On Wednesday, the Free Beacon published screenshots dating from March 2015 from the Facebook account of Simone Zimmerman, Bernie Sanders’s newly hired Jewish Outreach Coordinator, in which she calls Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “an arrogant, cynical, manipulative asshole” and “an embodiment of the ugliest national hubris,” and says “fuck you” to him for sanctioning murder and for insulting President Barack Obama by giving an address in Congress in opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran.
She later apparently edited her post and toned down her language, changing “fuck you” to “shame on you,” and “asshole” to “politician,” for example (which, for my money, are four bites from the same apple). Essentially, wrote the 25-year-old Zimmerman in both iterations of the post, “[Netanyahu] does not speak for me as a Jew, an American, and a thinking person.”
On Thursday, hours before Sanders debated Hillary Clinton in Brooklyn, his campaign announced it had given Zimmerman the ax. Her post with the Sanders campaign, itself desperately in need of Jewish voters, especially in New York, lasted officially two days.
Sanders’s campaign, as we all know (considering last night’s Democratic debate was the ninth one), is about political revolution. But Zimmerman’s voice was apparently too left for Sanders’s image, edging—at least after critics and the Free Beacon called her out—too far into the “acceptable mainstream of Democratic politics,” as The New York Times, which reported the news of Zimmerman’s firing, put it. She is not, however, a BDS supporter.
Apparently, the Sanders camp didn’t do enough homework about Zimmerman, or perhaps they aimed too far in their hopes for a fresh, radical voice that could tap into young Jewish voters—Jewish Millennials—who are also hypercritical of Israel’s policies and the big-top Jewish establishments who support them, particularly in Palestine. Here’s Zimmerman, who attended UC Berkeley and is a former president of the national board of J Street U, writing in Haaretz in February:
What we need is for the community to stop willfully blinding itself to the disastrous reality of holding millions of Palestinians under military occupation.
We need the community to stop justifying policies that deny Palestinians the ability to move freely, to sleep safely in their homes without the fear of a military raid, to access water and resources, to live without terror that their homes could be bombed to rubble, and to protest the unjust conditions of their lives nonviolently. None of these policies are moral, and none of these policies make Jews safer.
Moreover, we need the community to stop policing and demonizing those of us who say these truths in public and are fighting for change. We need the community to stop holing itself up behind walls and tanks and guns, as well as behind redlines and standards of partnership.
But ultimately, reported the Times, Zimmerman’s Facebook posts, in addition to pressure from old guards like Abe Foxman and Malcolm Hoenlein—Zimmerman once protested outside Hoenlein’s office (at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization) during the 2014 war in Gaza—prompted her suspension. Writes Jason Horowitz of the Times report,
In Thursday night’s debate, though, Mr. Sanders advocated a critical discussion of Israel that, while popular with his young liberal base, was unlikely to please the Jewish establishment figures who had sought to hold a common line on Israel in Democratic politics. Mr. Sanders criticized Mrs. Clinton’s pro-Israel orthodoxy, called the Israeli army’s use of arms against Palestinians “disproportionate” and argued that “we have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”
Ms. Zimmerman would have approved.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.