Mainstream politicians ignore occupation of Palestinian territory

In mid-April, recent University of California, Berkley graduate Simone Zimmerman landed a dream job when she was hired by the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign as its national Jewish outreach coordinator. But her celebration did not last long: two days later, she was fired.

In Zimmerman, the Sanders campaign knew they were hiring a left-wing political activist and a public critic of the state of Israel, but the discovery that Zimmerman had called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “arrogant, deceptive, cynical” and “manipulative” in a past Facebook post persuaded the Sanders campaign to suspend her. In the same post, Zimmerman wrote that Netanyahu had  “sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people in the summer [of 2014].”

In fact, Netanyahu did sanction the murder of 2,000 by authorizing Operation Protective Edge and the subsequent launching of rockets on civilian areas of the Gaza strip in July 2014. Every day, Netanyahu’s government violates international law by occupying Palestinian territory. Netanyahu’s Nikud party promotes the dehumanization of Palestinians and seeks international support for their disregard of Palestinian human rights. Zimmerman’s dismissal is a product of the total unwillingness of mainstream American politicians to recognize this, and of a growing divide within the American Jewry.

The divisiveness surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pronounced in media coverage of Zimmerman’s suspension. FrontPage magazine described Zimmerman as a “profane anti-Israel activist,” while Palestinian-sympathetic publication Haaretz News wrote of a “young, anti-occupation activist.”

Political party alignment certainly plays a role in media coverage of Israel. As Peter Beinart noted in his 2010 article, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” “fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists, and fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal.” Many Jewish millennials grew up in liberal households, inheriting their parents’ liberalism, and thus unable to inherit their parents’ Zionism. New Jewish liberals have grown up viewing Israel as more of an occupying power than as a necessary refuge for Jewish people. American Jewish support for Israel is increasingly Orthodox and conservative.

In his campaign platform, Sanders advocates for a two-state solution in which “Israel has a right to exist in security, [while] the Palestinians have a state of their own.” Sanders has also criticized Israel for using “disproportionate” force against the Palestinians and says the U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be more “evenhanded.” Certainly, there is a correlation between Sanders’ position on Israel and his support from Democrats under thirty years old. Sanders appeals to the new demographic of liberal Jews dissatisfied with contemporary Israel.

As Sanders wins this young block of Jewish voters, Hillary Clinton appeals to older Jewish voters who are yet unwilling to criticize Israel or the Israeli government. In the United States, politicians operating on the national stage have generally been unable to denounce Israeli policy; doing so would alienate Jewish voters and influential Jewish lobbying groups. But this paradigm must shift and this shift ought to come from recognized figures on the left.

Simone Zimmerman is not an irate, uneducated threat to Jews around the world. Zimmerman grew up in a conservative Jewish household and is the great-granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. While embracing her Jewish identity, Zimmerman refuses to perpetuate the American Jewish rationalization of Palestinian suffering. The Bernie Sanders campaign has forsaken its values of liberalism and equity by firing Simone Zimmerman. Sanders may not fully represent the young, liberal constituency he attracted in his bid for the democratic nomination.