Ep. 39: To Heal the World: Bernie's Jewish Roots (w/ Joel Rubin & Katie Halper)

Jan. 6, 2020

Ep. 39: To Heal the World: Bernie's Jewish Roots (w/ Joel Rubin & Katie Halper)

Briahna explores how Bernie's Jewish roots shaped his politics with Joel Rubin, the campaign's new director of Jewish outreach, and reporter, podcaster, and comedian Katie Halper. Briahna and Katie also dig into some of the anti-Semitic attacks that unscrupulous media types throw at Bernie.

Joel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoelMartinRubin

Katie on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kthalps


Briahna Joy Gray: Tikkun Olam. It's a Hebrew phrase that embodies the idea that Jews bear responsibility, not only for their own moral, spiritual, and material welfare, but also for the welfare of society at large. It's a phrase that was raised independently by both of my guests this week, two Jewish Bernie supporters who see that sense of social responsibility as central to Bernie's appeal. Bernie Sanders would be America's first Jewish president, no small accomplishment at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League reported that 2017 was the worst year it had ever monitored with nearly 2,000 instances of violence, threats, vandalism, and other expressions of anti-Semitic hate.

And who can forget the so called Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, which gathered hundreds of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis who marched with tiki torches while chanting, "Jews will not replace us."

Nazis: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

Briahna Joy Gray: The trend continued over the next two years with waves of attacks, anti-Semitic robocalls, harassment and vandalism against synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. 2018 also saw the single deadliest attack against a Jewish community in U.S. history, when a gunman killed 11 people and wounded six, at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. The gunman had been active in far-right communities online, echoing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, along with anti-immigrant sentiment.

And just a few weeks ago, a man armed with a knife burst into the home of a New York rabbi and stabbed several people. Of course, anti-Semitism has a history stretching back thousands of years. But Trump's politics of division has appeared to add fuel to the flames. Bernie, by contrast, is anti-Trump. If you've ever watched a Bernie speech or attended one of his rallies, you have heard him say that to build a coalition strong enough to defeat the powerful and wealthy special interests that are ruining our environment and making us sick, we must pull together. Black and white...

Bernie Sanders: Black and white and Latino and Native American, Asian American, immigrant, those who were born in this country, gay and straight, we're going to stand together.

Briahna Joy Gray: This is a winning message, not just according to Bernie, but according to Demos, a liberal think tank which found that voters respond, when we call out, when race is being used as a method to divide us up, as some politicians have done for decades. When we put the interest of working people first, whether black or white or brown, working people win.

Across racial and religious divisions, voters rate healthcare, the environment, education and the economy as among their chief concerns. Pundits ask what black women want, ignoring polls that say healthcare is our number one concern. And polls that show Bernie is the most trusted candidate on healthcare. Everyone wants their kids to receive a quality, debt free education, especially working-class millennials who have traded mortgages for student loan payments. Nearly everyone worries about losing their healthcare along with their job. Nearly everyone shares a common experience of struggle in a country that all too often tells us, "Sorry, not sorry. You're on your own."

But that's not in the spirit of Tikkun Olam. And it's not the spirit of Bernie. How we're going to win this thing and change this country is together. This is Hear the Bern, a podcast about the people, ideas, and policies that drive the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and the movement to secure a dignified life for everyone living in this country. My name is Briahna Joy Gray and I'm coming to you from campaign headquarters, here in Washington D.C.

This week I spoke to Bernie's new director of Jewish outreach, Joel Rubin, about the ways that Bernie's own Jewish identity and forms his politics. Joel has had a remarkable career, helping to found J Street, working in the Obama state department, teaching at Carnegie Mellon and more. He's also been touched personally by the Trump Era's rising tide of anti-Semitism. He's a member of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that was attacked two years ago. I also chatted with friend of the show, Katie Halper, about the anti-Semitic tropes that get directed Bernie's way by unscrupulous media types. And I asked her how we can push back and pull together.

I'm so glad to be joined today by Joel Rubin, who was recently announced to be our Director of Jewish Engagement, or Outreach. But you have had this incredibly varied, long and interesting career. Can you also give us a little, some of the roles that you've, you've occupied in your past?

Joel Rubin: Oh, that's, that's wonderful, thank you so much for asking me about that. It's always a little humbling to be in the position of explaining who you are and why you are in a role like this. For me, I grew up in a very mainstream Jewish household. Conservation in the religious sense, but very mainstream, very much identified with Jewish culture, with visits to Israel, with participating actively in the synagogue. So, I spent much of my youth going to Jewish summer camp, participating in youth groups...

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm

Joel Rubin: Learning Hebrew badly but learning it nonetheless. And really becoming confident in my identity as a Jewish American. But growing up in the ideals of Tikkun Olam, which means healing the world. And the idea that we are good stewards of this planet, we are good participants in this society if we are striving to make it better. And if we're working with our fellow men and women to make a better Earth and a better planet.

So, it actually was part of my upbringing that I was not just Jewish but that I was American and part of the idea that we should be helping to create a better world for our families and our future. So, that's been kind of driving me professionally ever since I went to Brandeis University, which is a predominantly Jewish school. I studied abroad at Tel Aviv University was hard, I participated on a Holocaust trip called the March of the Living, which is about understanding the roots of the Holocaust in Poland and experiencing that firsthand. And it really inspired me to go into the Peace Corp.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: Quite frankly afterwards, and that was, for me, a sort of a, the awakening, of getting outside of myself and that sort of Jewish upbringing in America and really expanding and building on Tikkun Olam. So, I went into the Peace Corp, and was a volunteer in environmental education in Costa Rica.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: I speak better Spanish than Hebrew.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Joel Rubin: [laughs]. Don't test me.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs]. I can't.

