Press "Enter" to skip to content

Bernie Sanders and the elephant in the room

graphic by Ellie '18
graphic by Ellie ’18

No matter how much we talk about the separation of church and state, religion weasels its way into politics. Presidential candidates talk about their religion, their love for God, their religion’s influence on their political thoughts, but there’s one thing that people aren’t talking about: Bernie Sanders’s Judaism.
When Barack Obama ran for president, we talked about having the first African-American president.
As Hillary Clinton runs for president, we talk about having the first female president.
So why aren’t we talking about having the first Jewish president? Or even the first non-Christian president?
It’s probably because his political views as a socialist are more newsworthy than his being a Jew. But as more and more people start feeling the Bern, the fact that he is Jewish will likely make its way into some headlines. Having a Jewish president wouldn’t change the day-to-day affairs of the country, but it’s the kind of thing that the less tolerant people in the country could use against him. The list of Jewish stereotypes is endless and readily available for people who don’t like Bernie to use.
But why does Bernie being Jewish matter?
It shouldn’t, really, but there is one area where it might rock the boat (or vote, as it were). Playing the Jew card is something that I know some of my Jewish Republican friends (some of whom are big time fundraisers and donors for Republican candidates) will be doing if Bernie gets the democratic ticket. With the current republican candidate lineup being what it is, plenty of Republican voters are unhappy with their options, but rather than not vote, they have the option of playing the Jew card: voting for Bernie because of the cultural alliance they share with him.
Playing the Jew card doesn’t mean that every Republican Jew, like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, will be voting for Bernie. But it could mean that Bernie could be gaining more votes from the other side.
Another reason why playing the Jew card could rock the vote ties into foreign policy. One of the issues that matters most to Republican Jews, or at least the Republican Jewish Coalition, is the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Since Republican front runner Donald Trump cancelled a trip to Israel after Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Trump’s views on Muslims, many Republican Jews have been unimpressed by Trump’s foreign policy ideas such as banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. Additionally, many Jews are concerned about how Trump and other republican candidates can aid Israel in its conflict with Palestine. And while Bernie Sanders does not wholly support Israel, he does believe in a diplomatic, two state resolution to the conflict with Palestine. This may not be exactly what Israel wants, but at least it is rational and wouldn’t crush the U.S.’s reputation in foreign policy.
If Republican Jews are satisfied with Bernie’s stance on Israel, it could mean more votes for Bernie. If he does get the Democratic ticket, it begs the question of whether or not his religious affiliation will become a greater part of his image in the way that JFK’s being a Catholic was a part of his image. A Jewish president would be a milestone for this country, but whether or not that milestone is a welcomed one could reveal how much this country has evolved.