One of the resounding criticisms of Bernie Sanders this election year has been his youthful moment on a kibbutz, which he says convinced him of socialism. I and many others, including the late Edward Said in his classic The Question of Palestine, have emphasized that the kibbutz movement has for decades functioned as an instrument of state violence and therefore we should hold Sanders to this.
Yet the right wing, in their ever-vigilant effort to label Sanders as Stalin’s reincarnation, helped clarify this recently. Sanders in fact was at Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim as part of Hashomer Hatzair. This is something that I find tremendously relieving.
Just to clarify, Hashomer Hatzair was a binationalist Zionist movement that wanted to establish a social order based on proletarian ethos as opposed to ethnocracy. Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s father was a member at one point. Dr. Noam Chomsky had this to say of it:
As I mentioned, I never joined any organized group because of sharp disagreement and skepticism about them, though emotionally I was drawn to such youth groups as Hashomer Hatzair, which in those days professed a commitment to socialist binationalism in Palestine and kibbutz values, as well as the Hebraic culture that I was very much a part of… [T]he position that I held, while I wouldn’t say I was the only person in the world to hold it, nevertheless it was very far from the mainstream. It was a position that did have some standing and some support in the Zionist movement. But it was also one that was distinct from those of any of the existing movements, except for ones that were Stalinist or Trotskyite, therefore out for me, so I couldn’t join in.
I find this revelation about Sanders a breath of fresh air after being under water for too long. To be clear, I am not a morally repugnant person. Dr. Chomsky, who is one of my own personal heroes, once called himself probably one of the most conservative people in America because he hold people to the same standard. I agree with this, I insist on people being decent to each other regardless of whatever excuses they make. In the case of the Israel-Palestine issue, I find it morally repugnant that a state with a confirmed arsenal of nuclear weaponry at Dimona utilizes the persecution of their forefathers in Europe, back when anti-Semitism was an existential threat to Jews, so to carry on like raving maniacs. Dr. Finkelstein, whose parents were both in the concentration camps, once said Benjamin Netanyahu should be brought to the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague for obnoxiousness.
Does this mean the super-delegates issue is solved? Does this absolve him of the votes for sanctions against Cuba and bombing Yugoslavia? Does this mean his positions on any number of things have been perfect? Absolutely not. His statements in Vermont during Operation Protective Edge were awful.
But this makes my respect for his campaign position on Israel-Palestine go through the roof. Now we know from the outset he was serious about this.
EDITORIAL NOTE: It is worth mentioning that not everyone ever affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair engaged in great behavior, some members did end up in the Palmach and Haganah. However, it was not until the 1980’s and the rise of the so-called New Historians in Israel that the true nature of Israel’s founding and the nakba became well-known. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Western media and intellectuals like the late Irving Howe tried to create a false idea about the kibbutz movement as emblematic of Israel as a socialist wonderland. It is perhaps the case that Sanders went to Israel under these pretenses. With some irony, I am including a link to the Right wing article on this topic by David Horowitz’s Front Page Magazine. If one overlooks the negativity, it gives a fairly precise explanation of how far to the Left Hashomer Hatzair was and how critical its founders were of Knesset policy.