Joel Rubin: [foreign language 00:07:56] Nah, it really, it was fantastic and ever since then I've been fortunate to have sort of melded those two worlds and tried to bring that into my work and I go further and deeper into the work but the personal is really part of my work.

Briahna Joy Gray: Well in some ways, you are kind of underselling some of these...

Joel Rubin: Uh-huh [affirmative].

Briahna Joy Gray: ...big ticket items being former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Obama administration, being an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon.

Joel Rubin: Yeah.

Briahna Joy Gray: Being a national security expert for Axis and for a lot of people who might be familiar with you already, it might be from your appearances on networks including Fox following the Tree of...

Joel Rubin: And MSNBC.

Briahna Joy Gray: MSNBC, I don't want to put you in a box, Joel.

Joel Rubin: I'm sorry.

Briahna Joy Gray: Going on to talk about...

Joel Rubin: Yeah.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...the horrible shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, where your parents attended.

Joel Rubin: The night before they were there for that Friday night service and the shooting in Squirrel Hill where I grew up. I'm a fourth generation Pittsburgher. I was back in Pittsburgh last week visiting my grandmother...

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: ...who is 97, and she was born...

Briahna Joy Gray: Oh, wow.

Joel Rubin: In western Pennsylvania. Her parents were the immigrants from Romania. I drove by Tree of Life, which was the place I spent dozens and dozens of weekends at; it was the synagogue down the street from our house. The synagogue is still boarded up.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: My three daughters were baby named at that synagogue. We went back home to Pittsburgh and it's part of our family and it's devastating to see that happen in Squirrel Hill. But the community is strong but wounded.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Deeply wounded. So, professionally, what I've tried to do is to sort of bring these lanes together in my Jewish upbringing, my commitment to social justice, Tikkun Olam. I work, I came to work in Washington after graduate school and worked in the government for a number of years and was a civil servant and eventually realized that I needed to get out in particular, when the Bush administration, when I was a civil servant was prosecuting the war in Iraq.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: That was the, that was the end point. And I went to work on Capitol Hill and joined Senate democrats and worked as a foreign policy advisor on Capitol Hill. And then was fortunate to have found an opportunity from there to help found J Street.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: Which is a prominent and incredibly successful and I'm extremely proud of the organization, an incredibly successful pro, pro peace voice here in Washington and nationally and I was the founding Political Director and Government Affairs Director. So, it's sort of the Washington hand working the hill and working the politics for J Street at its inception.

Briahna Joy Gray: So, your bonafides here are kind of unimpeachable. So, I want to ask you, why is it that...

Joel Rubin: Yeah.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...you wanted to come onboard...

Joel Rubin: Yeah.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...and work with the Bernie Sanders campaign?

Joel Rubin: It's simple. Bernie's building a movement and Bernie is the king on these issues. He is the pivot point.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: For, as an American Jew, what it means to be an active participant in the American life and a Progressive who is wanting to not just be seen as Jewish and not just been seen as American and not just be seen as someone who is an idealist but all of those together. And he embodies, frankly, in his, in his positions and in his views and in his policy recommendations. And I am a policy geek at heart, so. I talk that way about it and when I go in, on T.V., I always default to policy things because I think that's what really matters. At the end of the day, when you are seeking to be the head of the American government, you are seeking to enact policy that can change people's lives.

Briahna Joy Gray: Absolutely.

Joel Rubin: And the President of the United States, unlike the current one, has to care about the policies. And Bernie personifies good policies, progressive policies and also from my perspective, very Jewish...

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: ...policies. I will say that proudly.

Briahna Joy Gray: So, tell me, tell me what you mean by that.

Joel Rubin: So, healing the world, Tikkun Olam, come back to Tikkun Olam. It is such a core ethos across the Jewish community. If you want to heal the world, you want to stop climate change and reverse it. If you want to heal the world, you want everyone to have healthcare.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: If you want to heal the world, you want everyone to have enough food on the table and pride in their work.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: Economic justice. These are core Jewish values, these are not solely Jewish values, these are intermittent with universal values but as a Jewish American, I deeply identify with them. So, to me, the values of Bernie's policies that are clarified through his policy proposals are rooted in a world view that is intrinsically Jewish.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm. So...

Joel Rubin: And that resonates with me.

Briahna Joy Gray: That's, that's fascinating on, on kind of two levels. One because Bernie has gotten some pushback from people...

Joel Rubin: Right.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...who want him to talk more about his cultural identity, to talk more about his past and personal aspects of his biography and who, increasingly, are kind of, there's been this push to characterize him as insufficiently Jewish.

Joel Rubin: Huh. Sure.

Briahna Joy Gray: And asking him to do more to unpack his biography. And there's this other prong, a thing that exists, is this, what feels like an intentionally decoupling of leftist values from sympathy toward Jewish people or, or rather, more pointedly...

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...an association between leftism and anti-Semitism...

