Like many millenials, I was a Bernie Sanders fan in 2016. I was disappointed when I couldn’t vote for him in the primaries, since I’m not registered to a party (thanks, New York State rules). But I visited Vermont in the summer of 2016 and adored the enthusiasm Vermonters had for their beloved senator. Plus, I can’t say I wasn’t secretly giddy at the prospect of America having its first Jewish president. He was, after all, one of America’s most famous Jewish grandpas.
So I was upset when Hillary officially became the Democratic nominee, but I sucked it up and voted for her anyway because what else was I going to do? She wasn’t my favorite candidate by a long shot, but she was well-qualified (especially compared to Trump).
Now, it is likely that Bernie will run again in 2020. But unlike 2016, I am disillusioned by his candidacy this time around.
A lot has happened since 2016 — especially for women. For one thing, there was the rise of the #MeToo movement, which Bernie got wrapped up in when allegations came out about sexual harassment and pay disparity within his 2016 primary campaign. Bernie was dismissive of the allegations at first — apparently he was “too busy” at the time to care about this problem. He also decided that he’d be giving his own State of the Union response — despite Democrat Stacey Abrams (a black woman) delivering the official one. As a woman who formerly supported him, I can’t help but be skeptical now.
So I wanted to check in with other Jewish women about #Bernie2020. How are they feeling now? What’s changed for them since 2016?
“I was actually a big Bernie fan in 2016, and gave him like, 10 bucks I think for a donation,” Lauren, a 28 year old Jewish woman from Los Angeles, tells me. “However, when I started really digging into his foreign policy (or total lack thereof) and noticing his inability to talk about anything but big banks, I started souring on him a lot,” she continues. “I also soured on Bernie when he wouldn’t meaningfully tell his bros to lay off the misogyny, and that’s one huge reason I refuse to support him or his surrogates.”
Bernie’s die-hard fanbase, typically referred to as “Bernie Bros,” are a big part of why I’m skeptical of supporting Bernie now, too. I remember having to leave the popular Facebook group “Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash” because of the blatant misogyny directed at Hillary. If you wanted to critique her policies, that’s fine… but you didn’t need to dub her “the wicked witch” to do so.
It’s not just Lauren and myself who are turned off by the Bernie Bros, either.
“As much as I wanted to like Bernie, I can’t support a candidate who seems to have no time for women’s concerns,” 24-year-old Nikole Rocha, who attends Towson University in Maryland, tells me. “The allegations of sexism and harassment surrounding Bernie’s 2016 campaign illustrate exactly why other women and I don’t feel safe in so-called ‘progressive’ spaces, and so many men are still brushing off these issues.”
For Nikole, who is dating a Bernie supporter, these feelings hit very close to home.
“I’m mostly uncomfortable bringing this up with him, with the common defense being Bernie’s policies. Policy means nothing when women involved with his campaign were consistently treated horribly. It’s an impossible task to make men understand when it’s not their personal safety at risk. That said, I’ll still vote for Bernie in 2020 if he wins the nomination.”
When Julia Metraux, a 21-year-old (and Alma contributor) living in New York City, learned of the sexual harassment allegations, it was an immediate deal breaker for her.
“As someone who had to deal with very intense sexual harassment for over a year from someone who had a position of power over me, how a politician addresses sexual harassment is a deal breaker,” she says.
“I supported Bernie in the Democratic primaries in 2016,” Julia continues. “To hear someone who I had supported say that he was ‘too busy’ to deal with harassment in his campaign made me infuriated. Sexual harassment can ruin people’s lives, and it ruined mine for a bit. I can’t support a candidate who doesn’t see that.”
Melissa, a 30-year-old from South Carolina who was a Bernie fan in 2016, feels the same way.
“I became really disheartened by his reaction to losing the primary, and his refusal to call for an end to the so-called ‘Bernie Bros’ and their reaction to Hillary. It was gross,” she says. “I don’t want him around again. I don’t think he can beat Trump. And what happens if he loses the nom to another woman? Is he going to just ignore his followers’ misogyny again? He needs to just stay away from the presidential race.”
“In 2016, I saw Bernie as the clear, progressive candidate and so I supported him,” Ali Senal, a 22-year-old from Massachusetts tells me. “Now, I think that I’m a bit startled by the decisions he makes when everyone ‘isn’t looking.’ His vote on the Russia sanctions really concerned me. The allegation of sexual harassment in his campaign, especially given that his platform was extremely pro-woman, was alarming for me as well. And the AOC interview where he was kinda sexist added to this.”
For Ali, there are many other candidates for 2020 who deserve a shot over Bernie.
“If he stands for all of the progressive ideals he has put forth, he wouldn’t run in 2020. The fact that he is running seems self-serving rather than helpful for progressive causes. There are more progressive candidates; there are POC and women who are qualified and don’t have his shady voting record. If he really stood for a progressive cause, rather than just for himself, he would cede the space to these candidates and help campaign for them. Bernie Sanders just cares about Bernie Sanders, in my opinion.”
On the flip side, there are quite a few Jewish women who were Bernie supporters in 2016 and remain loyal to this day.
Rachel Presser is a 33-year-old Jewish atheist who supported Bernie in 2016 and will do so in 2020, at least if there isn’t a more viable candidate to the left of him.
“Bernie has my support for his policies rather than sharing religion and ideology,” she tells me. “But as a Jewish socialist who comes from a long line of public servants who fled pogroms, watching both the good and bad that came with his campaign — and is about to come — hits me on a visceral level.”
“I supported Bernie in 2016 and I support him now because I’m a socialist and he’s the viable candidate whose views and policies align most closely with mine,” 33-year-old Jamie Peck of New York says. She notes, however, that she hopes he will be pushed more to the left on issues including BDS, SESTA/FOSTA, and abolishing ICE.
Emma, 30, moved from Vermont to New York in 2012. Since then, her opinions have moved further to the left, and she still supports Sanders.
“I still believe that his ability to be on the right side of history transcends any missteps,” she tells me.
“I am Jewish and absolutely support Bernie in 2020,” 44-year-old Dawn from Florida echoes. “I volunteered for him in 2016 and will do it again if he runs. He has shown us that he has compassion for ALL. He is obviously respected as a senator considering he keeps getting elected in Vermont.”
Even Virginia Jeffries, who recently wrote about her experience being sexually harassed on Bernie’s 2016 campaign, would still vote for Bernie if he ran again.
“Despite everything I went through while volunteering for the last campaign,” the 34-year-old from New York tells me, “I plan to vote for Sanders if he runs in the Democratic primary. I like the other dems that have announced their candidacies, but I think Sanders has a longer track record of enacting the progressive policies I want to see.”
“He also consistently polls as one of the most popular politicians in the entire country,” Jeffries adds. “Because of that, I think he has a better chance at beating Trump than others.”
It’s quite clear that Jewish women are divided on this issue. Opinions on Bernie are as diverse as Jewish women themselves. I guess we’ll just have to see how the debates and primaries go!