WATCH: With ‘First Jewish President’ Ad, Sanders Tries to Shift the Debate

Sanders portrays himself as best placed to beat rising anti-Semitism, as a Democratic pro-Israel group runs attack ads suggesting he can't beat Trump

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event at Whittemore Center Arena, New Hampshire, February 10, 2020.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

A new campaign video by Senator Bernie Sanders, titled “Bernie Would Be the First Jewish President,” frames the possibility of his election as striking a blow against the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States.

The video marks a milestone in the Democratic contender’s decision to put his Jewishness front and center in his 2020 presidential campaign, after he was accused of downplaying his background during his 2016 run.

Jamie Margolin, a Jewish climate change activist, opens the video with a declaration that a Sanders presidency would represent “blowback” in the battle against bigotry. Recalling that in 2017's "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, white nationalists had chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Margolin comments with a flourish that “having a Jew literally replace them … would be so satisfying!” 

Margolin's statement ties the Charlottesville white nationalists to President Donald Trump, and the Sanders video features Trump’s comment that in Charlottesville there were “very fine people on both sides,” and that Jews who vote Democrat have “great disloyalty” to Israel. 

“It is a difficult time to be Jewish right now considering the Trump administration’s anti-Semitism,” says Margolin, as the video shows multiple news reports of anti-Semitic hate crimes that happened over the past year

The video also features visuals from the Holocaust, as Sanders reminds an audience that his father’s family was wiped out by the Nazis. “If there is a people who understands the danger of racism and white nationalism, it is certainly the Jewish people,” he adds.

I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being,” he declares. 

The Sanders video went online as the leaders of two Democratic Israel advocacy organizations spent the weekend engaged in an intramural slugfest over efforts to sabotage Sanders’ front-runner status.

Negative ads targeting Sanders aired by the group Democratic Majority for Israel in early primary states were attacked by the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street.

Democratic Majority for Israel “in reality represents a minority of pro-Israel Democrats who seem more concerned with targeting progressives over Israel policy than with confronting the destructive agenda of Donald Trump,” charged J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami on Saturday. He asserted that the group’s “right-leaning positions on Israel and U.S. foreign policy are completely out of touch with the vast majority of Democrats and American Jews, who are both supportive of Israel and strongly critical of the policies of the Netanyahu government and of Donald Trump.” 

Ben-Ami contended that the group had “no right to claim to speak for a ‘Democratic majority’ of pro-Israel Americans,” and that “this dishonest packaging deepens divides over Israel in the U.S. and exacerbates the troubling trend of making Israel a political football – all while distracting from the absolute necessity of defeating Donald Trump.

One of the Democratic Majority for Israel's ads slamming Sanders

“The ads themselves have nothing to do with Israel and don’t even mention Senator Sanders’ views on Israel or foreign policy,” Ben-Ami pointed out. “If the funders and activists behind DMFI want to attack the senator’s politics and candidacy, they should find another banner to rally under that leaves Israel out.”

Ben-Ami also urged other Jewish organizations, specifically the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, to “join us in condemning these ads and to sever ties” with DMFI.

Democratic Majority for Israel President Mark Mellman hit back on Sunday night, accusing J Street of “lying” and denying that his group was tied to pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, saying that it was “independent of any other organizations.”

Mellman said his group ran the anti-Sanders ads because it believes “Senator Sanders will not be able to defeat Trump,” and “that we also have problems with Senator Sanders’ views on Israel and his refusal to disassociate himself from anti-Semitic statements made by individuals he appointed to official positions in his campaign."

Mellman added that “if J Street really cared about the Democratic Party, the U.S.-Israel relationship or combating anti-Semitism, they would join us, instead of protecting Senator Sanders and lying about DMFI’s positions and so-called partnerships."

He also pointed out that “unlike the armchair critics at J Street, DMFI’s president has actually worked to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu” – referring to his stint as a campaign adviser to the Yesh Atid and Kahol Lavan parties.