw support from constituencies that feel stuck, reject politics as usual, and perceive a system rigged against them.

Hillary Clinton’s chief predicament, apart from the trust issue, is that she represents the past in a world where the post-cold-war optimism that accompanied her husband’s arrival in the White House almost a quarter-century ago has vanished. To embody continuity these days is political suicide.

In an interesting essay in the journal STIR, Jonna Ivin writes: “People want to be heard. They want to believe their voices matter. A January 2016 survey by the Rand Corporation reported that Republican primary voters are 86.5 percent more likely to favor Donald Trump if they ‘somewhat agree or ‘strongly agree’ with the statement, ‘People like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”’ [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump can’t break the GOP

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Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson write: Everywhere you look, in the year of Donald J. Trump, observers are talking about a national party realignment or a Republican death spiral. Our two-party system has not undergone a major realignment since the South became solidly Republican. There has not been a major-party demise since the Whigs collapsed on the eve of the Civil War.

Mr. Trump (or Ted Cruz) could very well lead the party to a decisive and divisive defeat. If it was catastrophic enough, it could lead to changes in party strategy. Yet predictions of a Republican crackup should be greeted with skepticism. While rumors of the death of the Republican Party have been common in recent presidential elections, they have proved again and again to be vastly exaggerated.

The gap between expectations and political realities reflects two mistakes: The first is to overestimate the centrality of presidential contests to our system of checks and balances.

The second is to misunderstand the recent Republican electoral successes — which rest less on effective governance than on attacking government, and especially the occupant of the Oval Office. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s nomination would be ‘a historic election defeat just waiting to happen’

The New York Times reports: Mr. Trump has become unacceptable, perhaps irreversibly so, to broad swaths of Americans, including large majorities of women, nonwhites, Hispanics, voters under 30 and those with college degrees — the voters who powered President Obama’s two victories and represent the country’s demographic future. All view him unfavorably by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

In some states, Mr. Trump has surprised establishment-aligned Republicans with his breadth of support beyond the less-educated men who form his base. Even so, his support in the nominating process, in which some 30 million people may ultimately vote, would be swamped in a general election, when turnout is likely to be four times that.

“We’re talking about somebody who has the passionate devotion of a minority and alternately scares, appalls, angers — or all of the above — a majority of the country,” said Henry Olsen, a conservative analyst. “This isn’t anything but a historic election defeat just waiting to happen.” [Continue reading…]

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Thomas Frank: The inequality sweepstakes

Reading Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, I was reminded of the snapshot that Oxfam offered us early this year: 62 billionaires now have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population, while the richest 1% own more than the other 99% combined. And in case you’re wondering in which direction inequality is trending on Planet Earth, note that in 2010, it took 388 of the super-rich to equal the holdings of that bottom 50%. At this rate in the inequality sweepstakes, by 2030, just the top 10 billionaires might do the trick. Let me just add that, as Frank makes clear in his brilliant new work, Donald Trump doesn’t have to win the presidency for billionaires to stand triumphant on the American part of our planet. Hillary Clinton will do just fine, thank you.

Listen, Liberal is, in a sense, a history of how, from the Clintonesque 1990s on, the Democratic Party managed to ditch the working class (hello, Donald Trump!) and its New Deal tradition, throw its support behind a rising “professional” and technocratic class, and go gaga over Wall Street and those billionaires to come. In the process, its leaders fell in love with Goldman Sachs and every miserable trade pact that hit town, led the way in deregulating the financial system, and helped launch what Frank terms “the greatest wave of insider looting ever seen”; the party, that is, went Silicon Valley and left Flint, Michigan, to the Republicans.  Only a few years after Bill Clinton vacated the Oval Office the financial system he and his team had played such a role in deregulating had to be rescued, lock, stock, and barrel from ultimate collapse. Quite a record all in all. Put another way, as Frank makes clear, in these years the Democrats (with obvious exceptions) became a more or less traditional Republican party. And if the Democrats are now the party of inequality, then what in the world are the Republicans? Don’t even get me started on the cliff that crew walked off of.

In the following post, adapted from his new book, Frank does a typically brainy thing. Since we’ve all heard for years about how the Democrats have been stopped from truly pursuing their political program by Republican experts in political paralysis, he turns to a rare set of places where, in fact, the Republicans were incapable of getting in the way and… well, let him tell the story. Tom Engelhardt

The blue state model
How the Democrats created a “liberalism of the rich”
By Thomas Frank

[This piece has been adapted from Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Metropolitan Books).]

When you press Democrats on their uninspiring deeds — their lousy free trade deals, for example, or their flaccid response to Wall Street misbehavior — when you press them on any of these things, they automatically reply that this is the best anyone could have done. After all, they had to deal with those awful Republicans, and those awful Republicans wouldn’t let the really good stuff get through. They filibustered in the Senate. They gerrymandered the congressional districts. And besides, change takes a long time. Surely you don’t think the tepid-to-lukewarm things Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done in Washington really represent the fiery Democratic soul.

