Sanders: Fighting anti-Semitism 'is very personal'

Sanders: Fighting anti-Semitism 'is very personal'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE (I-Vt.), one of the top-tier 2020 presidential candidates, in a new op-ed separated his critical views of some of Israel’s policies from his commitment to fight anti-Semitism, writing that the line has become increasingly blurred by President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE’s “false allegations.”

“We should be very clear that it is not antisemitic to criticize the policies of the Israeli government,” Sanders wrote in JewishCurrents.org

Sanders, who if elected would be the first Jewish president, also discussed his and his family's personal experience with anti-Semitism. 

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“The threat of antisemitism is not some abstract idea to me. It is very personal. It destroyed a large part of my family,” Sanders writes. 

Sanders adds that his father emigrated to the U.S. in 1921 at 17 to escape anti-Semitism in Poland, and that members of his family who remained in Poland were murdered by Nazis. 

“I know very well where white supremacist politics leads, and what can happen when people do not speak up against it,” Sanders writes. 

He cites a series of attacks on Jewish communities, including the deadly Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh in which 11 people were killed. 

“Yes, President Donald Trump’s own words helped inspire the worst act of antisemitic violence in American history,” Sanders wrote. 

“Like other forms of bigotry—racism, sexism, homophobia—antisemitism is used by the right to divide people from one another and prevent us from fighting together for a shared future of equality, peace, prosperity, and environmental justice. So I want to say as clearly as I possibly can: We will confront this hatred, do exactly the opposite of what Trump is doing and embrace our differences to bring people together,” he continued. 

He adds that Trump has used “false allegations of antisemitism,” mainly based on the U.S.-Israel relationship, to divide Americans. 

In August, Trump said Jews who vote for Democrats show a "total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty." The remarks came after Trump urged Israel to block two Muslim Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump House moves ahead on long-stalled resolution supporting two states for Israelis and Palestinians MORE (Mich.) and Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump Al Green calls for including Trump's 'racism' in impeachment articles MORE (Minn.), from visiting the country. 

Trump's comments were quickly condemned by Jewish groups and Democratic lawmakers.   

Although Sanders in the op-ed makes it a point to separate critical views of Israel’s policy from anti-Semitism, he acknowledges that “some criticism of Israel can cross the line into antisemitism, especially when it denies the right of self-determination to Jews, or when it plays into conspiracy theories about outsized Jewish power.”

“I will always call out antisemitism when I see it. My ancestors would expect no less of me,” he writes. 

If elected, Sanders pledges to direct the Justice Department to prioritize the fight against white nationalist violence and immediately appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. 

He also pledged to reverse a Trump decision and rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council.