Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders stand as the only two candidates of the Jewish faith running for President in 2020. Navigating politics and attempting to appeal to a national audience while tied to a Jewish identity can be difficult since Judaism represents about 2 percent of the American population. While both individuals acknowledge their Jewish heritage, they diverge in how they define themselves as Jewish and what their policies are regarding Jewish related issues.
Bernie Sanders is an example of a secular, or strictly cultural, Jew. He is quoted in an interview with The New York Times ahead of the paper’s endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate saying that he is, “proud to be Jewish” but is “not actively involved in organized religion.”
When asked if he believes in God, Sanders maintained his Jewish identity but seemed to go further in establishing himself as genuinely connected to Judaism by stating, “I am proud to be Jewish. I was bar mitzvahed from the Kings Highway Jewish Center, a long time ago. I am not actively involved in organized religion.” This emphasis may have been his attempt to solidify his connection to his Jewish heritage in order to connect to a more religious or Jewish audience.
Additionally, Sanders connects with Jewish supporters who are characterized by their socialist and intensely liberal views by relating his experience learning about Nazi Germany to communities who are victims of hate and persecution. He stated in the town hall ahead of the New Hampshire primary, “At a very early age, even before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people in the name of racism or white nationalism, or in this case Nazism.”
Moreover, regarding Israel, Sanders maintains his loyalty to the sacred land as an individual of Jewish heritage. However, he emphasizes the importance of a pro-Palestinian position embraced by the U.S. government. Sanders believes Netanyahu is a “racist” and expresses disdain for the acceptance of bribes in his position as Israel’s Prime Minister. While Judaism does not primarily influence Bernie’s stances as a presidential candidate, he is not ashamed to acknowledge his Jewish heritage and connection to the religion in a primarily secular way.
Michael Bloomberg recently announced his Jewish campaign, “United for Mike,” establishing a contrast between himself and Sanders when it comes to faith. While Sanders was hesitant to acknowledge and include his Judaism as a facet of his first presidential campaign in 2016, Bloomberg embraces his heritage directly, quickly implementing this component of his identity into his first presidential campaign.
Bloomberg vowed, recently, not to cut or freeze U.S. aid to Israel, contrasting several other Democratic candidates, as well as Sanders. Consciously separating himself from Sanders as a representative of the Jewish community and Israel, Bloomberg mentioned that he was not the only Jewish candidate in the race not looking to “turn American into a kibbutz,” referring to Sanders volunteering in a leftist Kibbutz in the 1960s. In his rhetoric, Bloomberg establishes and maintains himself as a representative of traditional Judaism, familiar among older generations of Jews who maintain loyal to Israel and traditional Jewish values.
While Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg differ in their practices of Judaism and their heritage, what the candidates agree on, however, is their motivation to terminate the increasingly normalized presence of white-nationalism and anti-Semitism. On the other hand, these two candidates diverge in their stances on the United States’ relationship with Israel. When addressing their Jewish heritage, Sanders and Bloomberg divide in their embrace of the religion. Their very different approaches to incorporating Judaism and their heritage in their campaign proves the diversity of the practice of Judaism and its influence in modern politics.