“Is your bed made? Is your sweater on? Do you want to fuck? Like you know I do[oooo]. Like you know I do[ooooo],” sang Ezra Koenig, frontman for Vampire Weekend, at a Washington Square rally for Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders in New York City last week.
The song is Cape Code Kwassa Kwassa, a delightful, catchy melody by the supremely talented band. I’ve enjoyed it for years. I’m listening to it right now. That evening, Vampire Weekend’s sunset performance pleased thousands in the crowd. Even the union guys were bobbing their heads.
“Fuck Verizon!” JP Patafio, Vice President of New York’s powerful Transit Workers Union Local 100, moments later told the crowd of almost 30 thousand gathered Wednesday night to hear the Vermont senator speak. The TWU had endorsed Sanders earlier that day.
I’ve used Verizon’s wireless service for years, so I can also relate to Patafio’s sentiment, expressed in solidarity with 40,000 striking Verizon workers. In fairness, someone in the crowd shouted it out first. Patafio repeated it, an improvised oratorical flourish. Many attendees cheered. Everybody loves the word fuck. It captures the national mood.
The unlikely duo of Ezra Koenig and Patafio got to say “fuck” to thousands of people managed to outrage no one. Nobody gave a fuck, in other words. Like currency, the value of an individual fuck has decreased markedly since the invention of the Internet and social media. The Federal Communications Commission Investigating every obscenity over the public internet would be an absurdity.
But just typing “fuck” in spring 2015 got a recent Sanders hire suspended by the campaign last week, pending investigation. That hire is Simone Zimmerman, 25, the campaign’s Jewish Outreach liaison. Zimmerman has been a vocal critic of Israel’s prime minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and the country’s occupation of Palestinian land.
“Fuck you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you legitimately represent even a fraction of the Jews in this world,” Zimmerman wrote in a March, 3, 2015 post uncovered last Tuesday by the Washington Free Beacon, a right wing gossip blog for Beltway Insiders. Oh yeah, she also called him an “asshole.”
The Beacon painstakingly took apart Zimmerman’s Facebook account — or encountered someone who had — and “obtained screenshots” of her profile stating her opinion last year. The screenshots showed, allegedly, that she’d said the curse words, then “at a later date” — possibly having a change of heart about her strong language — replaced “Fuck you” with “Shame on you” and found a close synonym for asshole: “politician.” Facebook logs every edit you make on a post, even those typo-tweaks. The story was published on Tuesday.
By Thursday she was suspended, something her conservative Jewish American critics had been calling for for almost 36 hours.
On Monday, the Free Beacon set the sights of their Internet surfing skills on another campaign’ surrogate, Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American civil rights activist Linda Sarsour, who has introduced Sanders on multiple occasions. They found that she four years ago had said the NYPD had “manufactured” charges of terrorism against Muslim American suspects. Cleverly, the WFB included “Sarsour in 2012” to let the reader know it was relatively current and currently relevant. (You can read more about whether “Algerian-born Ahmed Ferhani” was guilty or not in a 2012 Mondoweiss article.) They also highlighted a tweet in which Sarsour had called Zionism “creepy.”
The editorial staff at the Washington Free Beacon also proudly mentioned in the Sarsour piece how their story about Zimmerman got her suspended. I can understand that. Through investigative journalism, and a lot of scrolling down a web browser, the WFB changed the world. Hey, as the late David Carr put it, journalism isn’t a racket that gets you rich but “I mean, it beats working.” So far, the WFB has not found any uses of the word “fuck” by Sanders himself, but I’m sure they’ll let us know if they do. So far, Sanders is a candidate who has simply distinguished himself by deigning to say sixteen-letter-words like “disproportionate” when talking about Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza/war with Hamas.
If Sanders had been at the Highbury Pub in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn on Thursday night to watch himself debate campaign rival Hillary Clinton, he might have decided against suspending Zimmerman. There were no cheers louder or longer there in the packed bar, where support for Sanders appeared unanimous, than when the Vermont senator (in an act of political courage) stood up for Palestinians and mentioned the fact that an Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 2014 had left 1500 people dead and 10,000 wounded and countless homes crushed down to rubble.
