By Talib I. Karim, Esq.
Thus far, over 60% of the states in our union have held primaries or caucuses to nominate their candidates for President of the United States. While many mainstream media pundits predict that the Democratic Party’s nomination of Hillary Clinton is inevitable, a growing number of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans are being inspired by the change-oriented message of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
They are #feelingtheBern!
Sanders is a super-progressive, from one of the nation’s smallest states, 74 years old and the only leading candidate who is a practicing Jew.
Of the millions of Sanders supporters, increasingly, more and more of them are coming from the Muslim community.
What is at the heart of this Muslim affection for this elderly Caucasian, born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family that immigrated from Poland?
For some, Bernie’s appeal stems from his plan to end the nation’s vast income inequality by calling for free college tuition and for as much as $30 Billion in funding for HBCUs and other minority serving institutions.
Other Muslims favor Senator Sanders for his staunch critique of the criminal justice system which he has called racist as well as the overreach of government surveillance. Before he was a Senator, as a member of the House of Representatives, Bernie voted against the USA PATRIOT Act (which permits the government broad surveillance powers with little oversight).
In 2005, he introduced legislation to block the government from tracking what books Americans borrow from libraries or purchase. Later, once in the Senate, Sanders voted against the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which “[gave] the National Security Agency almost unchecked power to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and emails,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Many Muslims, however, point to the Senator’s record of speaking out on bigotry against Muslims and his balanced policy concerning the conflict between Muslims, Jews, and Christians over the disputed territory in Palestine.
The recent American Israel Public Affairs Council (AIPAC) conference featured the major presidential candidates. All except the only Jew, Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders prepared a speech which he hoped to deliver via Skype or a pre-recorded video since he was campaigning throughout the west but the group rebuffed his request. However, the lobbying group had no objections to playing a similar recorded message from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Sanders speech to AIPAC, he cited his obvious connections to Israel but was interested in being a true friend to both the people of Israel and Palestine. “I am here to tell you that, if elected president, I will work tirelessly to advance the cause of peace as a partner and as a friend to Israel. But to be successful, we have to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza, they suffer from an unemployment rate of 44 percent – the highest in the world – and a poverty rate nearly equal to that.”
Sanders letter to AIPAC stressed that he would call on the “…entire world to recognize Israel. Peace has to mean security for every Israeli from violence. But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well being for the Palestinian people. Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory.”
On the contrary, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Israel and omitted any mention of Israeli abuses of Palestinians including that government’s recent annexation of an additional 579 acres of land in the West Bank in violation of United Nations resolutions. Clinton reserved her criticism for Sanders and student activists in the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement (BDS).
This campaign is modeled after the 1980s and 1990s movement that successfully ended South African apartheid and led to the election of the late President Nelson Mandela. Similarly, the BDS movement targets Israeli companies, academics and universities in a campaign to end the country’s nearly 50-year occupation of Palestine.
“We have to be united in fighting back against BDS,” Clinton said. “Many of its proponents have demonized Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students.” Clinton even took swipes at President Obama. Rather than continue the neutral position of the Obama administration which has led to rocky relations with the Israeli government, Clinton pledged, “One of the first things I’ll do in office is invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House,” which drew a roaring applause from the AIPAC audience.
Numerous progressive organizations and Palestinian leaders publicly condemned Clinton for her profusely pro-Israel remarks. “The speech that Hillary Clinton gave to AIPAC took pandering to a new level,” according to a statement by Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
The group Jewish Voice for Peace said in a statement that positions of Clinton and other Presidential candidates who spoke at AIPAC “rel[y] on racist and Islamophobic tropes to justify unquestioning support for Israel.”
Ahmad Tibi, one of the few Palestinian legislators in Israel’s parliament, asserted that “Clinton’s determination to link America so closely to an [apartheid and colonialist] Israel , “suggests she will be incapable as a world leader in standing up to Israeli expansion and insisting on freedom for Palestinians.”
For Muslims supporting Bernie Sanders, like me, the Democratic nomination process is what counts the most. If we help Sanders succeed in winning his party’s nomination, which ironically takes place in Philadelphia—often called “Muslimtown” for its large population of African American and other Muslims—then in November, we can avoid being placed in the position to choose between candidates that represent the lesser of two evils. Instead, the choice will be between a Republican, likely hostile towards the Muslim community, and Sanders, a true friend of Muslims and others in this nation, who just so happens to practice the Jewish faith.
Talib I. Karim is a business law professor, technology education advocate, and co-founder of the Academy of Muslim Achievement, which highlights accomplishments of Muslims in the US. Karim is also a seasoned political advisor, former radio host, and supporter of Bernie Sanders.