Bernie Sanders says his new bill to restrict aid to Israel is a response to the deaths of civilians in Gaza. Yet he also proposed cutting aid to Israel more than four years ago. The current war, it seems, is just a convenient excuse for Sanders to slam the Jewish state again.
In the immediate aftermath of the mass slaughter, torture, and gang rapes of 1,200 Israelis by Hamas on October 7, Sanders briefly took Israel’s side. He called Hamas “barbaric” and rejected the demands by his political allies that Israel cease firing at the terrorists. That enraged friends such as his ex-press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, who claimed there’s no evidence that Hamas raped Israeli women and called Sanders “the biggest political disappointment of our generation” for not agreeing with her.
It didn’t take long for Sanders to succumb to the criticism. He’s now the author of legislation to put restrictions on the supply of U.S. weapons that Israel needs to fight the gang rapists.
But Sanders cannot pretend his motive is the current casualty toll in Gaza. In October 2019, addressing the annual conference of J Street, Sanders proposed reducing U.S. military aid to Israel—and he said a portion of the Israel aid should be diverted “right now” to Gaza.
Sanders said he was proposing that the funds to Gaza consist of “humanitarian aid.” But it has been well known for years that “humanitarian aid” such as concrete, ostensibly to build houses, was being used by Hamas to build tunnels. That is the hundreds of miles of tunnels underneath Gaza, where Israeli rape victims and other hostages are still being held to this day.
So, the new Sanders legislation appears to be nothing more than a political calculation. Impressing Briahna Gray and other rape deniers is more important to Sen. Sanders than standing by Israel. And it’s not the first time that he chose to abandon Jews in their hour of need.
On May 17, 1988, then-U.S. Representative—today Senate Majority Leader—Chuck Schumer led a delegation of eight Democratic congress members to the Soviet Embassy in Washington to protest the Soviet regime’s persecution of Soviet Jews.
They were especially concerned about onerous new restrictions the Kremlin had imposed to deny requests for exit visas. Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate now had to prove that their departure would not cause financial hardships even for distant relatives. Invitations to Soviet Jews from relatives in America would no longer be accepted unless the relative was a parent, child, or sibling. And not only were Jews who supposedly knew “state secrets” disqualified from emigrating, but now their spouses and children would be denied, too.
In addition, all families with children under the age of 17 would be denied exit visas until the children completed military service. That new rule was particularly cruel because it was a Catch-22: those who completed their army service were often then denied exit visas on the grounds that they had learned military secrets during their service.
Congressman Schumer said he was worried the Soviet Jewry issue would “be swept under the rug” in the name of pursuing détente between the U.S. and the USSR. He was right to be worried. Because his future Senate colleague, Bernie Sanders, was one of the ones doing the sweeping.
Two weeks after the Schumer protest, Sanders and his new wife, Jane, decided to spend their honeymoon with a group of Vermont political activists on a visit to the Soviet Union to promote friendly relations with the Kremlin. Upon their return, Sanders—then mayor of Burlington, Vermont—held an hour-long press conference with his fellow travelers to discuss their trip.
Sanders spoke first. He heaped praise on the “friendship and openness” of the “extremely generous and warm” Soviet officials who hosted them. He hailed the Soviet government’s cultural programs for youth, which, he said, “go far beyond what we have in this country.”
Sanders focused on the trains in particular. “In Moscow, we were extremely impressed by their public transportation system,” he said. “In fact, it was the cleanest, most effective mass transit system I’ve ever seen in my life…The stations themselves were beautiful, including many works of art and chandeliers. It was a very, very effective system.”
While Sanders had much to say about the efficiency of Soviet trains, he had nothing to say about the vicious mistreatment of his fellow-Jews behind the Iron Curtain. He never mentioned the plight of the three million Soviet Jews who were being persecuted and prevented from emigrating. He never spoke about the grueling new restrictions the Kremlin had imposed.
When Soviet Jews needed Bernie Sanders to raise his voice in protest, he abandoned them. Today, when the Israeli victims of Hamas rapes and torture need Senator Sanders to raise his voice on their behalf, he has chosen to abandon them, too.
Dr. Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His most recent book, America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America / University of Nebraska Press. It is available on Amazon, as are his other books. ( Dr. Medoff is the author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His most recent book, America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America / University of Nebraska Press. It is available on Amazon, as are his other books. His next book, Whistleblowers: Four Who Fought to Expose the Holocaust to America, a nonfiction graphic novel with artist Dean Motter, will be published by Dark Horse in February 2024.