Joel Rubin: Right.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...that is kind of being manifested. So, I want to talk to you about both of these things. How have you perceived, first, Bernie's engagement with his Jewish identity? And then, second, what do you say to folks who are skeptical of the left as being a friendly place for Jewish people?

Joel Rubin: I'll take the latter one first because as you were framing the question, I'm getting all these shots of memories of people calling me a self-hating Jew when I helped found J Street, right?

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: You know, my daughter just had a bat mitzvah, we belong to a synagogue, I'm on the Israel Committee, leave me alone, right? Like, like I got attacked when I went to Capitol Hill early on at J Street, by people saying, "You hate Israel."

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: And I would respond in Hebrew, like [foreign language 00:13:56] and then they would just kind of stop and say, "No, no, no, I didn't mean to challenge you, I'm sorry." So, it takes a little bit, it takes a lot of push back.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: And it's just, people when they are uncomfortable and they're challenged in ways that they are not traditionally challenged, where someone says, for example, "It's pro-Israel to support a state of Palestine,"

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: "It's pro-Israel to support peace." That makes a lot of folks really nervous.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: But when you peel that back, and you start explaining, this is why, you suddenly understand that actually, most people agree with you. What I found phenomenally fascinating in the early days of J Street, was how many members of Congress would say, "Thank God, you guys created this." And we would act as almost like therapists, because they spend years getting beat up by the right wing in our community who said, "If you want to be pro-Israel, you can never say Palestine."

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Like as a word. You can't say that.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: You can never say diplomacy with Iran.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: Period. Redline. Don't say it. And so, you have progressives, progressive Jews, afraid to say that stuff. Progressive Democrats, non-Jews, afraid that they will get attacked by the Jewish community.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: So, we changed that dynamic. Bernie's doing that on a mega level.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: But the thing is, it takes, it takes leaning in on it. I think then once we start changing that conversation, all things are available. It's really important when I hear Bernie talking about issues and I hear him leaning in. He's coming from a place of support for Israel and support of being Jewish. But he's not coming at it from a perspective of, say, racist, I'll put it that way.

Briahna Joy Gray: Okay.

Joel Rubin: And I, and I'll be blunt, you know. I've heard a lot of racist commentary.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm, hmm.

Joel Rubin: From the other side.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Joel Rubin: About being supportive of this position, the progressive left has been criticized of being anti-Semitic.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: For being critical of Israel.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: I don't buy that at all.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Joel Rubin: And the reason I don't buy it is because I actually listen to what they say. And there have been so many racist attacks against progressives coming from the far right who want to make the mainstream Jews, are those up for grabs? Are the liberal Jews and the liberal democrats in general nervous about not toeing the line?

Briahna Joy Gray: Right. Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Where Bernie comes in, where he's shaking things up, he doesn't toe the line. And that makes them really nervous that a Jewish person who is comfortable in his own skin is saying things that break that line in two.

Briahna Joy Gray: That really resonates with me a lot. We talked about this a little when we first met that from my perspective, given the prominence that identity has taken in certain respects in the States and the kind of, the leeway that folks are given by the virtue of their identities, I have found that I have been able to have certain kinds of sensitive conversations about identity politics and race relations...

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...with respect to black Americans.

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: But other writers who are not black Americans, who aren't women, haven't been able to do, and I feel that my identity has enabled me to have the comfort, let's say, I don't want to say cover, but the comfort, let's say, to talk about subjects that otherwise might have me immediately dismissed as racist or sexist, right?

Joel Rubin: Right, right.

Briahna Joy Gray: And so, there's something that does feel empowering about having, finally, this first Jewish President, potentially.

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: Who is able to talk about basic human rights concerns...

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...that have been much less stigmatized globally and in other, in other countries, you know, in the U.N. context and other parts of the world, where in America, we have, there has been a lot of like fear that certain kinds of comments will be construed as anti-Semitic, in part because of this very conservative right wing effort to make that the case.

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: So, much so that you have this kind of topsy turvy world where Donald Trump is positioning himself as the person who is most friendly...

Joel Rubin: Yeah.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...to Jewish people at the same time he's using a number of veiled, stigmatized, you know, language at the same time he's saying that American Jews that would vote for a progressive are quote "disloyal". You know, what do you make of the right's ability to kind of own the space as the only pro Jewish group...

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...in this country?

Joel Rubin: So, Donald Trump inspires the racists in our society.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: And he inspires the white nationalists. The white nationalists are the ones who are walking into synagogues and shooting them up in the name of white supremacy.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Donald Trump goes to Jewish events and says, "You want to vote for me because you like your money too much."

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: "And or you like your money too much so you will vote for me, you won't vote for the liberal candidate." He equivocates on Charlottesville and says, "Both sides have very honorable, fine people."

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: And then he hides behind his son-in-law here, Kushner and a very right-wing approach to Israel policy that has, in his mind, justification for being essentially a bigot and a racist and coddling those who attack the Jewish community. So, I think we have to be very clear about this and I think it's very helpful with Bernie as a candidate for saying these things in public because Donald Trump will use anti-Semitism as a political weapon. And he will and his allies will attack the Democrats and have been consistently attacking Democrats by portraying Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, for example, as the most dangerous anti-Semites in the world.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Joel Rubin: Because they want a state of Palestine. And then they will attempt to criminalize speech on campus about BDS, regardless of how you feel about BDS, speech should not be criminalized in the United States of America in 2020. And so, that's where Trump is coming from and so, for Bernie and the movements, values to truly reflect, all right, their positions truly, truly reflect our values, we must be ensuring that all the components of our community are flourishing.

