Bernie Sanders: Warranting Jewish Belief

Liberty University, a conservative Christian college in Virginia, hosted Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders this past September. Considering the fact that many students at the university take religious identity to be a key factor in whom they vote for, Tamara Keith of NPR reports that not only was it surprising to see Liberty University host a Jewish candidate, but that Sanders himself wanted to give a speech there about social justice.

On the issue of interreligious dialogue Sanders said, “I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse. It is easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you. It is harder, but not less important, to try to communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC believes that Sanders’ boldness stems from his belief that identity should not cloud people’s judgement of the individual’s message.

When asked by a Muslim woman at the university town hall about the issue of Islamophobia, Sanders expanded on his own identity by saying, “Let me be very personal here if I might. I’m Jewish; my father’s family died in concentration camps.” Although quickly after this remark Sanders changed the topic from religion to economic and social disparities.

If Sanders were elected president, this would be of historical monument, not only being the first Jewish president, but he would be the first publicly non-Christian president of the United States. However, unsurprisingly, this issue is not a talking point in Sanders’ campaign, and he rarely talks about his Jewish identity.

But earlier this year at an event held by Christian Science Monitor, Sanders did speak extensively to a reporter about the ways in which his father’s family’s experiences in concentration camps affected his political views.

“[Adolf Hitler] won an election and 50 million people died as a result of that election and World War II, including 6 million Jews,” Sanders said to the reporter, “So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is in fact very important.”

Sanders’ brother, Larry, affirms this by saying that even though Bernie does not like talking about his Jewish upbringing while he is campaigning, growing up in their largely Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood has impacted his political views immensely. Larry Sanders, though, qualifies this by pointing out that his brother is very secular, but still retains the Jewish identity.

Many have asked that if his political views were largely shaped by the Jewish culture in which he was raised, why does he refrain from talking about it?

Sanders’ friend of 40 years, Richard Sugarman, answers this question by saying, “he’s not into identity politics, and I don’t think the course of this campaign is going to change him.”

Clearly, that is true in regards to Bernie’s personal practices and beliefs. But Bernie Sanders will be giving a speech later this month to clarify his identity that is more pertinent to politics: his self proclaimed “democratic socialist” political alignment.