Bernie Sanders: 'I’m proud to be Jewish'

At a Monitor breakfast Thursday, Bernie Sanders spoke of how his Jewish heritage informs his politics. The day before, radio host Diane Rehm had asserted, mistakenly, that he was a dual US-Israeli citizen. 

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont addressed reporters at a Monitor-hosted breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

How does Sen. Bernie Sanders’s religious heritage inform his politics?

“I’m proud to be Jewish,” the Independent from Vermont – and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination – responded Thursday at a press breakfast hosted by the Monitor. Though, he added, “I’m not particularly religious.”

As a child, Sanders said, being Jewish taught him “in a very deep way what politics is about.”

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932,” the senator said. “He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

Chances are, Sanders’s religion would not have come up at the Monitor breakfast, except for a controversy the day before. During an interview broadcast by NPR, host Diane Rehm had asserted, mistakenly, that Sanders was a dual US-Israeli citizen.

He immediately corrected her, calling it “nonsense that goes on in the Internet.” But Ms. Rehm pressed on and asked about other members of Congress. Sanders took offense.

“I honestly don't know but I have read that on the Internet. You know, my dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket. He loved this country. I am, you know, I got offended a little bit by that comment, and I know it's been on the Internet. I am obviously an American citizen, and I do not have any dual citizenship.”

The Jewish Journal points to a Facebook page with such a list, calling it “a total fabrication, not to mention created by an anti-Semite and anti-Zionist.”

Accusations of dual citizenship leveled at US politicians and high-level government officials suggest divided loyalty. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, now running for president, renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2013. Former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, who ran for president in 2012, renounced her Swiss citizenship. But dual US-Israeli citizenship could be especially problematic for a US politician, given criticism of the so-called Jewish lobby.

Rehm issued a written apology later on Wednesday, saying that a listener had suggested the question. She added that she was “glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest.”

At Thursday’s Monitor breakfast, Sanders seemed unperturbed. 

“I like Diane Rehm; she is a good radio interviewer,” he said. “I suspect what happens is her staff gives her a list of questions, and somebody screwed up pretty badly.”

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