It’s Bernie Sanders’s moment, which means that journalists are poring over his early years, including his travel overseas. Yossi Melman, a journalist, revealed yesterday the name of the kibbutz that Sanders famously worked on in the 1960s:
The kibbutz is not far from Haifa in Northern Israel. Here’s its Hebrew website. It was run by the socialist movement, Hashomer Hatzair. Haaretz followed up with a story describing the kibbutz period as a “mystery” because the Sanders campaign has refused to tell reporters where he stayed.
However, on Thursday an article was found in the Haaretz archive from 1990, written by former intelligence correspondent and analyst Yossi Melman. Sanders… told Melman that in 1963 he spent a number of months in Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim, in northern Israel, as a guest of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement.
In the interview, published under the title “The First Socialist” during his first campaign to the senate, Sanders said he grew up “in a Jewish environment in Brooklyn, New York, in which the Holocaust and Israel were always important.” The article says that after spending time on the kibbutz, he seems to have lost his connection to Israel, Zionism and Judaism, but fails to offer any further details, instead asking the then-hopeful senator why he chose to settle in Vermont.
Sanders’ campaign refused to confirm the name of the kibbutz the senator had volunteered on. Now all that is left is to discover what happened during his time in the Galilee, after which he divorced his first wife.
Did the Sanders’ stay on the kibbutz have anything to do with the divorce?
Mr. [Albert] Ely [told the Forward] that on Sha’ar Ha’amakim, “you care about your brother or your neighbor or whoever it is.” The kibbutz was founded in Romania in 1929 and established in pre-state Israel in 1935. It saw the Soviet Union as a model, and often flew the red flag at outdoor events. Volunteers like Mr. Sanders would have internalized a political imperative to improve the lot of other, Mr. Ely said.
“I know that we left an imprint on those people,” Mr. Ely said. “The imprint was believe in people, and be responsible for them. Not only for yourself.”
With all that imprinting you’d think that American journals would be pointing out the imprint that this kibbutz made on the Palestinians who had lived in the Jezreel valley. Leave that to former socialist Zionist Peter Feld, who documents the ethnic cleansing on twitter:
Feld points to this document dealing with the lands that became the kibbutz. At that time, the 1930s, socialist Jews were establishing tower-and-stockade kibbutzim across northern Israel to secure the Zionist future. No Palestinians were admitted into these communities, of course. More information from Feld:
People are bringing up this 50 year old episode from Bernie Sanders’s past for a good reason, because the youthful travels of presidential candidates are seen to reveal something core in them. Like Bill Clinton going to Moscow. But “Surprise. It’s Socialist” could read “Surprise. It was built on Palestinian lands.” The Palestinian dispossession and refugee issue are hugely important issues in the politics of the conflict to this day.
This is not the first time Erlanger has left out this part of the story. About ten years ago on reading a book by Ghada Karmi, he realized that the West Jerusalem house atop which the New York Times apartment was built had been owned by Karmi’s family and then stolen from them by Zionist settlers. Erlanger reached out to Karmi to visit the house. Karmi has written extensively about this incident because she felt Erlanger seemed to excuse the dispossession under a that’s-the-way-the-cookie-crumbles philosophy and shed any responsibility for the matter. Erlanger says he reached out to Karmi as a human gesture to a writer he admired.
Erlanger didn’t write about this incident, Karmi did. And that goes to the point: what is the responsibility of an American narrator in this situation?
Why isn’t the problematic history of Zionism part of the Bernie Sanders’s story? Why isn’t the American Jewish community’s commitment to supporting Israel part of the Sanders story? How long before the Times, and Sanders, even deals with this angle?
Update: Ronnie Barkan has tweeted this image of the former Palestinian village.
And Ronnie has tweeted this Zionist song with a video that pictures Palestinian village ruins not far from Sanders’s kibbutz.