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Shani Shahmoon: Sanders campaign must fire Jewish outreach coordinator

By Shani Shahmoon

April 17, 2016 10:27 p.m.

Bernie Sanders lost the Jewish community last week – if he ever had it to begin with.

Last week, the Bernie Sanders campaign hired Simone Zimmerman as their new Jewish outreach coordinator. Shortly after receiving heavy criticism, the campaign suspended Zimmerman until they finish an investigation on the number of allegations made against her oft-considered radical Israel-Palestine stance.

The quickly-suspended Jewish outreach coordinator of the Sanders campaign holds very controversial views. Zimmerman, alumna of UC Berkeley and past national president of J Street U, the anti-occupation college organization, supports the controversial, and inherently anti-Semitic, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Her time spent as an anti-occupation activist both in her college and postgraduate years has been committed to a double standard in rhetoric that without fail holds Israel accountable for the entirety of the chaos surrounding the complex conflict. Currently, Zimmerman is involved in the If Not Now Movement, a similarly biased anti-occupation organization that calls for the divestment from Israel for its alleged human rights abuses.

The Sanders campaign failed in its attempt at building any sort of bridge with the Jewish community by hiring Zimmerman, whose perspectives on Jewish issues is limited to a small sect of the Jewish community and focuses solely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than the vast array of Jewish issues. An unclear and undefined suspension and investigation of Zimmerman is not enough to address the highly unpopular decision made by the Sanders campaign. Making it a clear point in firing her is the campaign’s best bet for not further sabotaging the few connections Sanders has with the Jewish community.

Zimmerman has been put under investigation following the findings of angst-filled, childish statuses posted last March which used foul language and name-calling when referring to Benjamin Netanyahu, the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Israel. Furthermore, she had taken the liberty of calling on Hillel International, the umbrella organization of the main centers of Jewish life on college campuses, to promote and host pro-Boycott, Diversity and Sanctions speakers on campus. Zimmerman holds a strong and disrespectful view of potential allies and relationships that Sanders must uphold if elected president.

Zimmerman’s path to anti-Israel radicalism is not expected from her Zionist upbringing. Zimmerman and I grew up in similar communities, just six years apart. Pulled in by the conservative Jewish movement, we both attended and participated in United Synagogue Youth, a conservative Jewish youth movement, as well as Camp Ramah, a conservative Jewish summer camp. Both of us had been fed similar pro-Israel rhetoric, and were essentially raised to fight the common war against unfair Israel accusations.

But that’s where our paths separate – mine towards a more centrist approach and hers an unpopular far-left approach. UC Berkeley’s pro-Israel community was silenced years ago when the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement solidified itself on Berkeley’s campus during Zimmerman’s freshman year in 2011. Following her disappointment in the pro-Israel stances at the divestment meeting, Zimmerman found herself being a Jewish leader among the far-left and radical anti-occupation organization on campus, J Street U – she later came to be the organization’s national president.

This contradicting and close-minded history was either unnoticed or not considered by the campaign. By hiring Zimmerman, specifically without any explanation as to why she was chosen, the Sanders campaign has demolished any past attempts to bridge the gap between the only current Jewish presidential candidate and the Jewish community. The campaign and the candidate have affirmed and affiliated themselves with anti-Israel organizations that Zimmerman has stood up for and rooted for during her college and postgraduation years. They have justified the name-calling of democratically elected people, and have validated the double-standard tactics that Zimmerman and her fellow peers support.

Even more so, Zimmerman’s “expertise” with the Jewish community is solely based on foreign policy, not Jewish advocacy.

Though commonly disregarded, there is more plaguing the Jewish community than just the Israel-Palestine conflict. Take, for example, all of the non-Israel related instances of anti-Semitism breaking out worldwide and nationwide. What has Zimmerman done to recognize this throughout her time as an activist? Nothing. But I can tell you everything she stands for in regards to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

If she was chosen as a foreign policy consultant, I would respectfully disagree with the campaign’s decision to hire her, but be less outraged given that her ultra-progressive views align with some of Sanders’. But as a Jew, Zimmerman fails to represent anyone but herself and a few others in the grand scheme of things.

The reason for this mistake could be pointed to Sanders’ legitimate lack of understanding on how to reach out to the majority of Jews.

Sanders’ time in Vermont required little outreach to the Jewish community. In 2014, the Jewish population was less that 6,000, roughly 1 percent of Vermont’s population. Jewish outreach was not necessary for Sanders’ Senate campaign and Senate terms, and neither was expanding his knowledge on the complexity of perspective on Israel-Palestine relations both within and outside of the Jewish community.

While firing her may marginalize this small pro-Simone sect of Jews, the Sanders campaign must think long term in trying to properly reach out to the Jewish community. Firing her is the only way to stand up against the anti-Semitism and bias that Zimmerman stands for.

Zimmerman does not represent me as a Jewish-American; Zimmerman does not represent someone who is open-minded; and Sanders has lost me in his failed race to meet the Jewish community halfway in understanding.

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Shani Shahmoon | Opinion columnist
Shani Shahmoon is an opinion columnist and a member of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board. She writes about student activism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and mental health issues.
Shani Shahmoon is an opinion columnist and a member of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board. She writes about student activism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and mental health issues.
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