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I Went to High School with Bernie Sanders’ Israel-Shaming ‘Jewish Outreach Director’

Editor's Note: As of the evening of April 14, Simone Zimmerman was suspended from the Bernie Sanders campaign, partially because of her Israel comments and viewpoints.

 

As an April Fools' Day joke, I posted on my Facebook profile that I had accepted a position as the California press director for the Bernie Sanders campaign. I added such realistic details as, "we’re having a phone bank event tomorrow" where "vegan pizza will be served." The address I listed as the campaign headquarters was actually the Laugh Factory comedy club here in Los Angeles. It was hilarious to me how many people came out of the woodwork thinking that I was seriously working for Sanders’ campaign.

So you can imagine my surprise when only a few days later one of my Facebook friends, Simone Zimmerman, posted a very similar message that was actually true. She had accepted a position with Bernie’s campaign, as his "Jewish outreach director." It made me laugh that someone I had gone to high school with (albeit not good friends) was working for a candidate who is so clearly at the opposite end of the political spectrum as I am, and that she actually was suggesting people come and volunteer at a phone bank the next day. (No, their headquarters is not at the Laugh Factory.)

But then I saw this article, as it was being shared among our small high school community: "Sanders campaign’s new Jewish outreach director is outspoken Israel critic." The article, posted in The Times of Israel, really alarmed me and highlighted how rampant the anti-Israel viewpoint is even in the Jewish community. So I figured I’d address it here.

Before I even delve into this, let me be clear that this isn’t an attack piece on Simone. She’s a product of her environment and our generation, and she isn’t a Bernie supporter or an Israel-shamer in a vacuum.

Okay, so let’s start by determining if Simone Zimmerman is indeed an Israel critic. She is a longtime leader behind a group called Jewish Voice for Peace, which has held regular protests outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The group essentially hold vigils for Palestinians killed in conflict with Israel. The Anti-Defamation League has named this organization as one of the top 10 anti-Israel hate groups in the country. She has also advocated for the boycott of Israeli products, saying that to be anti-Zionist is not anti-Semitic, even calling on the nation’s Hillel chapters (the primary Jewish youth group on college campuses) to accept groups that support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel. She wrote her own article in Ha’aretz (a left-leaning Israeli news outlet) suggesting that American Jews “do civil resistance work in solidarity with West Bank Palestinians.” So, yeah, I’d say she’s critical of Israel.

I reached out to her for comment, and she pointed me towards the Bernie Sanders press office. So I asked the campaign for comment on the senator’s own Israel beliefs, and whether he supports her more radical viewpoints, and as of yet I have not received any response. I personally think it’s a shame that the first major Jewish candidate for president is seemingly murky on whether he supports the Jewish State, and that, for instance, he was the only presidential candidate who chose not to speak at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Conference this year.

So how did a Jewish girl from Los Angeles become a radical? Let’s start from the top— I went to high school with her at a place that was then called New Community Jewish High School (now deToledo Jewish High School). I was in the second graduating class there (it was actually a new school, hence the name), and I believe she was one class younger than me. Her mother was actually one of the founding board members at the private school and later became the president of the board.

One of the first things I knew about the high school was that it was pro-Israel. They made that clear from the very first informational meeting I attended. We sang Israeli songs and the national anthem, learned about Israeli history and culture, and had lessons on how to confront the anti-Zionist mentality when we got to college. Many of us even traveled to Israel as part of exchange programs. Something else I learned early on was that the school had an entrenched liberalism.

I was constantly defending my right-wing beliefs. A teacher even pushed me up against a car and threatened to kill me, should I keep making waves with my political leanings. The school’s administration and overall philosophy can’t be blamed for this incident, but they can be blamed for the fact that the administration didn’t fire this teacher for a couple years after I reported it (and didn’t even seem to believe me at first). One of the school’s rabbis has even defended Simone’s radical positions on Facebook when some of our fellow students were questioning her support for Israel. If you go to the school’s website right now, you’ll see that an emphasis is put on tikkun olam (the Jewish ideal of repairing the world, essentially charity work), but not anymore on their support for Israel.

This is the key to the problem. For many Jews, a belief in social justice overwhelms even their support for Israel. Simone left our school, her head probably swimming with her Jewish identity and notions of injustice, and went to college at (you guessed it) Berkeley. I can only imagine the "education" she received there.

What’s a little funny to me is that I chose to go to conservative Hillsdale College for this reason. I was tired of going to Jewish private schools where I had to defend my political leanings, and wanted to go to college somewhere where I would be amongst other right-leaning people (maybe even having to give more thought to my religious philosophy).

