Opinion // It’s Not Just That Hillary Is a Woman

By | Mar 08, 2016
Bernie and Hilary

And it’s not enough that Bernie is Jewish.

by Letty Cottin Pogrebin 

People keep asking Jewish feminists like me which would excite us more, the first woman or the first Jew in the Oval Office. The answer is, it depends on which woman and which Jew.

The mere thought of President Carly Fiorina or Vice President Sarah Palin gave me palpitations. But in 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro became Walter Mondale’s Democratic running mate, I rejoiced, because she wasn’t just any woman; she was an “out” feminist, fearless in her advocacy for gender equity and reproductive rights and against discrimination, poverty, racism, homophobia and violence against women.

Oddly enough, in the 2016 campaign, it’s okay to call yourself a feminist, but not to be explicitly pro-woman—as if half the human race is just another interest group. I’m supporting Hillary Clinton not because I’m a woman and she’s a woman, but because she has worked tirelessly on behalf of all women, even the young ones who criticize her. “They may not support me now,” she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow at a February debate, “but I support them and we’ll work together.”

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The feminist in me trusts Hillary because of her lifelong dedication to advancing women’s health, physical safety, economic well-being, legal equality and human dignity. These are not just talking points; they’ve always been among her explicit priorities. The fact that she has lived more than six decades inside a woman’s skin is just icing on the cake.

Just as I’m not automatically for any woman, I’m not for just any Jew. Though inclined to shep nachas from members of our tribe who achieve national prominence, I felt no kinship with the late Senator Arlen Specter as he mercilessly attacked Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Nor was I thrilled when Al Gore picked as his running mate Senator Joe Lieberman, who often tacked to the right—against affirmative action, pro-Pentagon—on issues where most American Jews tilt left.

As for Bernie Sanders, the feminist in me isn’t sure where women’s issues fit into his priorities—and the Jew in me is bewildered by his relationship to his Jewish identity.

A few days before the New Hampshire primary, I heard him say about his faith, “It’s a guiding principle in my life—absolutely it is…everybody practices religion in a different way.” True enough, but I wish I understood Bernie’s way. I don’t want him to brandish his Judaism the way the Republican candidates trumpet their Christian piety, or to praise God or pander to Jewish leaders. But I wish he seemed more comfortable in his Jewish skin. While he has never denied his roots, he seems to have cultivated a remarkably low profile of his ethno-religious origins. He was born in Brooklyn to a Jewish couple, so why, in his New Hampshire victory speech, did he describe himself as “the son of a Polish immigrant”?

Since we are only 2.2 percent of the population, other Americans probably could benefit from understanding how many different kinds of Jews there really are. I see his candidacy as a squandered “teachable moment.” I wish I knew whether he identifies with Jewish peoplehood or considers us just another religion. I wish I knew where he stands on Israel’s settlement policy and its treatment of Palestinians.

Instead of just mentioning that his family lost relatives in the Holocaust, he could show there’s more to his Jewish heritage than tragedy and victimization. He could acknowledge the debt he owes to Jewish socialists. Instead of just damning income inequality, he could give a shout-out to Jews who did something about it—Jewish women who worked with immigrants in the urban settlement house movement, Jewish union leaders who struggled for fair labor standards, Jewish feminists who fought for gender justice.

Instead of just endorsing Black Lives Matter, he could identify with the Jewish civil rights activists who, far beyond our proportion in the population, went south for the cause.

Bernie cites Pope Francis as a major inspiration, but I’ve never heard him mention a Jewish leader he admires. He speaks the language of Judaism’s core values (peace, justice, fairness, relief for the poor and oppressed) but never seems to make the connection.

Most tellingly, he said he volunteered on a kibbutz but would never say which one. It took an Israeli journalist (security analyst Yossi Melman) to identify it as Shaar Haamakim, which was then affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair, the socialist youth movement, and Mapam, the leftist political party. Why would a man running as a socialist hide this biographical fact? Maybe because, as Naomi Zeveloff noted in The Forward, the founders of that kibbutz “had a strong admiration for the Communist system in the Soviet Union.” It’s one thing to rail against the one-percenters, but quite another to have to explain the difference between democratic socialism and Soviet communism in a sound bite.

Bernie probably realized that once the politics of his kibbutz were known, he’d be tarred with guilt by association. And indeed, the conservative American Thinker immediately dubbed his old kibbutz “Stalinist.” Did he fear a preview of the red-baiting and stealth anti-Semitism in store for him if he actually won the nomination? If so, he was probably right. The Swiftboating of John Kerry’s military heroism and the demonizing of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism will look like love pats once the opposition attack dogs sink their teeth into the country’s first Jewish presidential nominee—whether it’s Bernie or someone else.

If he beats Hillary, I’ll vote for him even though I doubt he can win. And if it’s quixotic anyway, shouldn’t Jews gain something from the exercise? As Rabbi James Glazier of South Burlington, Vermont, said of Bernie, “We need a Jewish hug from him every once in a while.” My sentiments exactly.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate.

15 thoughts on “Opinion // It’s Not Just That Hillary Is a Woman

  1. Dan says:

    The pathetic woman in this piece is not Hillary Clinton, but the woman who wrote it. Pogrebin has been beating the same “progressive” dead horse for decades. Which is to say she’s been marching in place while Israel and the Jewish people have left her behind.

