Thursday, April 14, 2016

Sanders & Zionism

Who cares, at this point, about the Village Voice? Does it still  exist, and if it does, after one brute shrinkage and shredding of writers after another, is there anything ever worth reading in it?

For the most part, no, there isn't; it's junk. But J.J. Goldberg, roving editor of the still vibrant The Forward (,  took the occasion of a crappy polemic in the current version of Voice to make an interesting surmise about the origins of Bernie Sanders's democratic socialism. The polemic, which Goldberg dissects in all its fatuous detail, charges Sanders with insufficient feeling for Israel and for Zionism. Goldberg argues that, au contraire, Sanders's democratic socialism derives precisely from an essential tradition of Zionism itself.
As Goldberg sees it, and he hopes more will be forthcoming from Sanders himself over the course of the campaign, Sanders did not get his views on socialism from the storied tradition of labor activism among Jewish immigrants. That was already past tense, and from what we know of Sanders, the rumors of its glory days did not reach him when, growing up in Brooklyn, he was more concerned with leading the Madison High School track team than with sweatshop ordeals some decades back in the Lower East Side.

Sanders, as per Goldberg, got socialism, if I can put it like that, during his college years at the University of Chicago. There he became involved with the Young People's Socialist League (youth arm of the Socialist Party), which, in turn, had connections with Labor Zionism.  Labor Zionism was the main force behind Israel's coming into being, and had socialist allegiances and aspirations.

So, after graduation, Sanders goes to Israel to work on a kibbutz. He's justified when he says, as he has:

I think I am probably the only candidate for president who has personal ties with Israel. I spent a number of months there when I was a young man on a kibbutz, so I know a little bit about Israel.

(On a personal note, I do love him adding "probably" to the above. )

In any case, he went to Israel a kibbutznik, and, in a sense, a kibbutznik he returned and remains. Is Israel still the land of the kibbutzim? No, it's far from. But the spirit of Labor Zionism, in its early days, and of the kibbutzim, is not a bad thing to bring to politics, even if you wind up far from Brooklyn, even further from Israel, as a Senator from Vermont who's making a run for president of the United States.

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