I mean, I remember when I was in Costa Rica in the Peace Corps, and I'm living in a remote village and everybody's Catholic or Evangelical, and I'm the Jew in the village, and I'm showing them what it means to light the Hanukkah candles and they would come and talk to me about the Bible. And it was so much tolerance and openness and it was so rich, and it was fun and I'm still in touch with all of them. And that's the world we want to live in.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Joel Rubin: Where we are different and the same at the same time. And we don't weaponize our difference to defeat the other politically in order to cause pain and harm and death.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: That's really what Bernie represents, and I'll go back to Bernie on this because this is why I want to be here is he represents the deepest, darkest challenge to what Trump is trying to do.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: Because he's a Jew.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. So, there is a way in which it is empowering to have the identity and be able to dive headfirst into these subjects.

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: But there's also a piece of me that never wants to unwittingly open the door to genuinely...

Joel Rubin: Sure.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...bad faith commentary or bad faith attacks, right? Like I don't want to open up a cover like for the fact that there are obviously genuinely anti-Semitic views all over the place.

Joel Rubin: Yes.

Briahna Joy Gray: That you can find regardless of partisanship or political position in the same way I find about anti blackness or misogynoir or what have you. And so, do you worry about that...

Joel Rubin: Yeah.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...if you ever, you know, in making full throated defenses...

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: ...of leftists or talking about, you know...

Joel Rubin: Mm-hmm.

Briahna Joy Gray: Trump's executive order to protect Jewish people that's really in large part an attack on free speech on college campuses, right?

Joel Rubin: Yeah.

Briahna Joy Gray: And, and it was really just meant to target BDS. Do you ever feel like that's a difficult balancing act?

Joel Rubin: It's a highly difficult balancing act, but it's one that we have to do.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Because newsflash, we don't live in a pure world where everybody is purely perfect from our perspective.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: We're all human. We're all fallible. There are things that people say on the Democratic side that I would construe as anti-Israel.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: That I don't like. Do I cancel them all out entirely? No. Do we talk to them? Yes. Did we condemn certain words and try to bring them in and work with them? Yes.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Do they tell us what we're saying is wrong? Yes, they should too. I really, really, really reject the notion that we have to somehow purify ourselves of anybody who makes a comment or a statement that we disagree with and just expunge them from our midst. No.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: But we are, and I’ll put my Jewish hat on this. We are responsible for engaging and discussing and describing and talking. And I think that that's, you know, in the arc of life it's about learning and growing. You know, the Ilhan Omar controversy from last winter, February time, less than a year ago, it seems-

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah, it feels like an eon.

Joel Rubin: It feels like we have this every month or two. Right.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: But the Congresswoman said things that really upset a lot of people, and she was told that, and she recognized it and she recanted certain things and not other things. I don't expect her to suddenly become Bibi Netanyahu's best friend in order to give her acceptance in Jewish life. Right? Like that's first of all, who am I to judge her in that way?

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: But I do think politically it's crucial for us to embrace people who have different ideas. And when we don't like some of their ideas, we talk to them about it, but we keep on embracing them. When the United States becomes a fascist country, when we, when we become a country where the idea of diversity is no longer accepted, we Jews lose. Like we have thrived in this country better in any country, in the history of the planet. No one will tell you anything different.

Now, Israel is a different thing and we can talk about that, but there never been a country where we as a minority have thrived like in the United States. Why? Because it's an open, tolerant, diverse democracy. And when we lose that, we lose everything. A part of democracy is about dealing with difference. You and I spoke about the idea of cancel culture. Can't have cancel culture. It doesn't mean we can't criticize, but criticism doesn't mean cancellation.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. When people make mistakes, the redemptive aspect, what penance looks like has been I think largely missing from the conversation. And that's what makes people so frustrated. When you only have cancellation and forgiveness, neither of those options seems palatable to people. On the whole, there's people who are going to want the cancellation, have people who want, you know, complete forgiveness.

But without that conversation about what it looks like for someone to rehabilitate themselves, what does a sincere apology look like. If the apology isn't enough, what does it mean to do acts of penance that demonstrate that you have not only learned from your mistake but made to repair what you've done wrong. Right. And when you have that as a third option, I think that you have a lot less division about how people think that certain bad actors should be treated. And I look forward to having a conversation because we have such a pluralistic, diverse campaign where we're able to have those kinds of conversations.

I think without the knee jerk responses where people are trusted to be talking in good faith about issues of gender or race or religion or opiate addiction status or class or what, whatever, what have you, without feeling like the purpose of that conversation is to ostracize people or excommunicate them from society. If we're going to be good leftists and we believe in the rehabilitation of people who have committed crimes and you know, a lot of people in our ranks are up for abolishing prisons and all kinds of other things, then you have to also have that kind of attitude for lesser crimes. The kinds of crimes that aren't, you know, criminal.

Joel Rubin: It's tolerance.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: A word that's not in vogue politically, it's hard. And in a political campaign, it's really hard. How do you show tolerance? So, you want to say it's us or them and well, you should be able, one should be able to have a political fight and not hate their opponents. That should be the objective here in a democracy, in a healthy, thriving democracy, we should not want to hate our opponents. We may feel things of hate. God knows it's not easy in this moment.

