By Gabe Friedman
Toward the beginning of the Feb. 11 Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders had the perfect opportunity to tout that he would be the first Jewish president.
Asked whether he’s worried about blocking the inauguration of the first female president, the Independent Vermont senator pointed out that he too would make history if voted into the White House.
“Well, you know, from a historical point of view, somebody with my background, somebody with my views, somebody who has spent his entire life taking on the big money interests — I think a Sanders victory would be of some historical accomplishment as well,” he said, ostensibly referring to the fact that he is a 74-year-old Jewish socialist from New York with more than a hint of a Brooklyn accent.
Sanders roots have garnered growing attention as he’s risen in the polls. In the past two weeks there’s been the revelation about the Israeli kibbutz he worked on, his appearance on “Saturday Night Live” as Bernie Sanderswitzky, the hoopla around him becoming the first Jew to win a presidential primary in New Hampshire and his televised return to his Brooklyn neighborhood. But the Vermont senator still has yet to say the word “Jewish” on the national political stage, leaving some in the Jewish community disappointed — or simply confused.
An array of pundits and others took to Twitter during last week’s debate to ask why:
Alex Burns – Wonder why Sanders wouldn’t more explicitly play the first Jewish president card.
Josh Rolnick – Why didn’t Bernie mention he’s Jewish when discussing historic nature of his campaign? That’s part of it, too.
Some noted that when the debate turned toward foreign policy, Sanders also managed to not say the word “Israel.”
Nathan Guttman – Clinton mentions Israel twice in her answer on Middle East. Bernie, in his responses, avoids talking about Israel. Clear pattern.
Sanders may be focused on uniting Americans for a better future, but some Jews would clearly like to hear him acknowledge his past.