So let’s go to a place that does. Let’s choose a locale where Democratic rule is virtually unopposed, a place where Republican obstruction and sabotage can’t taint the experiment.

[Read more…]

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Why young people are right about Hillary Clinton

Matt Taibbi writes: I was disappointed to hear that Rolling Stone had endorsed Hillary Clinton, but I also understood. In many ways, the endorsement by my boss and editor, Jann Wenner, read like the result of painful soul-searching, after this very magazine had a profound influence on a similar race, back in 1972.

Jann explains this eloquently in “Hillary Clinton for President“:

Rolling Stone has championed the ‘youth vote’ since 1972, when 18-year-olds were first given the right to vote. The Vietnam War was a fact of daily life then, and Sen. George McGovern, the liberal anti-war activist from South Dakota, became the first vessel of young Americans, and Hunter S. Thompson wrote our first presidential-campaign coverage. We worked furiously for McGovern. We failed; Nixon was re-elected in a landslide.”

The failure of George McGovern had a major impact on a generation of Democrats, who believed they’d faced a painful reality about the limits of idealism in American politics. Jann sums it up: “Those of us there learned a very clear lesson: America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings.”

But it would be a shame if we disqualified every honest politician, or forever disavowed the judgment of young people, just because George McGovern lost an election four decades ago.

That ’72 loss hovered like a raincloud over the Democrats until Bill Clinton came along. He took the White House using a formula engineered by a think tank, the Democratic Leadership Council, that was created in response to losses by McGovern and Walter Mondale.

The new strategy was a party that was socially liberal but fiscally conservative. It counterattacked Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, a racially themed appeal to disaffected whites Nixon tabbed the “Silent Majority,” by subtly taking positions against the Democrats’ own left flank.

In 1992 and in 1996, Clinton recaptured some of Nixon’s territory through a mix of populist positions (like a middle-class tax cut) and the “triangulating” technique of pushing back against the Democrats’ own liberal legacy on issues like welfare, crime and trade.

And that was the point. No more McGoverns. The chief moral argument of the Clinton revolution was not about striving for an end to the war or poverty or racism or inequality, but keeping the far worse Republicans out of power.

The new Democratic version of idealism came in a package called “transactional politics.” It was about getting the best deal possible given the political realities, which we were led to believe were hopelessly stacked against the hopes and dreams of the young.

In fact, it was during Bill Clinton’s presidency that D.C. pundits first began complaining about a thing they called “purity.” This was code for any politician who stood too much on principle. The American Prospect in 1995 derisively described it as an “unwillingness to share the burden of morally ambiguous compromise.” Sometimes you had to budge a little for the sake of progress.

Jann describes this in the context of saluting the value of “incremental politics” and solutions that “stand a chance of working.” The implication is that even when young people believe in the right things, they often don’t realize what it takes to get things done.

But I think they do understand. Young people have repudiated the campaign of Hillary Clinton in overwhelming and historic fashion, with Bernie Sanders winning under-30 voters by consistently absurd margins, as high as 80 to 85 percent in many states. He has done less well with young African-American voters, but even there he’s seen some gains as time has gone on. And the energy coming from the pre-middle-aged has little to do with an inability to appreciate political reality.

Instead, the millions of young voters that are rejecting Hillary’s campaign this year are making a carefully reasoned, even reluctant calculation about the limits of the insider politics both she and her husband have represented.

For young voters, the foundational issues of our age have been the Iraq invasion, the financial crisis, free trade, mass incarceration, domestic surveillance, police brutality, debt and income inequality, among others.

And to one degree or another, the modern Democratic Party, often including Hillary Clinton personally, has been on the wrong side of virtually all of these issues. [Continue reading…]

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Progressive only on Palestine?

Yesterday, I saw someone on Facebook express his disgust for Hillary Clinton’s speech at AIPAC by concluding that the most dangerous presidential candidates are first Clinton, second Cruz, and third Trump.

Underneath this outrage there clearly lurked a tenuous hope that Clinton’s message might have been different — that along with the predictable pandering there might have been a modicum of truth telling.

Still, it makes more sense to be disappointed that any politician chooses to speak at an AIPAC conference rather than disappointed by what they end up saying after having crossed that threshold. Everyone knows in advance that these are servile and self-serving exercises.

If we need to score such performances in some way, the criteria on which they should be assessed are their measures of cynicism, shamelessness, gall, hyperbole, and obsequiousness. By those measures, everyone tends to compete very closely.

For that reason, it’s debatable how much value there is in analyzing the specific content of any AIPAC speech when there is arguably no other venue in which such little weight can be attached to what anyone says.

