‘New York Times’ picks up Bernie Sanders’s ‘socialist’ kibbutz but leaves out the ethnic cleansing

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

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?

The Forward has also gotten on the story. And Steven Erlanger has picked up the Haaretz story for the New York Times, second hand (as we are), with this cute headline: “Bernie Sanders’s Kibbutz Found. Surprise: It’s Socialist.” Erlanger describes the kibbutz’s ethos:

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.

Bernie Sanders's kibbutz was built on ethnically cleansed Palestinian village
Bernie Sanders’s kibbutz was built on ethnically cleansed Palestinian village

And Ronnie has tweeted this Zionist song with a video that pictures Palestinian village ruins not far from Sanders’s kibbutz.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Looks like Bernie may have been one of those people who became disenchanted with the negative side of the whole operation. That could plausibly have been a difference with his first wife, who might have had stronger emotional attachments and a less universal outlook. But like anybody in politics today, he would have to be very cautious and strategic in bringing up any differences with the Zionist Establishment’s vast power, especially in the media. He… Read more »

We learned on one of the threads here today that Carol Sanders, one of the leaders of Jewish Voice for Peace, is a first cousin of Bernie’s. It’s been widely reported that Bernie’s brother in the UK supports BDS. And his wife is Catholic, which could help to explain Bernie’s admiration for Pope Francis. By the way, it was announced today that Pope Francis is going to meet with Metropolitan Kiril, the head of the… Read more »

Here’s one definition of ethnic cleansing: Ethnic cleansing is the systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory by a more powerful ethnic group, with the intent of making it ethnically homogeneous.[1] The forces applied may be various forms of forced migration (deportation, population transfer), intimidation, as well as mass murder and rape. if you agree with this definition, To use the phrase ethnic cleansing to describe a legal purchase of… Read more »

Didn’t you get the memo? Only Jews in Israel are allowed to be racist nativists.

My own research suggests to me that the entire pro-Soviet stance of Hashomer Hatzair in the kibbutzim was a calculated display, intended to deceive Stalin into the rather strange view that an independent Israel would join the Soviet bloc. The two deceivers who went to Moscow in 1947 to persuade Stalin of this, the first of whom paid dearly with a prison sentence after the Prague trials almost a decade later, and the second of… Read more »