Bernie Sanders, Israel and the 96 percent

Sen. Bernie Sanders gestures as he speaks at the Californi Democrats State Convention in Sacramento, Calif., April 30.

Sen. Bernie Sanders gestures as he speaks at the Californi Democrats State Convention in Sacramento, Calif., April 30.  (AP)

The New York primary scrap between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over US policy toward Israel seems to some Americans like a man-bites-dog story.

How could Bernie Sanders--the first Jewish candidate for president! -- take the Palestinian side of the Arab-Israel dispute?  And in New York, off all places, the Jewish metropolis that another progressive Democratic candidate, Jesse Jackson, once called Hymie Town.

Aren’t Democratic hopefuls supposed to court the Jews of New York by waving the Israeli flag?  Since when did embracing the Palestinian cause become a vote getter?

Israelis are less surprised by Sanders. There is a whole party here, Meretz, dedicated to his dark view of Israel. In the last election, in 2015, it received roughly 4 percent of the Jewish vote.

If Bernie Sanders were running against Hillary Clinton in Israel, he would be lucky to get that much (so, in fact, would Meretz).  But most Israelis see their local Bernies as annoying but harmless. As for the real Bernie, he is the subject of humor. His “trust me I once lived here Israel” shtick (‘What, fifty years ago, for two months?’) and his “I’ve got family there” bit (‘Nu, so why don’t you ever come to visit) get laughs.

Nor are Israelis impressed by Sanders charge that their country used “disproportional force” in Gaza last summer. What does Bernie Sanders know about force? The only rockets he has seen overhead were at the Fourth of July picnic in Burlington.

No, if Bernie were running in Israel his main bloc of voters would be Arab-Israeli citizens, most of whom share his distaste for Zionism.

But, of course, Bernie’s not running in Israel.  He’s running in New York, where his Jewish credentials wouldn’t have become an issue if he hadn’t chosen to make it one.  

Why has he?  It is likely that Sanders believes that Jewish young people have turned against Israel and that attacking the Jewish state is a slick move.  If so, he has been conned. In every election for the past half century, the professional propagandists and politruks of the anti-Zionist Jewish left float this “trend.” This year, as always, the New York Times falls for it, and it gets picked up by its  media satellites.

Now, being critical of Israel is a rite of passage for American Jewish students at elite colleges.  It demonstrates sophistication and broadmindedness.  There is a thrill to being so noble that you are against yourself.  But this does not affect the majority of American Jewish kids, certainly not in its toxic anti-Israel form.  And those who do join the blame-Israel-now crowd usually grow out of it as adults. That explains how the American Jewish community has managed, generation after generation, to remain on Israel’s side.     

The great majority of the young Jews who support Bernie are not there because of his anti-Israel rhetoric.  Most of them don’t care enough about Israel to turn it into a voting issue.  The Sanders campaign is an event to them, a happening.  They (like their non-Jewish comrades) are all in favor of free college tuition, painless equality, pretend revolution and hooking up (as Gloria Steinham famously observed) with the rest of the cool kids.

Sanders is just an old guy who’s throwing the party.  If the price of admission is a vote and a cheer for Palestine, hey, why not?  

But if I were Bernie I wouldn’t count on a huge anti-Israel Jewish turnout.

The Jewish Democratic vote of New York, the 96 percent(I exaggerate but not by much) will go to Hillary for reasons that have nothing, and everything, to do with Zionism. Mostly she personifies New York Jewish values—liberal capitalism, women’s and gay rights, free trade and its benefits, upward mobility, domestic tranquility. But she is also a potential commander in chief who knows that the critics and cynics are a minority, that the great majority of New York Jews (and American Jews, and just plain Americans) want a commander-in-chief whose foreign policy includes an unapologetic embrace of the Jewish State of the 96 percent.

Zev Chafets is a Fox News contributor. His latest book is "Remembering Who We Are: A Treasury of Conservative Commencement Addresses" (Sentinel 2015).