But I really believe that it's essential to think about the day after we win. And the day after is the governing day. And in the United States, we're such an incredibly diverse country, ethnically, culturally, economically, geographically. The country is so diverse. One can't govern without a healthy dose of tolerance and understanding and appreciation for difference.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. I mean, I wonder some, some people there are going to be people who listen to this and say, "Yeah, not me."

Joel Rubin: Sure.

Briahna Joy Gray: Like, "Things have been too bad. I've experienced too much trauma; it's not up to me personally to forgive." And I had a conversation, on an earlier podcast episode. We were talking about Islamophobia. We were talking about, you know, the difference between saying any one individual should be required to… This isn’t dictating that any one individual should have a certain kind of a feeling. You can have your private emotional responses.

But I do think that there's some credibility to you having this conversation having been so directly impacted by the tree of life shootings. I think there's, there are folks who would say it's a privileged position to say that we should bring in this feeling of tolerance or understanding into these scenarios. But what I find again and again is it is people who actually have the closest proximity to, you know, experiences of tragedy, et cetera, who do tend to have that more kind of open-mindedness toward it.

And it’s people who are actually more attenuated from these events who take the strong response that we shouldn't have to communicate with people. Because what I find is people who are experiencing intolerance tend to be integrated in communities that, the communities that they're talking about who have impacted a lot of black people. I, you know, have family members who live in the South who are working every day and living with people who are more conservative, who might have used that are different from them.

You know, they are approaching it as a more intimate kind of person to person relationship because they have more intimate person relationships than perhaps the professor living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has all the right ideas on paper but who doesn't actually have the lived experience. And I find that curious.

Joel Rubin: Yeah, you put your finger on so many important buttons in this and it's because when you go through the fires, you understand how incredibly sensitive things can be.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Yet I don't want that to be mistaken for passivity or a turn the other cheek mentality.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Joel Rubin: It makes you want to fight harder for what you know is right. But the way to win is to not just speak to your own echo chamber, but to get the people on the other side to come to your side.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Joel Rubin: Like we win when we got 75%, not 50.1%.

Briahna Joy Gray: Well, and to me that's just called politics. That should be completely self-evident.

Joel Rubin: Yes.

Briahna Joy Gray: But there is, there is a significant subset I would say, of liberals in America for whom the idea of convincing someone who voted for Trump is a betrayal and of itself and articulation of a desire to convince, let's say an Obama to Trump voter to come back to the Democrats is perceived as an admission that you one, don't care about other constituency groups as much as that group.

For example, people of color or non-voters or people who have been disenfranchised, you know that you are somehow privileging those "white, white working-class votes." There's a real culture of opposing doing anything that resembles political persuasion and instead the emphasis from, I think a lot of people, a lot of Democrats seems to be, "Let's just find the people who we can identify as for us for demographic reasons," presuming of course the people who didn't belong to those demographic cohorts are of course going to vote for Democrats even though we're seeing increasingly those patterns are not as fixed as they once were.

And appealing to them on that basis as opposed to appealing to them on the basis of delivering substantive material goods to them. And I think what we saw in 2016 was a whole lot of people, including a whole lot of black voters that booths votes were very much treated the Midwest who felt like they weren't given substantive reasons to come out and vote and there was this presumption of the fire, the so called firewall was going to come through. And so, I think that there's something really important about having that kind of more humanistic, I think approach that you're taking because it forces you to respect all voters on the basis of, of their humanity.

Joel Rubin: What you're articulating is transformation, right?

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joel Rubin: This is what Bernie is talking about. What we're talking about here is transformation is about getting a society to think differently about its priorities. And there was a line we always use in government like you want to see what the government's priorities are, look at the budget document. That is it. It's what the money requests is, is what tells you the priorities are. So, we, we want Americans to think about priorities, the way we think about them. We want Americans to think about healthcare and an economy works for everyone and a safe environment and a, a smart national security policy. And those are not inherently partisan concepts.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: So, what Donald Trump is doing, and I do want to bring it back to that one because I do think it's critical, is he is attempting to prey on our differences in order to win elections.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Preying on the deeper, darker, negative urge is there is no message of unity, there's no message of bringing people together, there's no message of engaging the other at all. It is about turning people against each other to win. Which means you govern from a position of hate.

And now I'll put my Jewish hat on, Jews, we love to talk about the Holocaust and comparison and it's always a dangerous thing. So, I'm not going to talk about the Holocaust as a comparative, but I will say that when I went with my daughter, seventh grade class from her middle school to the Holocaust museum here in Washington D.C there was a very clear display for the kids to read about the political culture in Germany post World War I, through the 1920's into the 30's and how that led to the Holocaust. We're not inherently guaranteed a nice, healthy, happy political culture or even a democracy.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: Even John Roberts the other day came out and said Americans might be taking their democracy for granted. So, what we want in our candidates are people who actually value that, and in the United States of America, that means valuing diversity. That means valuing the others, even if they don't agree with you 100% of the time. It means valuing voters who may have gone a different direction the last time. It means valuing people.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Joel Rubin: And I think that to me, that is part of healing the world. That is part of Tikkun Olam, that is part of building a healthier society. That's part of winning an election. Not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of transforming society for the better.

Briahna Joy Gray: Thank you. Thank you so much for that and thank you for joining me today, Joel. I really look forward to talking with you and working with you over the course of the half a year of this campaign that we have yet left in front of us.

