Bernie's Adventures on a Stalinist Kibbutz

Now that Bernie Sanders has become a serious candidate for president, it is inevitable that the media will pay attention to every aspect of his life. In 1963, when Sanders traveled to Israel to work on a kibbutz there were scores of American Jewish students who also volunteered. So it is rather strange that Sanders has consistently refused to tell the press about his time there and the  kibbutz he worked on. When asked, he and his campaign dodged the issue.

Why would Sanders not answer such a simple question?

Now we have the answer from the Times of Israel. In 1990, Sanders, who was preparing to assume his newly elected position as a member of Congress, was interviewed by Israeli journalist Yossi Melman.  Sanders told him that he visited Israel “as a guest of the leftist Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement and stayed at its affiliated kibbutz, northeast of Haifa.”

Calling Kibbutz Shaar Haamakim simply “leftist” does not sufficiently describe the ideology of Hashomer Hatzair members. At the time, most American students who were Zionists belonged to Habonim, a mainstream group affiliated with Israel’s governing party, Labor.

Hashomer Hatzair, to the contrary, was the affiliate of Mapam, the coalition political group in Israel that united a few different left-wing groups into one political organization. By 1969, Hashomer Hatzair had entered into a unity pact with Labor. Despite this, its own members remained left-wing socialists. Today, its descendants support Israel’s far left political party, Meretz.

But in 1963 when Sanders worked on Hashomer’s kibbutz, its members considered themselves Marxist-Zionists, and they held a pro-Soviet orientation which included supporting Soviet foreign policy. Their ideological orientation on Zionism and socialism came not from the social democrats of the Socialist International, who were strongly anti-Communist and anti-fascist during the years of World War II (like Germany’s Willy Brandt), but from a rather unknown figure, a Zionist named Ber Borochov.