Tag Archives: benjamin netanyahu

Simone Zimmerman – how the Sanders campaign clarified their message

Trigger warning: Israel/Palestine conflict, antisemitism, islamophobia, racism

The Sanders campaign caught a significant amount of flack this weekend for his trip to Rome to meet with Pope Francis. Just in terms of the optics – the deference it suggested to an institution wracked recently and historically by criticism, particularly over its role in socio-economic inequalities – the meeting clashed with Sanders’ primary political message of the need for a popular voice in more spheres of life. Or did it?

A second scandal of sorts for his campaign broke earlier last week, and called into question whether Sanders’ campaign is about social and economic justice anymore. In short, what transpired was that his campaign hired a young Jewish activist, Simone Zimmerman, only to “suspend” her mere hours later over comments unearthed from her personal Facebook dating back to the spring of 2015. Angered over Israeli military policies, she typed this out, addressing then and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole. He is the embodiment of the ugliest national hubris and the tone-deafness toward the international community. Fuck you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you legitimately represent even a fraction of the Jews in this world, for your consistent fear-mongering, for pushing Israel, in word and deed, farther and farther away from the international community, and most importantly, for trying to derail the potentially historic diplomatic deal with Iran and thus trying to distract the world from the fact that you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer, that a brutal military occupation of millions more continues under your watch, and that you are spending time and money on ridiculous campaign opportunities like this instead of actually working to address the real needs of your own people.

Netanyahu insulted our President but also much worse. He does not speak for me as a Jew, an American, and as a thinking person. #BibiDoesntSpeakForMe

She later modified it to cut out the swearing, saying instead “Shame on you”. The Sanders campaign is not just any campaign, and the decision to suspend Zimmerman over this discovered comment uniquely calls into question their political vision and policy prescriptions. In this race, his rhetoric has often been accused of being one note, with his emphasis on not only economic inequality but the need to reform the political process to limit campaign contributions. That is an important political question, and Sanders himself has spoken about the haunting questions is raises about whether we still live under a truly democratic system.

It’s also a loftily abstract issue in politics, that the average person contends with directly only once in a few years. A more every day issue of freedom of speech, tied into the reality of insurgent campaigns like Sanders, is whether people with less can be coerced into particular statements or political silence. In the age of the internet this has leaped from an issue about bosses demanding their employees take off the bumper sticker on their car, to now the ability of employers to fire or punish their employees over literally anything traceable to them online – like a Facebook post, even before it was edited. Sanders just made a statement about where he stands on the more colloquial experience average people have with the intersection of economic and political power.

Setting aside the issue of freedom speech, this speaks to the thorny place Sanders finds himself in terms of outreach towards Jewish communities. Reminiscent of the liberal if not socialist Zionism of a bygone era of Jewish politics, he has limited appeal to more modern Zionist circles. Given his policies on Israel, however, anti-Zionist Jewish activists, like Zimmerman, have historically found themselves in even greater dissonance with him. His choice to hire Zimmerman, in fact, was seen as a sign of changing ideas about which Jewish circles require outreach and what that would typically sound like.

2016-04-18_0746(From a New York rally held the year before, credit to Martyna Starosta.)

By pivoting back into staffing decisions in line with a more traditionally Zionist Jewish politics, the Sanders campaign has echoed what I’ve noted in their politics for months now: a focus on whittling down what the supposed political revolution will be about. Reparations have been declared as outside the purview of economic injustice, now implicit criticism of Zionism is beyond a similar pale. This is a facet of his political organization that’s increasingly hard to ignore.

In fact, one of the heralds of this moment in which Sanders’ revolutionary politics shrank back is eerily relevant. In one of the year’s first Democratic debates, Sanders spoke about the economic and political elites in Qatar and Saudi Arabia as if they not only were representative of the broader population, but also as ultimately responsible for resolving problems in entirely other states just in the same larger region of the world.

Now, he’s suspended a staffer, over her declaring that the head of a state in that part of the world, who claimed to speak for her, was not truly representing her. Sanders’ previous discussion of the region acted as if someone like Zimmerman, a person categorized on paper by certain ethnic or national words like “Qataris” or “Saudis” or “Jews,” was not meaningfully different from most others roped together with those words.

He sure showed her with a suspension.

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The Israeli Elections promised much besides more Netanyahu

If you haven’t been following the major media coverage of the recent Israeli parliamentary elections, let me sum up the question that preoccupied it – will Prime Minister Netanyahu remain in office? Pretty much everyone paying attention who isn’t trying to speculate to drive up media consumption could pretty easily tell you that he succeeded and that claims that the centrists were the real winners here aren’t terribly rooted in reality. For more on that issue, I’ll direct you over to Emily Hauser, who’s got it pretty much covered.