Joel Rubin: It's exciting. Thank you.

Briahna Joy Gray: Thank you.

Joel Rubin: Thanks so much.

Bernie Sanders: There were two forces I think that shaped my political views. One that I grew up in a family that did not have a lot of money, and the pressure of not having money on my family is I think the same pressure that exists for millions of families throughout this country and people in this room right now. The second part of my life that shaped my views is being Jewish. Crying when I would read books about the Holocaust, these picture books of what happened at Auschwitz. I never could understand why people do such terrible and horrible things to people. After all of a horrible 20th century which has seen a number of genocides, one might have hope and believe that maybe just maybe the world would understand that we share a common humanity.

Briahna Joy Gray: So, I'm happy to have friend of the pod, Katie Halper, back with me today, particularly because Katie is someone who has written and podcasts that and talked a lot about what Bernie's Jewishness means in the context of both as election and how he's been treated, both kind of contradictorily as not Jewish enough by some camps and then also smeared with, would you describe them Katie as antisemitic tropes?

Katie Halper: Yeah, I think that's a good, a very good term for it. And thank you so much for having me, Brie.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah, of course.

Katie Halper: But yeah, I think you see both things, right? So, you see that he has antisemitic tropes lobbed at him, kind of antisemitic stereotypes lobbed at him and at the same time, it's like the worst of both worlds. He's subjected to those and at the same time his Jewish identity is erased. And one of the things that I've written about is how much Sanders' Jewish identity actually informs his politics. Sometimes people, it's pretty offensive, especially when non-Jews I don't know if I can say this when they goysplain Jewish identity.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Joel Rubin: And they don't get that you, there's a really rich tradition and history of secular Jewish identity. Because sometimes people are confused, or they call him a fake Jew because he's not religious. But that's one facet of Jewish identity. And there are tons of people who have very strong Jewish identities ranging from, you know, someone like Larry David, Sigmund Freud and Einstein was kind of, he had an interesting relationship with religion, but he definitely wasn't kind of traditionally religious in the traditional Orthodox Jewish sense. And so, people don't understand a lot that there is this tradition.

And in fact, there's actually a concept called Tikkun Olam, which means to repair the world, which is the social justice concept that comes from Judaism. And that's seen and applied in lots of ways in the secular world. So, not to get too academic about it, but it is, you know, and through history we saw, right? Like with the Civil Rights Movement, a lot of the white allies of the Civil Rights Movement were Jewish. And for instance, you know what Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney, the three men who were brutally killed in Mississippi by the KKK because they were registering black people to vote, one black man and two Jewish men, which wasn't that uncommon to see that kind of solidarity. Yeah.

And of course, Sanders himself talks about his identity, how having half of his father's side of the family wiped out in the Holocaust. He also comes from a very interesting internationalist Jewish tradition. And this is a kind of particularly Jewish radical tradition of universalism and internationalism where it's not about just kind of being in solidarity with other Jews.

It's very anti tribalist. And he talks about how there was a great moment there in 2016 where a Muslim, a black female Muslim student talked about white supremacy, and he invited her up to the stage with him and you know, put his hand on her shoulder and talked about how his life has his, you know, how he experienced white supremacy and antisemitism and bigotry. And there, it's also really interesting because there are, he has a lot of Muslim support and Arab American support, which is interesting because I think people get the sense that he takes his Jewish identity, and from there he makes connections to other people struggling and suffering.

Briahna Joy Gray: Given that there is this way that Bernie's personal history has been a central part of this campaign. His opening speech in Brooklyn, talking about his roots there, talking about his family growing up nearby in a tenement apartment, talking about his father's family being largely wiped out in the Holocaust, why do you think it is that there are those who are seeking to diminish his Jewishness in the context of this race?

Katie Halper: Yeah, that's interesting. So, there are a lot of reasons. I mean sometimes you have just cynical people who love pretending he's a straight white dude who's out of touch and who is only supported by straight white dude misogynists. Of course, that's a harder and harder argument to make because just the demographics don't prove that. And as I'm sure you know, and I've talked about Sanders' supporters are less white and less male than any other candidate.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right. So, it's part of this kind of identity politics, the kind of the cynical wielding of identity politics to say the more Bernie doesn't subscribe to any protected class or isn't seen as a part of a protected class, the more we can diminish him and his role in this, in this race compared to other candidates who are-

Katie Halper: Exactly. So, the more they can, the more he's just a white dude, the easier it is for them to perpetuate the myth that he speaks to only white dudes. That he's part of... And again, it's interesting because he, I mean he wouldn't say, I'm sure. And I've never said being Jewish is not being black. I mean, okay, you can be black and Jewish obviously and inter lapping intersectional definitions. But in terms of just comparing them, which, which often happens, right? People will often compare like slavery and the Holocaust or being non-black Jewish person and being a non-Jewish black person, they're not the same thing. You don't walk around with the same kind of target on you. Although interestingly enough, you know, there have been a lot of hate crimes, a lot of them have been antisemitic.

Briahna Joy Gray: It's disproportionately, overwhelmingly, Jews have been the target of hate crimes, particularly in recent history.

Katie Halper: Right.

Briahna Joy Gray: I feel like there's a chart we can perhaps throw up in the video version that shows the overwhelming spike that's been happening and recent events, particularly with the stabbing in New York, really highlight how much that's growing.

