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What critics of Bernie Sanders' Jewish liaison are missing

Simone Zimmerman’s appointment is great news for mainstream American Jews who are desperate for a real conversation on Israel/Palestine.

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 If Not Now, When activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 IfNotNow activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in the 2014 Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Over the past few days, it has been difficult to watch the American Jewish establishment’s attacks on my friend, Simone Zimmerman. Just three days ago Simone was appointed the Jewish outreach coordinator for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Within hours of the announcement came a torrent of vicious attacks, both against her as well as the Sanders campaign for having the gall to appoint a critic of Israeli settlements and policies in the occupied territories. (Update: Just hours after publishing this post, the Sanders campaign suspended Simone from her position).

I have known Simone for years, and for years I have watched her unwavering dedication to the American Jewish community, whether through work at her synagogue in Los Angeles, trips to Israel, or leading trainings for young Jews. Her commitment to a people she loves always remained steadfast — even as her views on Israel began to shift away from that establishment, within which she was raised and first came up as a leader.

On the face of it, the criticism leveled against Simone by major media outlets and figures — including former head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, who called on Sanders to fire her — is the result of the severity of her criticism and her choice of words. But let’s be honest: it is neither Simone’s style nor choice of words that is rattling the establishment, rather it is the fact that it is not willing to make room for a leader who has no qualms openly stating that Jewish life is no more precious than Palestinian life.

Here is the lie the American Jewish establishment keeps telling itself: Simone and her ilk (in organizations such as J Street, IfNotNow, and others) are the voice of a minority that must be shut up and shut out of the American Jewish conversation. But sooner or later the old guard will have to contend with the fact that Simone isn’t a radical, and if she is she is not alone. She is the face of the new American Jewish mainstream — one that is no longer afraid of its own gatekeepers.

The old guard cannot handle an American Jewish mainstream that is desperate for a real, open, and sensible conversation about Israel/Palestine. But that’s just the thing — sooner or later Foxman will have to realize that his grandchildren’s generation is no longer interested in whitewashed conversations about the Middle East. It is a generation that holds tight to its Judaism, its rituals, its love for community, and its unwavering desire for justice. It is a generation coming up for air. Thank goodness Simone is making it a little easier for all of us to breathe.

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    1. Ben

      Thank you, Edo! Another breath of fresh air. Simone Zimmerman and you and all the people at +972 make it easier for us to breathe. All you have to do is look at the desperate attempts to quickly suffocate Zimmerman reflected in the responses above. (Boris Galinsky, Summit, New Jersey: “Not a moment to soon.” Thatt says it all. “Quick! Shut her up! She’s saying something real! Cover her mouth!”)

      Leave it to ‘Scott Rose’–who follows a racist diatribe about “Arab-American voter outreach” (copied almost verbatim from Bibi’s “the Arabs are coming in droves to vote”) with a stunningly hypocritical lecture to you about “erasure, bigotry and intolerance”–to illustrate the true face of the American Jewish establishment.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Dave

      HAHAHAHA Hey, hey bye-bye. Maybe she should have been Sanders outreach director to teeny tiny groups with very few members.

      It took two days to find out she has no support? Sad.

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    3. HKGuy

      Give it up. She’s already been fired by the Sanders campaign for her ridiculously inflammatory rhetoric.

      Reply to Comment
    4. LIberal Zionist

      It’s not just an issue of rhetoric and cursing. When she says that Israel “murdered” 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza, she’s saying that we committed war crimes there (and by “we” I include all of our sons who fought there). That puts her on the lunatic fringe of Israel haters. I respect her right to express her views, of course, but to appoint her as director of outreach to the Jewish community sounds like something I would read in The Onion.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        But the Israeli army and its military and civilian leadership did commit war crimes there and the only reason it sounds to you like something you’d read in the Onion is because you have gotten so used to Israel being given a free pass and people looking the other way. As somebody else named Zimmerman sang, the times they are a changin’. So, Jewish outreach, yes. It will not do to try to label Zimmerman “lunatic,” “fringe,” or that old standby, a “hater.” Increasingly, these terms ring hollow to a younger generation that comes at this quite differently.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      All of a sudden everyone on the Right is Miss Manners and so offended. Delicate flowers. Oy, she used the F word. So unladylike. (While Trump gets to say all sorts of ridiculous hateful things.) The Right is trying to position her as “bizarre” and “ridiculously inflammatory” but she is not. She was suspended because she spoke the truth about Israel, Palestine and Bibi too bluntly once upon a time in a blog post, and AIPAC still makes it the third rail of American politics to ever speak the truth, but AIPAC’s power is weakening and the American demographic, Jewish and not Jewish, is changing and Simone Zimmerman is the face of the young generation. As the old folks leave the stage and the young ones take it the current situation is as sustainable as the Antarctic ice shelf. The New York Times noted that Hillary pandered last night and that what Bernie said last night was a breath of fresh air and the most straight talk about Israel we’ve ever seen in a mainstream American debate–and simply for blandly saying the obvious: “We are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity…There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time…We cannot continue to be one-sided.” Chemi Shalev said Sanders’ plea on behalf of Palestinians was “banal but sensational.” One can see Hillary speaking to the old folks and Bernie to the young folks. But don’t worry, poor sensitive dears, 74-year-old Bernie is nothing if not polite.) Zimmerman spoke truth to power and AIPAC wants her head on a platter for it. But we haven’t seen the last of Simone Zimmerman. She’s an attractive young leader of a promising younger generation.

      Reply to Comment