Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), who intends to run for president again in 2020, has added another “pearl” to his library of remarks about Israel, characterizing its right-wing government as “racist.”
As with his previous attacks, Sanders didn’t explain his use of one of the worst insults that exist in American and Western discourse. Average onlookers (and there were tens of millions of them because what he said was immediately disseminated via social media and printed in countless newspapers) were expected to simply believe him. The problem is that there are millions who will. And worse, even those who don’t believe him will be influenced.
The term “racist,” which the Vermont senator applied to Israel by an irresponsible flap of the tongue, will take root in the public consciousness. Every time that Israel is mentioned, the word will be associated with it. That’s how propaganda works, and Sanders knows that very well.
An analysis of Sanders’s previous comments about Israel demonstrates that insulting the Jewish state is not a one-time slip-up by a demagogue senator trying to gather votes from the fringes of the Democratic Party. In Sanders’s case, this is his approach; in everything having to do with Israel, he isn’t deterred by half-truths or even outright lies that reference the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes. There are plenty of examples.
When Sanders wanted to win the Democratic nomination in 2016, he claimed that Israel had killed more than 10,000 innocent Palestinians, had launched indiscriminate attacks in the Gaza Strip and had shelled hospitals in Gaza during “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014. The senator not only inflated the numbers by several orders of magnitude, he even outdid Hamas spokespeople in creating a false narrative that the Israel Defense Forces was intentionally attacking the civilian population.
A year ago, when Hamas launched a serious of riotous protests along the Gaza border, calling them “marches of return,” Sanders again piped up with statements that were perfectly aligned with the terrorist organization’s position. In a TV interview, he called them peaceful protesters. What about the explosives devices thrown at the fence; the shots fired at Israeli soldiers; the vandalism to the fence itself; the kibbutz fields that were being set on fire by arson balloons and kites; and the violation of Israeli sovereignty? Sanders hadn’t heard about any of this, and if he had, he refused to believe it.
But he does believe that Israel is a “racist” state, despite the fact that it grants freedom and equality to all its citizens, even those who openly declare that they aspire to see an end to the Jewish state. Not surprisingly, as the American public sphere was being truly polluted by racist comments about Jews by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Sanders rushed to lend her a hand. In that case, like when he backed up Hamas’s claims, the fact that Sanders is Jewish was a great boon for those who slander it. When a Jew hurls accusations at his own people or the Jewish state, it always sounds more convincing.
That is nothing new, either—for anti-Semites, Jews who turned on their own or made up stories about them were always especially valuable.
Ariel Bolstein is the founder of the Israel advocacy organization Faces of Israel.
This column first appeared on Israel Hayom.