IfNotNow said Sanders embodies the Jewish value of justice for all. The group hasn’t endorsed in the past but said the 2020 race is a time for left-leaning Americans to “get off the sidelines.”
“Bernie rejects the false choice between being a proud Jew and supporting Palestinian freedom,” IfNotNow wrote in its statement, noting Sanders lost family in the Holocaust. His “commitment to justice for all people gives meaning to the call: ‘Never again for anyone.’ This commitment is needed right now, as our government cages migrant children, bans Muslims from entering the country, spews lies and incitement against the most vulnerable in our society, smears Palestinians as terrorists and anti-Semites, and works to criminalize efforts to peacefully advance equality and human rights for all.”
The group will be coordinating its 18 chapters around the country with the Sanders campaign, and its volunteers will be on the ground in swing states, including Florida, Ohio and Illinois, said spokesman Yonah Lieberman. Some of the chapters are on college campuses. IfNotNow’s members are mostly ages 22 to 35.
He said volunteers will be doing phone and text banks around the country and working on get-out-the-vote efforts. They are working with a volunteer effort called Jews for Bernie.
IfNotNow was founded in 2014 in the wake of the war between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Its members say they are driven to challenge the established leadership of the Democratic Party and major U.S. Jewish institutions, whom they characterize as “out of touch,” the statement says, with young American Jews.
“Bernie Sanders is the way we think we need to fight anti-Semitism. The right would have us believe that the way is supporting Israel and criminalizing [the movement to boycott Israel to protest occupation],” Lieberman said. “But we believe the way is embodied in the Bernie mantra: Will you fight for someone you don’t know?”
Sanders has not drawn significant Jewish support. The most recent data, from Pew Research in January, had just 11 percent of American Jews picking him as their top candidate choice.
While Pew polling has shown that most U.S. Jews don’t think Israel’s settlement policies are helpful to Israel and more than one-third believe “the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to establish peace with the Palestinians,” that hasn’t translated into votes for Sanders in 2020.
It also hasn’t translated into support for Trump, who has been a strong supporter of the Israeli government’s plans. Gallup reported in August that fewer than one third of U.S. Jews approved of the president’s job performance.