Katie Halper: I think that, you know, it's not the same as systemic racism, and Sanders knows that and understands that. Because also, we have to remember being Jewish when Sanders was growing up is very different from what it was today. I mean, my mom is younger than Sanders, but she's a boomer. She's a feminist, Bernie bro boomer.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Katie Halper: And she and my uncle, you know, would have rocks thrown at them just because they knew their name was Eisenberg, I guess. Or they knew that they were because of the neighborhood, their school they went to, this was a time when Jewish identity was very different from what it's like today. And even growing up in the Bronx, which was not devoid of Jews, you faced that kind of stuff. So, it's, this is a whole other interesting question about how much you choose your Jewish identity. And today there's a lot more, I think choice than there used to be.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm. For those of us who are kind of less online or not as engaged in every single article that comes up, can you explain some of the instances of antisemitism that you've observed in the media?

Katie Halper: So, one part of it is I would say there's just this general, why aren't you Jewish? And I think that's antisemitic to Jewish identity policing. And it's ignorant and you know, you don't go to synagogue or you don't wear a yarmulke, so you're not really Jewish. So, that's a form of antisemitism. And again, I think there's some people who really just don't get it and a lot of people who are cynical about it.

Another thing is that, you know, we see people like Jonathan Chait jumping down the throats of people like Ilhan Omar, calling her, accusing her of perpetuating antisemitic tropes, and you can fall accidentally into an antisemitic trope, but sometimes he would say that about her, and it wasn't even there at all. There was like no there, there. Like she didn't talk about dual loyalty. She talked about allegiance. And I mean, this is another thing, and of course Zionists, a lot of them are Christian.

So, being critical of AIPAC and this kind of aggressive hawkish Zionist project is not inherently antisemitic. But anyway, somehow all these people who see antisemitism all over and there is antisemitism, but they see it, they conflate valid criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Somehow, they don't see it. Notice it when, for instance, Politico wrote an article called Bernie Sanders might still be cheap, but he's sure not poor. And the image that they had was him holding a house and having two houses coming out of his head because of course they love that thing about how he has three houses. Yeah, he has three houses. He has a house in the state he lives in. He has a place to live in D.C, Vermont, and God forbid he has a house where he and his children and grandchildren like to spend time in Vermont. And the guy lives so modestly. That's what's so funny. I mean you compare his households to the households of other people and again, every single Senator has two homes at least, and a lot of them vacation.

I tweeted when that article came out about his cheapness, I tweeted, "This is just fantastic, but it could be even better. Why not add a Jewish star or make his nose hooked? Maybe some rodent imagery? I'm just blown away. Sorry to end on an earnest note, but you're just despicable people."

Briahna Joy Gray: Recently there was some imagery that was like not so far away from that when we announced, last week our fundraising numbers of course being, you know, you know-

Katie Halper: Yes. I tweet about that too.

Briahna Joy Gray: [crosstalk 00:43:30] million dollars and blowing everybody else out of the water, the image that was chosen to accompany those results. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Katie Halper: Yeah, so this is a classic greedy Jew stereotype kind of money-grubbing stereotype. And so, the image that two places had of Sanders, it was really fascinating. Two images that were used, one was used by NPR and one was used by Washington Post and both of them use this image of him with his hands together. There's this other classic image of a very antisemitic cartoon of a guy with the typical stereotypes, a big nose, the yarmulke or kippah on his head.

And doing that, this, this gesture of having your hands together, like you're like you're rubbing your palms together and excitement. It's a real trope. It's the cheap, you know, this cheap, greedy Jew who's excited about pulling one over on people, all the things, all the tropes, like the trickster, the shyster. We've seen this and you know, Clara Jeffries had like a really gross image that she put next to Sanders that made him look also like a big nose…

Briahna Joy Gray: Of Mother Jones, ironically [crosstalk 00:22:33] progressive outlet.

Katie Halper: And also, the political thing. I just want to add, not only did it have that, then it had an image of him in the article standing in front of a tree and it was called an illustration. Like if you doubled, if you tried to save it, it came up with an illustration of Bernie Sanders standing next to a tree with dollars as leaves. Like that's what Politico’s graphics people called it.

Briahna Joy Gray: I'm curious how, how do you think all of this is going to play out in the election? You know, I'm kicking myself for not actually asking our Jewish outreach coordinator about, about the Jewish outreach part of this. But you know, there is a mindset among the pundit class that basically everyone who's nonwhite or non-male or non-Christian is looking for the candidate that just closest approximates their identity group and is voting for that person.

Obviously, we've seen in poll after poll, that's not been the case. Everyone's very confused and frustrated by why Bernie has the largest amount of Latino support. I think he's number two or three with black voters and has been consistently throughout. Does much better with black voters than either Kamala Harris or Cory Booker had done.

Katie Halper: Right.

Briahna Joy Gray: So, what do you think the status is right now? How is Bernie being perceived by the Jewish community?

Katie Halper: Well, I think, you know, there's an interesting, there's like the AIPAC Jewish community, which is like so many other powerful but not representative organizations that we see in lots of different communities. They are a very public face of Jewish identity. They are very well funded. They are very politically connected, but they don't represent a majority of the Jewish people's outlook and politics. So, that's, you know, you'll, you'll hear criticism of Sanders that come from certain right-wing Jewish individuals, Sheldon Adelson, thank God he doesn't like Sanders, or AIPAC. And, and then what's really important, and this is why, you know, you have other Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, J street. These are organizations that challenge the kind of very, not representative, but, but overly represented in media and overly represented in the political elites, Jewish identity of something like AIPAC.

