Midwood’s Jewish Neighbors Skeptical of Bernie

Midwood’s Jewish Neighbors Skeptical of Bernie

MIDWOOD — We took to the streets of Midwood to ask members of the Jewish community whether they would be voting for the presidential candidate for the 2020 election, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish himself.

Sanders, who lost the Brooklyn Democratic vote in 2016 to Hillary Clinton by 20%, is a Brooklyn native, and kicked off his 2020 campaign with a rally at Brooklyn College in Midwood in February 2019.

On Super Tuesday, the biggest day of the 2020 primaries, Sanders came in behind Biden, who was leading with 380 delegates to Sanders’ 328 as of this morning, the New York Times reported. Sanders is ahead of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has 28 delegates.

In the 2016 presidential election, voters in 11210 and 11230 zip codes went for Trump, turning large areas of southern Brooklyn on the map red. (Originally published on DNAInfo although the link no longer works).

Map of election results in Brooklyn from the 2016 presidential election. Via of DNAInfo.

A poll released by Siena College Research Institute in February showed that only 6% of registered Democrat voters in New York City, who self-identified as Jewish, would vote for Sanders if the primary were held on the day of polling. Forty-nine percent said they would vote for Trump if the election took place on the day of polling, if the choice came down to Trump vs. Sanders, while 43% would vote for Sanders. Additionally, 61% of self-identified Jewish voters felt unfavorable about Sanders, vs 49% who felt unfavorable toward Trump. Thirty-two percent felt favorably toward Sanders, while 50% felt favorably about Trump.

Are You Voting for Bernie?

Citing a range of issues, from Sanders’ socialist platform to his stance on Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza, many of the almost two dozen individuals we interviewed were openly critical of Sanders, responding to our question — will you be voting for Sanders in the 2020 election — with an unambiguous “no.”

An older orthodox woman who declined to give her name was equally dismissive of the candidate.

“He’s a real [leftist],” she said.

“Not me!” said another older orthodox woman, who also preferred to remain anonymous. “I’m a Trumper.”

A young orthodox mother named Michelle, who was walking with her children, dismissed Sanders on the basis of his stance on vaccination. “I don’t want a socialist sort of person who wants mandatory vaccinations,” she said.

East 21st Street in Midwood. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

“The Biggest Anti-Semitic Jew I Ever Met”

While Sanders has openly said that he is proud to be Jewish, as he did in a campaign video released in February, many members of the Jewish community feel that Sanders is anti-Semitic based on his critique of the Israeli government’s policies in Palestine, which outlets like the New York Times have reported on as far back as the 2016 election.

In a tweet from August 2019, Sanders explained that his opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies does not equate to “hating the Jewish people,” and that he believes we must “stand together against those who promote hatred and racism in Israel, Palestine, the U.S. and everywhere.”

However, one middle-aged orthodox woman we interviewed, who preferred to remain anonymous, called Sanders a “socialist” and “the biggest anti-Semitic Jew I ever met.”

A young man named Daniel mirrored her beliefs. “The comments he’s made about Israel — I don’t believe he’s the candidate of my choice,” he said.

Morris, an older conservative Jewish man who has lived in Midwood for 40 years after emigrating from Israel, also will not be voting for Sanders. He believes that Sanders is “all the way against Israel,” as opposed to Biden, who he believes is more neutral on the topic of Israel. If Biden is an option, Morris said, he’ll vote for him, but if not, he’ll go for Trump.

“[Trump] is not a communist,” Morris said, as opposed to Sanders, whom he believes is a communist, not a socialist, and “wants to turn the United States like Venezuela, like Cuba.” Sanders, he believes, wants to take money from the middle class and distribute it, “Who is he to do [that]? People are working hard for their money.”

A woman from Israel who has lived in Midwood for 11 years, and who identifies as Jewish but is “not religious at all,” said that she will be voting for Trump because of his policies on immigration. While she doesn’t mind immigration in principle, as, she noted, she is an immigrant herself, she doesn’t feel that people should be able to enter the country illegally.

The East Midwood Jewish Center. Rachel Lindy Baron/Bklyner.

“He’s a Socialist”

Other Midwood residents dismissed Sanders based solely on his socialist platform.

“He’s a socialist,” one orthodox middle-aged woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said. “He’s a Marxist.” She would not be voting for Sanders on those grounds.

An older orthodox man named Zev said, simply, that “Socialism is good; millionaires are good. You can’t put the two together,” mirroring presidential candidate and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s statements during the most recent Democratic debate that Sanders, the “best-known socialist in the country,” is “a millionaire with three houses.”

Charles, a young orthodox man and a registered Republican, is also against Sanders. “I don’t like the Democrats overall, since they tried to impeach Donald Trump,” he said. He also believes that Sanders is offering too many freebies. “Free college, free this, free that. He’ll even take away student debt. I mean, how’s this country supposed to survive? Where’s all the money going to come from?”

Trump, he believes, is very good for Jews, whereas Sanders is not. “You’ve seen what he’s done for the state of Israel,” he said. “I’m a big Zionist, so I appreciate that.”

“I don’t want a socialist president,” said Fran, an orthodox woman who has lived in Midwood for over 50 years. “And I don’t like his opinions on Israel.” Instead, she’ll be voting for Bloomberg — not because of his policies, she said, but because she “thought he made a very good mayor,” and because, she feels, he’s both a charitable and an efficient person.

Alex and Sophia, a couple who immigrated to Midwood from Russia before the fall of the Soviet Union, and who lived in the neighborhood for eight years before moving to New Jersey, would not be voting for Sanders on the basis of his socialist beliefs.

“We were living in socialism, and it’s very horrible for people. That’s what he’s trying to implement here,” said Alex.

An older man named Julian was not happy with Sanders’ stance on health insurance, which would eliminate private health insurance plans and provide all citizens with much more affordable, federally-funded health coverage. He didn’t explain why, however.

“He’s a Stalinist — it’s not a question,” an older man, named David, told us as he was leaving a bank on Avenue J. “I would have nothing to do with this guy.”

The Baal Shem Tov Library. Courtesy of Rachel Lindy Ba
The Baal Shem Tov Library. Rachel Baron/Bklyner.

“He’s the Most Honest”

While many members of the community were quick to condemn Sanders, there were a few who supported him as a candidate, or felt more ambivalent toward him.

Lily, who was born in Minsk, Belarus but has lived in Midwood for 30 years, and who does not identify with any particular sect of Judaism, supports Sanders’ stance on health care — that it should be a right, not a privilege. However, having lived under socialism for many years, she’s skeptical of his socialist ideals. While free health care is good, she believes, a capitalist system drives the economy, and a socialist system does not.

Josh, a young man who also does not identify with any particular sect of Judaism, did not explicitly say that he would be voting for Sanders, but did say that he supports his policies, as well as his honesty.

“Out of all the politicians, I believe he’s the most honest.” What makes Sanders trustworthy, Josh said, is that he’s maintained the same loyal following throughout his entire political career. He also likes that Sanders is less “establishment” – i.e., more willing to upset the status quo — than candidates like Biden.

Sheva, a young woman who identifies as modern orthodox, said that she would vote for Sanders over President Trump. Given the choice between Sanders and Bloomberg or Biden, however, she’d go for the latter two.

“Coming from President Trump right now, if we go into the more advanced ideas of [Sanders], the country’s going to be too divided,” she said. “We need a transition point.” The United States is already a very divided country, she believes, and having Sanders as president would “take it over the top.”


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