But let’s take a look at the millennial Berkeley notion of social injustice, hopefully to better understand how Simone became so vehemently anti-Zionist and also to explain the Bernie phenomenon as a whole.

They say everything should be fair. Why should there be fat cats who are making more money than others? Why should Israel, already a rich country, get more support from the United States than its neighbors? Why is there discrimination in the world? Can’t we all just get along?

Perhaps unfortunately, the answer is because unfairness exists in nature. People can’t just cooperate and make things happen as one big happy family, because people’s instinctive competitiveness, ego, and desire for property take over. It’s why even the most ardent Bernie Sanders supporter still goes home to his private residence somewhere, while choosing what his personal tastes are (food, clothing, cars, etc.). He may choose to get his lip pierced, or get a certain tattoo, or wear a certain hemp-made t-shirt; or he might choose to eat vegan, or pescetarian, or gluten-free. He might choose to live in Brooklyn or Palo Alto or Chicago. These are choices that one gets to make because everything is unequal and unfair. If everything were fair, we’d all eat the same basic food, wear the same basic clothes, and live wherever it was deemed we’d have the lowest negative impact on the world around us. Even the idea of someone running to be the leader of a country is categorically unfair—why do we even need a president, what makes that person more qualified than me, and why should he get to make decisions for the collective body?

But our sense of unfairness can be harnessed into something inherently fair— that’s capitalism. If I play you one-on-one in basketball, it's ok if you win and I don’t; that’s still a fair competition. We should have some rules to maintain that sense of fairness, and people should indeed be punished for breaking those rules, but to say that we need to create ways of making the game fairer is absurd. Should I get a basket that’s a foot lower than yours because I’m shorter, or should I get a few more points per basket? As long as I am allowed to compete, and am allowed to work hard and learn how to be a better player, that game is actually fair.

Besides, as my father was always fond of pointing out, our economy isn’t a pie that everyone get’s a certain-sized slice of. The pie is ever expanding. As someone gets a little bigger slice, he improves the flavor and size of the overall pie. Elon Musk, for instance, may be wealthier than many people, but he has created more jobs, more growth, and made the pie sweeter, too. It’s time to stop making this election and our national debate about an us-versus-them mentality; it’s time to refocus on what makes us all richer, stronger, and more vibrant.

How does this all come back to Israel and Simone? Well the idea is that Israel is an occupier and is treating some of the local population unfairly.

Whether you believe that Israel did or did not take over the land and kick out the "Palestinians" is irrelevant for this discussion (you’re wrong if you think that, but whatever). Israel as a nation still played by the rules and won. Israel was founded, in 1948, after immense pleading with the United Nations for a Jewish homeland. The British were "occupying" that region on behest of the UN, and they gave it jointly to the local Jewish and the local Muslim communities. Almost immediately after Israel declared its independence, the neighboring Islamic nations (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon…) attacked. The newest nation in the world was already at war. And through what can only be described as a miracle, Israel won that war, and even won more land than it originally fought for. This is the long-standing game for how nations are founded (even historically how countries like Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan were founded), and those are the rules. You essentially declare yourself a country and then fight to make sure you have the land. Bernie Sanders is running for president of a country that was founded in the exact same way.

Again, this is not to say that this is the loveliest way I can think of to found a country, but it is the accepted fair game.

Israel has even taken unprecedented steps to over-correct for the tenuousness with which it was founded. Israel gave all the Muslims who stayed peacefully in the country the same rights and freedoms that other Israelis enjoyed. And over the years, Israel given up sections of land to support the peace process. The West Bank, which Simone alleges Israel is now occupying, was given to the "Palestinians" by none other than the State of Israel. On top of all of this, Israel is the only place in the entire Middle East that supports freedoms that Simone is relying on. Women’s rights, freedom of speech, and a system of justice are alive and well in Israel.

This article is getting a little long, but there’s one other main point I need to make. Simone has applauded Bernie Sanders’ "socialism," and even said "f—k you" to uber-liberal Hillary Clinton. Socialism has never worked out well for anybody, let alone Jews. The Nazi Party was the socialist party in Germany, and they were also democratically elected. I am not comparing Bernie Sanders to Hitler, just saying that the philosophy he is suggesting is the same that Hitler used to come to power.

So how do I sum all this up? A belief in the socialist view of "fairness" is wrongheaded. And to make this position foremost for you, even abandoning your long-standing other political views (like Zionism), is even more erroneous. I find it sad that a member of my community, a fellow student of my Jewish high school, has fallen so hard for the Bernie Sanders mentality. But she can rally hard for her political beliefs, as I can for mine— that’s fair.