Nevertheless, there is a risk that a small constituency of American voters, on the basis of her AIPAC speech (and her political history), are now leaning in the direction of believing that it would be worse to see Hillary Clinton enter the White House than it would be for Donald Trump to be elected.

Phil Weiss writes:

If there was any doubt that Hillary Clinton is running to the right of Donald Trump on Israel, she removed it this morning with a fist-pumping hard-right speech to the Israel lobby group AIPAC that mentioned Israeli settlements just once, in passing, and continually derided the idea of American “neutrality” in the conflict, which Trump has embraced.

Often projecting an adamant posture in the speech, Clinton said she was willing to use force against Iran if it violates the Iran deal, praised Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and promised to invite the PM to the White House in one of her first acts in office. She concluded the speech by thrusting her fist in the air as she vowed to take the relationship to the “next level” so that Israel and the U.S. could face the future together.

When Trump addressed the AIPAC conference yesterday afternoon, he offered a clue of how the “neutrality” of a Trump administration would work:

When I’m president, believe me, I will veto any attempt by the U.N. to impose its will on the Jewish state. It will be vetoed 100 percent.

He also said:

The United States can be useful as a facilitator of negotiations, but no one should be telling Israel that it must be and really that it must abide by some agreement made by others thousands of miles away that don’t even really know what’s happening to Israel, to anything in the area. It’s so preposterous, we’re not going to let that happen.

And in the most loyal expression of fealty to the Zionist lobby, Trump promised:

We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.

Let’s assume that Trump is no less cynical than any other politician in serving up the sentiments that AIPAC wants to hear. Would it be worth voting for him on the basis of some tentative hope that he might turn out to be a great Middle East deal maker? Or, simply because you imagine that in relation to Israel, Clinton could be worse.

Hell no!

The fact that for some people, Palestine is the only issue, doesn’t actually make it the only issue. It just means they have chosen to reduce politics to the singular focus of their own passion.

Ironically, for some Palestine watchers, as humanitarian as their sensibilities might be, in recent years their focus has become so tightly constrained, they have largely averted their gaze from the worst humanitarian crisis of the twenty-first century — even as it unfolds right next door in Syria.

To be open-minded about a Trump presidency solely on the basis that on a few occasions he has broken ranks with the pro-Israel political establishment, is to overlook the fact that whatever his actions on this issue might turn out to be, he would certainly be more active in many other arenas — active in ways that pose all kinds of adverse consequences.

Even if one adopts a thoroughly agnostic position and decides that it’s impossible to predict what a President Trump might do, the question is: Do you want to take the risk of finding out?

This much we already know: Trump is a demagogue. He is vain, ignorant, extraordinarily arrogant, and deceitful. He promotes xenophobia and mob violence. He is a misogynist and a bully.

However dark your view of the U.S. presidency might be, Donald Trump isn’t fit for office.

As sickened as many Americans feel about the corrupt nature of this country’s political culture, sending Trump to Washington makes no more sense than employing an arsonist to put out a fire.

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Bernie Sanders outlines his Middle East policy

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What Americans don’t get about Nordic countries

Anu Partanen writes: Bernie Sanders is hanging on, still pushing his vision of a Nordic-like socialist utopia for America, and his supporters love him for it. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is chalking up victories by sounding more sensible. “We are not Denmark,” she said in the first Democratic debate, pointing instead to America’s strengths as a land of freedom for entrepreneurs and businesses. Commentators repeat endlessly the mantra that Sanders’s Nordic-style policies might sound nice, but they’d never work in the U.S. The upshot is that Sanders, and his supporters, are being treated a bit like children — good-hearted, but hopelessly naive. That’s probably how Nordic people seem to many Americans, too.

A Nordic person myself, I left my native Finland seven years ago and moved to the U.S. Although I’m now a U.S. citizen, I hear these kinds of comments from Americans all the time — at cocktail parties and at panel discussions, in town hall meetings and on the opinion pages. Nordic countries are the way they are, I’m told, because they are small, homogeneous “nanny states” where everyone looks alike, thinks alike, and belongs to a big extended family. This, in turn, makes Nordic citizens willing to sacrifice their own interests to help their neighbors. Americans don’t feel a similar kinship with other Americans, I’m told, and thus will never sacrifice their own interests for the common good. What this is mostly taken to mean is that Americans will never, ever agree to pay higher taxes to provide universal social services, as the Nordics do. Thus Bernie Sanders, and anyone else in the U.S. who brings up Nordic countries as an example for America, is living in la-la land.

But this vision of homogenous, altruistic Nordic lands is mostly a fantasy. The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship. Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest. Nordic nations offer their citizens — all of their citizens, but especially the middle class—high-quality services that save people a lot of money, time, and trouble. This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me. [Continue reading…]

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