What Kind of a Jew Is Bernie Sanders, Anyway?

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Jewish people, like any other ethnic group in postmodern, politically correct America, have a nasty habit of judging one another when it comes to group identification. Just as Republican candidate Ben Carson has been accused of being an “Oreo,” Bernie Sanders has received his own share of criticism for not being Jewish enough on the campaign trail. Jewish supporters have risen to Bernie’s defense, pointing out that he has referenced his Jewish heritage multiple times throughout his campaign and Senate career. The problem, however, is that Bernie frames his Jewishness in terms of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust is a tricky subject for Jewish Americans. Survivors are dying out and their children are struggling to keep their legacy alive in the face of a changing Jewish American psyche that remains obsessed with Holocaust, but not always for the right reasons. For some, “Never again” is a rallying cry in defense of Jewish freedom. For others, it is a reminder of our responsibility to defend the oppressed at all costs. Bernie’s Holocaust is the latter. For him, the Holocaust is nothing more than a launching point for a discussion on inequality and oppression. And that lands him and his Jewish supporters in some very dangerous territory, indeed.

The more progressive (ahem, socialist) the Left became, the more Israel became demonized. It’s really quite simple to understand when you accept the socialist narrative of oppressor-versus-oppressed. After 1967, Israel was no longer a beleaguered little nation of oppressed Holocaust survivors. Israel became the Zionist state of Jewish conquerors. Socialist liberation mythology in Palestinian form quickly snuffed any feelings of victory among liberal Jews. The Six-Day War may have been the 20th century’s David and Goliath, but according to the socialist narrative the Goliath Jewish state won the fight. Progressive Jews have been forced to coalesce ever since.

Some, like Max Blumenthal, have done so with virulent aplomb while others have sought a third path of least resistance. Like the Trillings, anti-Stalinists of an age gone by, they remain steadfast in their socialist beliefs while being shut out and shut down by the Stalinists in their midst. Where does Bernie stand in all this? He’s had his public showdown when it comes to Israel’s right to self defense. Nevertheless he returns time and time again to the Holocaust narrative of the oppressed Jew reaching out to the oppressed Other, because aren’t we all in this together?

The problem is that we aren’t. Sanders is trying to market ’60s peace and love to a millennial world of selfie-destruction. He’d be better off embracing the Holocaust’s narrative of defiance, survival and triumph instead of the Kumbaya downbeat his generation attempted to cull from it. It is absurd to evaluate any individual’s sense of Jewish identity, just as it is ineffective to judge another voter’s American patriotism. The only thing we can do together is decide whether we fail or survive. And in an age of socialism-versus-capitalism, survival is a matter of perspective.