Sanders’ 2020 Aide Apologizes for Suggesting American Jews Have Dual Allegiance to Israel

Asked if her Jewish boss himself ‘has dual loyalty,’ she says ‘I think I would probably have to ask him’

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Belén Sisa talking on video in 2017 about President Donald Trump's decision to end the DACA program in 2017.
Belén Sisa talking on video in 2017 about President Donald Trump's decision to end the DACA program.Credit: Screengrab from YouTube

One of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign aides has apologized for “insensitive” remarks suggesting that American Jews have dual loyalty to Israel.

The comment was made in a Facebook thread discussing the recent controversy around Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 18Credit: Haaretz

Belén Sisa’s apology followed her comment in a Facebook post last week discussing the history of violence triggered by accusations of Jewish dual allegiance from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, reports Politico.

The post was part of the intense discussion among Democrats regarding Omar’s statement that supporters of Israel in the United States demand "allegiance to a foreign country," which numerous Jewish organizations and politicians viewed as evoking an anti-Semitic trope.

In the exchange, 25-year-old Sisa, who is national deputy press secretary for Sanders’ presidential campaign, asked the author of the post: “This is a serious question: Do you not think that the American government and American Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the State of Israel? I’m asking not to rule out the history of this issue, but in the context in which this was said by Ilhan.”

When, later in the discussion, another participant asked if she believed that Sanders, her Jewish boss, “has dual loyalty,” she responded: “I think I would probably have to ask him. But his comments make me believe otherwise as he has been very blunt on where he stands.”

After she was asked about her remarks, Sisa released a statement to Politico: "In a conversation on Facebook, I used some language that I see now was insensitive. Issues of allegiance and loyalty to one's country come with painful history. At a time when so many communities in our country feel under attack by the president and his allies, I absolutely recognize that we need to address these issues with greater care and sensitivity to their historical resonance, and I'm committed to doing that in the future.”

In the Facebook conversation — which has since been deleted — Sisa said she agreed with Sanders’ position on the Omar controversy, expressing support for the Minnesota congresswoman and opposing the House resolution, which, when the discussion took place, would have solely focused on anti-Semitism based on Omar’s comments.

Of the 2020 presidential candidates, Sanders has been one of the most vocal supporters of the freshman representative. Following the first House resolution proposal, the Vermont senator said, "What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong."

This isn’t the first time a young Sanders staffer has gotten into trouble over social media comments.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, activist Simone Zimmerman served as Jewish outreach coordinator for only two days before being suspended. Her suspension and subsequent dismissal came after it was reported by a conservative website that she had written on Facebook that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative a**hole," adding, “F**k you, Bibi, you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer.” Zimmerman is a former president of J Street U, co-founder of anti-occupation group IfNotNow and was recently appointed U.S. director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Politico said it had been alerted to Sisa’s Facebook comments “by a critic of the post.” Before it was deleted, the post had been condemned by Jewish leaders on the right and left as anti-Semitic, the website said. Politico quoted Rep. Lois Frankel (Democrat of Florida) as saying Sisa’s comments were “just a terrible statement to make,” and reflected why she did not support Sanders for the 2020 nomination.

Sisa has been targeted by right-wingers since she was named to her post last month, both because she is an illegal immigrant protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and because she was arrested twice during immigration protests while a student at Arizona State University. Sisa’s parents brought her into the United States from Argentina when she was 6.

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