It seems the better issue to explore might not be who would be in charge of Israeli in the near future and rather who would put them there and why. Some of the data points towards there being a rather shocking reorganization of Israeli political parties and with that the country’s political landscape, but as Hauser noted, without necessarily translating into any significant change in policy. To get a sense of this, we have to break down the existing political parties into slightly more fine-tuned blocs than Haaretz already has, namely like this:


(Data from the previously mentioned Haaretz coverage and here.)

It’s hard to very quickly summarize what happened there in words, compared to the above visual. The newest Knesset looks smoothed out – with an end to the representative discrepancy between the rightist and leftist parties, the retained Arab and Ultra-Orthodox blocs, and the possible (but unlikely, as we’ll get into) coalition government by the center-right, center, and center-left. It seems moderate above all else, doesn’t it?

Not really if you care to notice that the plurality that will have the first chance to form a coalition is not just Netanyahu’s Likud, which might be called “center-right” for Israel, but rather an electoral alliance between Likud and and the rightwing Beiteinu party. As members of the Beiteinu party already hold high-level and policy-impacting positions within the cabinet, this electoral consolidation of the parties does seem to reflect their ties, but without Beiteinu ceding its more conservative views.  In short, what passes as center-right is something that leans pretty hard to the right. Hauser, for that matter, thinks that the engine behind Netanyahu’s probably continuing leadership was the rightwing vote, and with that alliance and the demonstrable shift in support from the rightists to Likud, but probably as a result of a largely shared agenda, rather than political extremes becoming more moderate.

Realizing that, Yesh Atid might seem like a counter current, as its imposing head, Yair Lapid, has largely run against Prime Minister Netanyahu in these elections. Hauser’s theory was that just as rightists have flocked into the increasingly more conservative Likud, the center-right is now largely feeling into the center. That being said, his centrism seems more rhetorical than policy-based. As Hauser pointed out, his insistence on the government at least negotiating with Palestinians seems like a “diversion with which to distract the international community” while occupation and settlement continue. Less than a year ago, the Yesh Atid platform called for, without clarification, changing “the system of government”. I’m sensing a bit of a trend among the wealthy and western here. Seeing as his light policy is pretty much every major and secular party in any democracy supports but with the difficult to swallow portions of Likud’s plank ignored rather than replaced, it’s hard to see him providing much resistance to Netanyahu’s coalition, especially when he’s said as much himself. Was a vote for him just a slightly more conscience-approved version of voting for Netanyahu for the Israeli right? In any case, if he proves resolute, Netanyahu can always work something out with the Ultra-Orthodox bloc (as he did with some of those parties to form the existing government), who also have enough votes for him to be able to form a coalition with (assuming he retains the general support from the rightists).

On the other hand, the center-left, the only major bloc other than the rightwing to see a major reduction in size, seems to have let any political consensus disintegrate every which way. One major party, Kadima, has utterly dissolved into the leftist Hatnuah (under the leadership of Tzipi Livni, former head of Kadima) and the remaining center-left party, Labor. Meanwhile, Labor initially joined the current coalition government with Netanyahu’s Likud party and assorted rightist parties, but then splintered as the majority of the party decided to break the coalition. As a result the Independence party existed for the past session of the Knesset, which effectively pulled the more conservative members of the Labor party. For instance, many of the Independence representatives had close relationships with settler movements or outright said that Palestinians deserve a “shoah, which is the term typically used to refer in Israel to the Holocaust. In spite of losing their conservative wing to an ad hoc centrist party, their number of seats in the most recent election in fact nearly doubled from 8 to 15. Coupled with the schism in Kadima, however, this has translated into a net loss for the center-left bloc, but resulting in greater ideological clarity between the center, center-left, and leftist blocs.

In short, this past election suggests that in addition to Netanyahu’s plurality of support, he has the potential governing coalitions with three different blocs, any two of which would be sufficient to form a government. He’s already reached out to the rightists and is likely to successfully negotiate with the parties that didn’t enter into an electoral alliance with him. From there, he has the choice between negotiating with the Ultra-Orthodox, who will be disappointed in his secularism, or the centrists, who’ll look the other way while safe and secure behind the Iron Dome. Conversely, any sort of a counter-coalition seems doomed to failure, with the Arab-friendly parties being politically toxic to almost all others, the center-left and leftist in-fighting having recently drawn a lot of blood, and a good chunk of support having moved into the more Netanyahu-friendly center. As Hauser noted, there isn’t a 59 vote minority to a probable 61 vote Third Netanyahu Government, but rather four separate oppositions – which are rooted (and often not very firmly) in opposing his coalition as the political status quo that can never fall (the centrists), the enablers of the emerging economic elite (labor-minded center-left), the militant occupiers on the behalf of the Ultra-Orthodox (the reformer left), and the enforcers of the Israeli ethnic hierarchy (the Israeli-Arab parties).

Israel needed more than one additional MP to be assigned to one of those four blocs. It needed a leftwing political culture of solidarity rather than balkanization, and without that conservative Israelis seem poised to control the political process for not only this government but beyond the near future.

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