Part of Bernie Sanders’ charm is that for all of his arm-waving jeremiads, he appears unthreatening. Who can be afraid of a candidate so irascible, grumpy, old-fashioned and unfashionable?
After all, he’s not going to win the nomination, so what harm can he do? A major address at the party convention? A say in the vice presidential selection? And who reads party platforms anyway?
Well, platforms may not immediately affect a campaign. But they do express the party’s ideological trajectory.
Which is why two of Sanders’ appointments to the 15-member platform committee are so stunning. Professor Cornel West not only has called the Israeli prime minister a war criminal but openly supports the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions), the most important attempt in the world to ostracize and delegitimize Israel.
West is joined on the committee by longtime pro-Palestinian activist James Zogby. The New York Times reported they “vowed to upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.”
This seems a gratuitous provocation. Sanders hardly made Israel central to his campaign. But now he seeks to weaken the relationship between the Democratic Party and Israel, which has been close since Harry Truman recognized Israel when it declared independence in May 1948.
West doesn’t even pretend, as do some left-wing “peace” groups, to be opposing Israeli policy to save it from itself. He makes the simpler case that occupation is oppression and that until Israel abandons it, Israel should be treated like apartheid South Africa.
This is an unusual argument for a Democratic platform committee, largely because it is logically and morally perverse. Israel did follow such high-minded advice in 2005: It terminated its occupation and evacuated Gaza. That earned it (temporary) praise from the West. And from Palestine? Not peace, not reconciliation, not normal relations but a decade of unrelenting terrorism and war.
Israel is now being pressured to repeat that same disaster on the West Bank. And Israel is excoriated for declining that invitation to national suicide.
It is ironic that the most successful Jewish presidential candidate ever is pushing the anti-Israel case. But perhaps not surprising considering Sanders’ ideological roots. He is old left – not post-1960s New Left.
For the old left, Israel was an outpost of Western imperialism, Middle East division. To this day, the leftist consensus, most powerful in Europe (Sanders’ ideological lodestar), holds that Israeli perfidy demands purification by Western chastisement.
Chastisement there will be at the Democratic platform committee. To be sure, Sanders didn’t create the Democrats’ drift away from Israel. But Sanders is consciously abetting it.
The millennials who worship him haven’t lived through – and don’t know – the history of Israel’s half-century of peace offers. They don’t know of the multiple times Israel has offered to divide the land with an independent Palestinian state and been rebuffed.
Sanders hasn’t lifted a finger to tell them. The lovable old guy with the big crowds and no chance at the nomination is hardly taken seriously. But when he makes platform appointees that show he does take certain things quite seriously, like undermining the U.S.-Israeli relationship, you might want to reconsider your equanimity about the magical mystery tour. It looks like Woodstock, but there is steel inside the psychedelic glove.