Bernie or Bloomberg? For Super Tuesday, we asked Jewish Democrats where they stand

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By Danielle Ziri. Photos by Gili Getz
With Super Tuesday kicking off, Haaretz spoke to five American Jewish Democrats to find out how their Jewish identity affects their political views With the Democratic primary in full swing, Haaretz wanted to discover where young Jewish Democrats stand on the race, and how their Judaism affects their political outlook. We assembled a group of five young New Yorkers with three things in common: They are all aged between 25 and 35, have a strong interest in politics, and identify as Democrats. It’s no secret that the divisions in the Democratic Party have become particularly sharp, pitting hard-core progressives against classic liberals, old-school leftists against proponents of identity politics. And Israel is as divisive an issue as any. Note, the opinions expressed by each of the participants – who were asked the same three questions – are their own and not the organizations they work for. What follows are their written answers to Haaretz’s questions, one of which mentions two of the candidates hoping to face President Donald Trump on November 3: Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg. (Some of the answers have been slightly abridged and edited for clarity.)

Daniella Rabbani Sirkin | 'Surprising the front-runners are Jewish'

Daniella is an actress and filmmaker, best known for her role as Rabbi Zoe on the CBS show “God Friended Me.” A mother of two, she lives in Brooklyn. Does your Jewish identity affect your political views? “Being Jewish affects my everyday life, so it will inevitably affect my political views. I’m conscious of how candidates interact with and talk about Israel; how they publicly react to anti-Semitism in the U.S. These things are certainly important to me. Not necessarily the most important, but still.” What are for you the most pressing issues in the current campaign? “Local issues are most pressing for me at the moment. I’m open to that changing as the campaign progresses, but for now local issues. I just know that the better, healthier, stronger and saner we – the U.S. – are as a nation, the better it is for Israel and everyone else. I don’t think voting in America for Israel makes sense.” Bernie or Bloomberg? “It’s surprising that the two front-runners are Jewish. Or maybe it’s a sign of the times. All the choices feel so extreme now. I was surprised by my reaction to the way Bernie spoke about Israel. I didn’t realize how much I cared until I heard him call the country – or was it the PM? – ‘racist.’ That really upset me.”

Yehudah Webster | 'I am for Bernie'

Yehudah is a community organizer for the group Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and is passionate about “ensuring the Jewish community’s commitment to the fight for racial justice and collective liberation.” Among his projects, Yehudah has worked as an anti-oppression trainer and helped establish a national support network for Jews of color. Does your Jewish identity affect your political views? “My Jewish identity certainly affects and informs my political views, and was one of the key reasons I was excited to join an organization like JFREJ – a place where political organizing for racial and economic justice is intricately woven together with Jewish values. While many faiths might encourage welcoming the stranger and caring for the poor, the obligation to love the stranger and care for the widow and orphan – symbols of society’s most marginalized – is uniquely foundational to the Jewish tradition. “Therefore, when I organize for immigrant rights, a caring economy or a restorative justice legal system, I do it not just out of the goodness of my heart or because it’s simply my career, but because Torah and the Jewish tradition mandates and compels me to do so.” What are for you the most pressing issues in the current campaign? “The most pressing issue for me nationally is the entrenched systemic racism and rising authoritarianism seen through state-sponsored systems of ongoing mass incarceration and ICE’s deportation machine of violent raids and detention camps. We see this through the Trump administration’s attempt to penalize the cities around the country for choosing to protect and welcome the immigrant instead of collaborating with ICE and its xenophobic agenda. “In Brooklyn, we see this through the weaponization of anti-Semitism and fear to justify increased policing and surveillance of black and brown neighborhoods. While the Trump administration is certainly to blame for much of it, the silent majority of America is to blame for all of it – and for me that’s most concerning for our evolving democracy.” Bernie or Bloomberg? “I am for Bernie – most importantly because I believe in and support Bernie’s vision of a caring majority, relying on the collective to support and care for those of us who don’t, for example, have the resources for private health care or the means to afford the egregious costs of higher education. Additionally, Bernie over Bloomberg because to be a billionaire in our racist and capitalist system means contributing to the direct and indirect suffering and exploitation of millions of people, especially those of color. Nobody should be a billionaire in our society, and certainly not the president of the United States of America.”

Sophie Nir | 'I hate to see the Hillary/Bernie toxicity repeat itself'