    1. Letty, ignore this guy and his nasty comment. Thanks for writing what you did!

      1. Tony Enriquez says:

        Amen! I am non-Jewish (except in my heart) and I agree with Letty. Thanks, Baths for supporting her.

    2. Audrey Roth says:

      Go back to Bernie, Dan. Your misogyny is showing.

  2. Jerry Newman says:

    Yes it would be nice to have a Jew in the White House and, yes, it would be nice to have a woman finally in the White House. But those factors, as desirable as they are, are secondary to the desire to have a competent President who can act in ways that lead to unifying the nation, provide opportunity and economic stability to all Americans, enact economic policies that are stabilize and grow the economy to the benefit of all, keep our county safe from both foreign and domestic terrorists who demand that their own extreme positions be imposed, provide health care, adequate food, housing and education to all and works to make our criminal and legal system fair for all Americans.
    In other words, religion and gender are not the primary concerns for my choice for President. The primary trait should be competence.

  3. LETTY. Ignore this guy and his stupid comment. THANKS FOR WRITING WHAT YOU DID.

    1. Helen Cook says:

      LETTY, you are the best!

  4. Ari K says:

    She’s worked tirelessly on behalf of all women??? Juanita Broderick could not be reached for comment. Neither was the 11 year old girl she destroyed in the witness stand while she defended the pedophile who raped her. If you want to vote for Hillary because you are a self hating Jew liberal loser moron then that’s your business. But please spare us Hillary’s non-existent accolades

  5. Sonya Hamlin says:

    Bravo Letty,
    Again you bring issues to the surface. As you noted , you can’t be half a Jew and mention only those connections that are not too damaging or noticeable. Actually the creed he sells — concern for the common man and our responsibility for each other- was a basic theme of all the young Jews who came here and became militant based on their many Jewsih ideals.
    Keep talking, Letty. That man who wrote you so nastily and uninformed is only symbolic of why you need to keep writing.

  6. Carol says:

    Thank you Letty for asking the right questions. To add a bit: Bernie finally stated in answering a question from the audience in a recent debate that his Judaism is (don’t recall his ‘exact’ wording of it): “Do unto others as you want others to do to you.” (or as otherwise said, “what is hateful to you, do not do to others.”). He was also asked in another recent debate to define his socialism (vis a vis Cuba, early admiring Fidel, etc, ). He worked around it by talking about what changed for the Cuban people ( health care and education for all, etc.) with the revolution (not mentioning the word).
    It is hard to explain “international” socialism in a sound bite, but how about “democratic socialism?”

  7. Joseph says:

    This reads like Clinton proxy talking-points for a certain audience that knows and respects Letty. Pardon me, but if we’re going to criticize Bernie for a bit of political calculation concerning his personal faith and long-ago history, how about putting the same critical tests to Hillary’s constant and often clumsy poll-driven public statements. All in, we know more about what’s in Bernie’s heart than we do of Hillary, for whom voter calculus always seems foremost in her mind.

    1. Larry says:

      What’s in Bernie’s heart is a hatred for Israel and a desire to smear and delegitimize it. What’s in Bernie’s heart is also a desire to avoid saying anything nice about Judaism or Jewish people; instead, his heart tells him to always focus only on the fact that some of his relatives were victims of the nazis.

      He has libeled Israel continuously w/re. to military and social issues. He is a Jew by virtue of genes only and has done Israel and the Jewish people in general a lot of harm.

  8. Marion Cuba says:

    All the gender talk, all the Jewish talk–these are irrelevant. We want the best candidate who is smart, experienced in the ways of the world and our country; passionately devoted to humane, liberal, thoughtful issues; and one who can keep the presidency from a Republican who seems to be unknowing and uncaring of our country’s principles. Hilary Clinton.

  9. RJM says:

    The author doesn’t think Bernie would win in a general election, even though all of the polls show that he beats every potential Republican candidate by a much larger margin than Hillary would …sounds like Hillary propaganda to me.

  10. Philocypher says:

    With candidates falling over themselves to ‘support’ Israel, an actual Jew would be ‘icing on the cake’. Isn’t AIPAC and Jinsa having the run of the beltway enough? Which other country gets such treatment!!! More broadly, I hate how ‘Identitarian’ politics has become, as if th first black, female, muslim, lesbian, jewish, hispanic, transgender president is a ‘milestone’ for ‘tolerance’ and thus a good thing. Um, what? Is the presudency just there to give sanctioned victim-groups a bit of feel-good bromide? There is too much focus on receiving pity from the party instead of giving love to the country. And hillary is a hypocrite, with her wooden pandering and posturing, and a scandal list a mile long. I hope they have jumpsuits for her cankles in Rikers. Sanders is unrealistic, and scraping the barrel for smug tumblerati socialists who don’t even love what makes America great, they truly just want handouts (although his stance on the Federal Reserve, Nafta, campaign finance etc is laudable). Trump is good as a lightning rod, it lets dissatisfied, disgruntled people know they’re not just kooks/cranks/conspiracy theorists. You can’t marginalise the majority, once they know their full power, and the full emptiness of the labels. If you can’t put them in a box and throw them in a hole, you might have to debate with facts, address their concerns and acknowledge their fury. If he does nothing but dismantle cultural marxism and build TheWall (TM) it will be more than anything since Kennedy.

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