In the last 24 hours the hiring of Simone Zimmerman as Bernie Sanders’s Jewish outreach director has caught fire on the internet, thanks to the pro-Israel community’s outrage that she doesn’t like Israeli PM Netanyahu. Zimmerman expressed herself on Facebook during the Gaza slaughter of 2014.
“Fuck you, Bibi… you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer.”
Then over Netanyahu’s showing up the president last March by speaking at Congress to try to upend the Iran deal:
“Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole.”
This is a good debate to have. Bernie Sanders surely recognizes that many Democrats were disgusted and enraged at Netanyahu’s speech to Congress a year ago. Sanders boycotted Netanyahu’s speech and so did many members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Some of those Democrats remember that Netanyahu urged the U.S. to invade Iraq 14 years ago to remake the Middle East; and Hillary Clinton listened to him then.
And yet Hillary Clinton two days ago replighted her vow to invite Netanyahu to the White House in the first month as president. And in a snipe at Sanders, she “pointed out that Sanders chose not to go to Washington to address the AIPAC policy conference.”
So lines are forming over Netanyahu and the Israel lobby; and you’d hope that the issue comes up in tonight’s debate. You’d hope that Sanders will declare, I am no fan of Benjamin Netanyahu or of AIPAC, and Clinton and he will clash over the matter.
Here’s some of the incoming. Like me, the neoconservative echo chamber is trying to politicize Zimmerman. Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post calls Zimmerman an “anti-Israeli activist” because she called Netanyahu a mass murderer. But remember, Netanyahu killed over 500 children in Gaza 2 years ago in attacks that Bernie Sanders has said were disproportionate. Rubin quotes fellow neocon Noah Pollak:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) isn’t even trying to hide his anti-Israel bias. “The Sanders campaign’s newly hired Jewish outreach director wrote an expletive-laden Facebook post last year that condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a mass-murderer…”
More from the neoconservative that Rubin is echoing, Noah Pollak at the Free Beacon: He says that J Street, for whom Zimmerman once worked, is an anti-Israel group.
The choice of Zimmerman, a young anti-Israel activist with a history of support for the BDS movement [this is not the case], signaled that the Sanders campaign was not retreating from recent campaign behavior that many in the pro-Israel community viewed as hostile.
Sanders turned down an invitation to speak at the annual AIPAC conference, a bipartisan campaign stop for Republican and Democratic politicians. Zimmerman condemned Hillary Clinton’s speech to the AIPAC conference as “racist and orientalist.” Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer on Sunday called Sanders’s recent comments about Israel’s conduct during fighting with the Hamas terrorist group “libelous.”
Zimmerman comes to the Sanders campaign after a stint as an undergraduate at Berkeley, where she headed the campus chapter of J Street, an anti-Israel lobbying and activist group.
The Hill notes the attention Zimmerman is getting for her views of Netanyahu.
The new Jewish outreach director for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is getting attention for a Facebook post written last year that attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Democratic establishment doesn’t want this battle to break out. It’s as worried that the Israel question and other anti-establishment principles could break up the party, just as the Republican establishment is panicked by Trump. Michelle Goldberg at Slate fears Zimmerman will expose a rift between “millennials”and liberals. To make this argument, Goldberg approvingly cites Israeli promoter Ari Shavit, who has espoused Netanyahu policies and justified the Gaza slaughter.
By hiring Zimmerman, Sanders is once again connecting with a strain of millennial politics that otherwise has little representation. Just as millennials have rejected the pro-capitalist consensus of their elders—polls show them to be the only generation to prefer socialism—they also reject reflexive support of Israel. (In a Pew survey taken during the conflict in Gaza, adults between 18–29 were the only group to hold Israel more responsible for the fighting than Hamas.)
In February, after spending time on American college campuses, Israeli journalist Ari Shavit wrote about Zionism’s “millennial crisis.” “[T]he most pressing existential threat we face is the clash between Zionism and the zeitgeist of the 21st century,” wrote Shavit. “The fact is that while most young people in North America and Europe have adopted universal values, both Israel and the organized Jewish world are perceived as tribal.”
Yet if hiring Zimmerman taps into the zeitgeist, it also opens Sanders up to a fusillade of attacks….. Were Sanders actually the nominee, Zimmerman’s hiring would spark a multiday festival of manufactured outrage….
Maybe that’s a battle worth having, for the sake of our foreign policy and Palestinian human rights. Maybe it’s time to let Americans discuss these issues openly. Maybe it’s time for American Jews to divide over Zionist tribalism/Is it good for the Jews issues. After all, you’d think that attacking Netanyahu, who tried to show up our president and start yet another war in the Middle East, would be a Democratic position worth politicizing. Goldberg doesn’t want Israel politicized, even if Zimmerman is right, because the powers that be are pro-Israel.
The question, to me, is not whether it’s OK as a matter of principal to called Netanyahu an asshole—he most assuredly is. It’s whether a Democratic candidate for president can afford to be associated with that sentiment.
Brookings Fellow Norm Eisen:
Maybe she should be called the “Jewish outrage director,” or “Jewish outretch director.”
H/t Jewish Insider.