Sophie is a Democratic political consultant focusing on state and local races in New York. Born to a family of Holocaust survivors, she was raised with a “deep sense of cultural Judaism and a strong Israeli identity,” she says. She considers herself a full-time feminist, born-and-raised New Yorker and fantasy gymnastics champion. Does your Jewish identity affect your political views? “Absolutely! Jewish identity is central to my family, and my family directly shapes my politics. When you come from a family of Holocaust survivors, I think it informs everything in your life. My friend Fallon tells me all the time, ‘The Holocaust is always a book on the shelf in the corner of the room.’ “I try my hardest to channel my family’s trauma toward being a more compassionate person, politically and personally. It certainly makes me more sensitive to the plight of persecuted individuals and helps me be a better ally to marginalized people. More importantly, I think our history makes me a stronger fighter – someone who knows the consequences of losing so will fight like hell to win. “The other way my Judaism affects my politics is through the value of community. A strong sense of community is a central Jewish value and one that shapes every aspect of my life. I believe strongly, and have been taught my whole life, that the people and policies shaping our local communities are just as impactful as those operating at the federal level. I think it is vastly important to be an active participant in my community and focus on tikkun olam [repairing the world] at the local level.” What are for you the most pressing issues in the current campaign? “The most burning issue to me is the assault on women’s health. Republican attempts to strip reproductive rights from women have historically been extremely effective, and I find it frightening. Margaret Sanger said, ‘No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.’ This is the principle in the world I believe in most strongly, and women’s reproductive freedom is my top political priority.” Bernie or Bloomberg? “Neither. I find the dynamic troubling. I think one of the primary elements that went wrong in 2016 was this extreme, vitriolic tribalism between the Hillary [Clinton] and Bernie camps. I hate to see that toxicity repeat itself when there is a much more pressing enemy to focus on. I believe the more contentious and polarized the primary becomes, the less likely we are to beat Trump, no matter who the nominee is.”

Itamar Wigoder | 'I feel more Jewish in the U.S. than in Israel'

Itamar is a dual Israeli-American citizen who has lived in Brooklyn for five years. He grew up in “a home with a strong left-leaning ideology,” and now works at progressive Jewish organization the New Israel Fund. Does your Jewish identity affect your political views? “Yes. Like most other European Jews, my family’s story is one of persecution. I grew up with values stressing that what happened to us must not happen to others, especially not by us. As a result, democratic norms and values are sacred to me and I strongly believe that ALL people’s rights should be protected both in Israel and the U.S. “Growing up as part of the majority in Israel, minority rights were always a leading issue for me. In the U.S. I am, for the first time, part of a minority and feel that the current extremist notions in the U.S. – of white nationalism, racism, xenophobia, etc. – are a real threat to all minority groups, including Jews (although we are the most powerful and privileged one). “Interestingly, I feel more Jewish in the U.S. than I felt in Israel. This hasn’t affected my values but further cemented them. It is here I learned about American Jewry’s long support and involvement for civil rights in the U.S., more than any other European-descended (white) group. It makes me proud but also very disappointed that these same values are not ALWAYS applied to Israel and its ongoing occupation of the Palestinian people. But I think that is changing!” What are for you the most pressing issues in the current campaign? “The most pressing issues for me are: campaign finance (and gerrymandering), as this affects all other issues. The environment – the threat that makes all other issues pale. Health care – the situation here is a human rights violation. “Coming from Israel, where we have national health care, I was shocked as I attempted to navigate this system: at one point I had no insurance for two years. Foreign policy – with the Israeli/Palestinian issue being by far the most important to me. Not losing another seat on the Supreme Court, as so much depends on it.” Bernie or Bloomberg? “I think the question of their Jewishness is less interesting for me. I’m really focused on what they represent and what that means in the effort to defeat Trump and the far right. From a pure ideological standpoint, I’m firmly closer to Bernie than to Bloomberg. But I see all these candidates, also Bloomberg, as ‘on my team.’ Although Bloomberg represents many things I object to, I will vote for him if he is the nominee. I will, however, be furious if the DNC (yet again) uses its full weight to stop Bernie – leading to Bloomberg becoming the nominee through undemocratic practices at the Democratic convention.”

Noah Habeeb | 'We won’t beat Trump with our own oligarch'

Noah is a member of the coordinating committee of the New York City chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. He’s also the director of a legal clinic helping asylum seekers and immigrants navigate immigration law; the clinic is held weekly at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan.

Does your Jewish identity affect your political views?

“Absolutely. Jewish social justice values and the tradition of Jewish social justice directly impact the political views I hold. While I might hold different views on certain issues than my relatives and ancestors, my feeling of responsibility to other Jews and humanity feels like a Jewish imperative that has been transmitted to me from them. It is Jewish history, ritual and practice that sustain and ground me in sometimes difficult political organizing work.”

What are for you the most pressing issues in the current campaign?

“Ultimately, I think that all of the political issues we face are interconnected, so it is difficult to pick just one. Yet I have to say, climate change is the most important issue we face. U.S. foreign policy is [also] always a key issue for me in assessing candidates for office.

“Our democracy is far from perfect as a result of the outsize influence of a wealthy donor class and systems counter to one person, one vote. And politics is much more than just what [political activist Noam] Chomsky calls the ‘quadrennial electoral extravaganza.’

“Yet still, U.S. citizens have more say than everybody else on the planet in selecting the person who plays a huge role in executing U.S. foreign policy, which disproportionately affects people outside of the U.S. On top of that, our wasteful endless wars are directly connected to our inability to provide services like health care to our own people. So, for those reasons I believe foreign policy issues are extremely important.”

Bernie or Bloomberg?

“I’m all in for Bernie! We won’t beat an incumbent Trump with our own oligarch with his own history of sexism, racism and authoritarian leanings. Bernie’s multiracial, multigenerational coalition has a far better chance of mobilizing a base that can beat Trump than a guy who used to be a Republican and has to pay his supporters to say nice things about him online.”

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