Bernie Sanders Introduces Himself to the Jewish Community in Iowa

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders paid a first-time visit to the Jewish community in Iowa on Sunday.

The meeting took place at The Caspe Terrace as part of the ‘Presidential Speaker Series’ hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines, Iowa.

Des Moines has the largest Jewish population in the State of Iowa. About 2,800 affiliated Jews live in the Des Moines area, including neighboring Ames, out of the some 5,000 Jews in about ten cities, according to Mark Finkelstein, Director of Community Relations for the local Jewish Federation.

Sanders started off with his regular stump speech about income inequality, free college education, campaign finance reform, and the danger of climate change caused by human activity. Dr. Dennis Goldford, a media analyst and political science professor at Drake University, moderated the one-hour forum.

Touting his Democratic-socialist values, the Jewish Senator compared himself to the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel. “I believe David Ben Gurion was a Democratic socialist,” he remarked when asked to differentiate between liberalism and his socialist views. He mentioned working at a kibbutz earlier in his life and visiting Israel as an elected official several times.

He also promised, “The security of Israel will be very important to me.” Adding that it goes without saying that Israelis must be guaranteed to live their lives with security without the fear of terror attacks. But he also emphasized, “At the end of the day what we are going to need is a two-state solution.”

Sanders repeated comments he had made in the past that his Judaism in the post-Holocaust era has shaped his policial philosophy in a “very deep way.”

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. 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,” he asserted.

Adding: “Historically, the Jewish people have been strong advocates fighting discrimination and fighting for social and economic justice.”

Sanders hasn’t made too many public statements about his Jewishness or offered a more detailed Israel policy, as his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton has done.

This was the third in a series of Presidential Candidate Forums conducted by the Federation during the run-up to the Iowa Presidential Caucuses – and first to be broadcast online via UStream. Prior Forums featured Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum, both Republicans.

A recent Siena Research poll indicated that Jewish voters in New York State are “feeling the bern” for their homeboy. According to the poll, Sanders is seen as favorable by 46 percent, while only 37% see him as unfavorable.

According to the RCP average of polls, Sanders trails Hillary Clinton by five percentage points among Iowa caucus-goers. A new poll released Sunday shows Sanders trailing Hillary Clinton by just seven points (42-35) among Democratic primary voters.

Dr. Dennis Goldford, who moderated the forum told Jewish Insider, “This was the most impressive audience I’ve seen – in size and enthusiastic response – by anybody we’ve had thus far. (previous candidates were Republicans – Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum). He seemed to respond reasonably well to the questions. What struck me was that after some nods in the right direction, from a Democratic standpoint, really he wasn’t portraying himself as a culture-war candidate. His focus was on economics rather on social issues.”

On the Israel question, he said, “I think people wanted to be reassured about that, and I think he did reassure them… he was able to suggest that he would be very conventional, from a Jewish standpoint, on the Israel-security situation.” Goldford said he wanted to follow up by pointing out that the Palestinians seem to be the only people not in favor of a two-state solution, “but I wasn’t there to debate him.”

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