Clinton countered by saying she “negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012” with Abbas based in Ramallah and the “then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo.”
“I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks. They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages,” she added.
Sanders, of course, was talking about the summer of 2014, which scientists believe was almost two (2) years after November 2012. Clearly, Clinton’s ceasefire didn’t last.
That said, her clout with Morsi will be very helpful, if he ever gets of Egyptian Death Row. But Clinton has personally met lots of powerful famous people and they like her very much, so you should too, kthxbye.
Here’s what unfamous Brooklynites had to say.
“As a Jew, I always feel I have to side with Israel, no matter what. But Sanders wanting to hold Israel accountable for its treatment of Palestinians was bold and ethical,” said Jordan Reisman, 25, as he watched the debate at the Highbury Pub. I gave him my notepad to write down his thoughts, while I took photos of the packed bar hooting and hollering at Sanders’ and Clinton squaring off.
Karina Koehler, 21, an artist, said Sanders is the “closest logician to [linguist, anarchist public intellectual and American Jewish critic of Israel Noam] Chomsky we have in the forefront of sociopolitical policy right now.”
Koehler appreciated Sanders pledge to look at the Israel Palestine issue in a neutral way, “seeking not to annihilate or alienate either contender in the conflict or to increase global tension around this issue (as Clinton’s policies would do).”
Another person said Sanders stance on Palestinians had swung her vote to him.
“I am a previously undecided voter who has gradually come to support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. This debate sealed the deal for me. I do not agree with Hillary’s appraisal of Israel’s actions in Gaza. I also do not think that gradual step-by-step policies she talked about in the debate will create the change our country needs,” Isabel Marcus, 20, a college student born and raised in Brooklyn.
I was honestly surprised by the amount of enthusiasm for Palestinian rights that was in that bar that night. I did not know so many people would shout and clap so long and loudly for a presidential candidate taking on Israeli aggression against Palestinians. Sanders — and the rest of Washington D.C. — should take note of that, too.
In the end, the substance of Zimmerman’s Facebook post expressed an authentic feeling, but didn’t accuse Netanyahu of anything more disdainful than what Sanders and surrogates say about ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Although Sanders keeps his language clean, it was unfair for him to fire Zimmerman over dropping an f-bomb (a year ago, before his campaign even began) into a discussion about one of the most emotionally charged subjects in recorded history. If this language mattered so much to his campaign, it should’ve looked at her Facebook before hiring her.
It’s unusual for Sanders to Internet so badly. He owes his dramatic — and probably permanent — transformation into a political powerhouse almost entirely to the goodwill he found on the online; among young people who say fuck regularly and almost never face a hefty FCC fine. Because that’s what you can do on the Internet to make your memes dank af and make sure others feel the Bern, if that’s your thing. Gawker called Sanders shunning Zimmerman, at least temporarily, an “act of political cowardice.” There’s certainly that element — Sanders appearing to cave to political pressure before a primary (it’s today) in a state where Jewish vote matters a lot — but the calculations by the Sanders campaign here are opaque and frankly seem a bit dumb. Sanders is about as likely to become buds with Netanyahu as Zimmerman is. So who is he trying to impress, appease or oppose? Sanders is likely not going to win the Jewish vote in New York. He’s more likely to benefit from an unprecedented surge of political participation (a nationwide trend) by the state’s Arab Americans — men and women like Linda Sarsour — than he is from Jewish New Yorkers. They’re just not feeling it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. These things take time. And, of course, many Jews still love Bernie.
I’m from Washington D.C., a factory town that turns lies into money and money into lies. As any kid from a factory town can tell you, don’t be stupid around heavy machinery. The Sanders campaign was careless around heavy machinery, and right now it’s got its foot caught in a conveyor belt churning towards a possible rift with the American Jewish left, their strongest allies in the American Jewish community. By reinstating Zimmerman, they can shake themselves free, but not for much longer. Firing her only drew attention to a boring story with no legs. Breaking: ‘Fuck’ said on Facebook.
See what I mean?