Anti-occupation activists are expressing disappointment over U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' decision to suspend his Jewish outreach coordinator—just three days after appointing her—for comments she made critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Simone Zimmerman, a young leader in American-Jewish criticism of Israeli policy, drew fierce criticism after she was picked by the Sanders campaign.
The conservative Washington Free Beacon published snapshots of comments she had written on her Facebook in March 2015 that led the Sanders campaign to suspend her “ while we investigate the matter,” reported the New York Times.
The comments, published when Netanyahu decided to directly lobby the U.S. Congress against the Iran nuclear deal, read: “F**k you, Bibi … you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer,” a reference to Israel's Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which killed almost 1,500 Palestinian civilians and hundreds of militants, according to a United States estimate. “Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative a**hole."
Zimmerman later replaced “a**hole” with “politician” and “F**k you” with “shame on you.”
M. Dove Kent, a Jewish community organizer, wrote in a Haaretz op-ed on Friday that, “It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to conjecture” that it was likely another example of the American-Jewish right trying to silence critics of Israel.
“This moment is not just about one Jewish woman being suspended for her outcry against the Israeli government,” she wrote. “It’s about our community being at a crossroads.”
In her view, mainstream politics are still beholden to a right wing uncritical of Israel at the expense of a social justice-oriented left.
"Sadly, her suspension, after intense pressure by Jewish establishment leaders, shows how far we still have to go before our leadership reflects the values of justice and equality held by many American Jews," wrote Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace—which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign—in a Friday press release.
The Sanders campaign's announcement came just hours before the senator from Vermont heavily criticized Hillary Clinton’s stance on Israel in a Brooklyn Democratic debate. While Clinton called Gaza a “terrorist haven,” Sanders called for an “even-handed approach.”
While he is losing the Jewish demographic by a 30-point margin, Sanders has also been attacked by activists for not having a tougher position against Israel.
“The optimism that her appointment gave me was pretty unequivocally dashed upon hearing that her appointment has been suspended,” Kumars Salehi, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California, Berkeley, told teleSUR. He hoped Zimmerman’s appointment meant Sanders “was going to try to expand at the very least the left margin of acceptable mainstream views on Israel-Palestine," which he called an untouchable third rail of politics. But “his campaign buckled” after a backlash it apparently did not see coming.
Zimmerman was active in J Street, a pro-Israel lobbying group critical of Netanyahu, and co-founded IfNotNow, a group that aims to curb American Jewish support for a policy of occupation in Palestine. She does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, but wrote in a Haaretz Op-Ed on the need for “bringing American Jews to do civil resistance work in solidarity with West Bank Palestinians.”
Salehi said he neither shares Zimmerman nor Sanders’ views on Israel and Palestine, but that their politics are “so much better than the orthodoxy right now.”
Sanders has already upset the staunchly pro-Israel lobby, which is firmly behind his rival Hillary Clinton, so Salehi said he didn't understand who Sanders was trying to please by suspending Zimmerman. Though the biggest primary contests to come are in states that have large Jewish populations—New York and California—the suspension threatens to alienate his most passionate supporters and younger voters who are not nearly as committed as the pro-Israel lobby to safeguarding the Israeli state from criticism.
Even so, “I’m not sure this is going to be the final straw for them," said Salehi, noting that, flaws and all, Sanders' stance on Palestine is still more progressive than any other Republican or Democrat running for president. "This certainly isn’t for me.”