So, you'll hear, you know, it distorts what the Jewish voice is. Of course, there's no monolith, like there's no monolith of any group, but most Jews are, you know, they do vote Democrat in high numbers. You know, the Jews that you often hear from the Jewish people who are cited and meet by the same media leads and political elites who hate Sanders, who'll of course, elevate those voices, the voices of, of Jewish critics of Sanders as opposed to his overwhelming support. And, you know, related to what you just brought up in terms of the narrative of people only wanting to be only supporting people who they overlap with in terms of certain identity aspects. You know, there's a reason. Look, Pete, Mayor Pete's a millennial, millennials don't like him. They like Sanders.

It's not about identity per se, it's about which I'm not dismissing the importance of identity and representation, but people are, you know, hip to the fact that that the more important thing if you're a millennial for example, is that you have someone who understands the situation of millennials who are struggling. That's more important than someone who happens to be a millennial who doesn't understand that, who doesn't want to provide people with free college, who has this disingenuous narrative about how it's unfair to ask working people or poor people to pay for, free college tuition for rich people, which is, I mean, we've talked about this, I think what a bad argument that is and how if you, if you care about working people and poor people and you don't want them to be, to bear the burden of supporting rich people, then you know that you keep universal programs.

You have them universal, you keep them universal or you make them universal as opposed to means tested. Because when they're means tested, that creates a stigma around them. And also, it makes them very vulnerable to being cut or slashed. Whereas if they're universal, there's not the stigma. Right. There's a reason Nuke English talked about welfare Queens and not social security Queens and also there is, it becomes a right and not seen as a handout.

Briahna Joy Gray: It feels like this argument has even gotten broader out beyond identity. There was a pundit recently on the internet who claimed that the reason that people like Bernie Sanders is not at all about policy but about kind of, I don't know like these characters like personally it was a cult of personality was this claim.

Katie Halper: Yeah. I mean he said something about, I don't have the quote in front of me. The one thing he kind of tried to say I think was that he was like a poke. Did he say he was a political outsider or he's challenging the system?

Briahna Joy Gray: I don't remember that. I wouldn't give it that much. I mean I can, I can pull it up right now because my mentions are still very much full of it, but he said Bernie Sanders supporters are not supporting him because of policy reasons. Which I think that a lot of people went off because unlike I think most other candidates, I would hazard a guess when you ask a Sanders supporter why they support Sanders, they always have like a stunningly sharp ability to articulate precisely why it is.

Katie Halper: Right. Yeah. I mean they have to choose a narrative, right? Either he has been saying the same thing forever and needs a new message, which is a ridiculous argument. I love when they say that. Like you're supposed to have, like you're in the fashion industry and every year you have to have a new thing for the runway.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Katie Halper: No. When we have single pay or when we have universal health care Medicare for All, then he can stop talking about it.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Katie Halper: But why would you stop talking about it? Anyway. So, yes, there's an inconsistency, either his policy, he's all about policy and keeps focusing on these, these couple of ideas or he doesn't have policy. I mean, I kind of liked the idea that because I find him charming. I don't think that most people do. Again, he kind of reminds me of my father, uncle, grandfather. It's cute. I think it's kind of projection maybe because the people making this argument, they don't base their politics on policy, but if you speak to any Sanders' supporters, you know they, they know that. The one thing I will say is that he has an air of, in terms of like aesthetics and non-policy, he does have an air of authenticity.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Katie Halper: But that's related to his commitment and his consistency.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Katie Halper: So, that's one thing. But again, it goes back to the policy and precisely the policies and the fact that he's been fighting for the same ones regardless of how they pull.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Katie Halper: But yeah, I don't really know what people think draws people to Sanders if it's not the policies.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah, well we're in complete agreement on that and I think that we're going to see that come into sharper focus as we go forward. And people start to try to understand the stickiness of Sanders's support.

Katie Halper: Right.

Briahna Joy Gray: And the pundit class who sees the kind of down tick with some of the other candidates I've experienced, are attributing that to them, their support of policy like Medicare for All when the down tick has corresponded with their backing away from their support of Medicare for All.

Katie Halper: Right, exactly. Right.

Briahna Joy Gray: It's a truly bizarre circumstance but thank you so much Katie for-

Katie Halper: Right. Thank you.

Briahna Joy Gray: For joining us to talk about the extent to which Bernie Sanders identity is mixed up in all of these kind of like bad prognostications and I hope to have a chance to chat with you more soon as our, our resident media Maven [laughing] here on Hear the Bern.

Katie Halper: Thank you. Maven, I think that's a Yiddish word too. How appropriate.

Briahna Joy Gray: Oh, is it? There you go. Thank you, Katie.

Katie Halper: Yeah. Thank you. Shalom.

Briahna Joy Gray: Shalom [laughing].

That's it for this week. Hear the Bern is produced by me, Briahna Joy Gray, Ben Dalton and Christopher Moore. Let us know what you think at [email protected] or else take to Twitter, put the hashtag #HearTheBern.

I love to read your feedback on Apple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you get these episodes. And it also helps drive traffic to the podcast the more you rate and review all over the place. So, be sure to do so and give us a like when you get a chance. Till next week.