Bernie Sanders’ older brother Larry: ‘Jews won’t see him as a threat to Israel’
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Bernie Sanders’ older brother Larry: ‘Jews won’t see him as a threat to Israel’

Oxford activist, 84, speaks about his younger sibling's chances of becoming president, the rise of antisemitism and why Bernie in the White House would make Jews proud

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Larry Sanders, older brother of United States presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, at his home in Oxford.
Larry Sanders, older brother of United States presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, at his home in Oxford.

At the age of 84, Larry Sanders isn’t worried about younger brother Bernie’s staying power in the US Democratic Party’s nomination process, not least because “78 sounds young to me”.

A genteel Oxford-based Green Party representative who came to the UK in the 1960s, Larry still retains the Brooklyn accent and speaking mannerisms that his younger sibling has made so famous.

Speaking to Jewish News this week, Larry set out to reassure Jews both here and in the United States that Bernie – or Bernard as he prefers – would be in any way a danger to Israel if elected US president later this year.

Q. What’s it like watching Bernard doing so well?

It’s amazing. Ever since he hit the big time, getting audiences of 30,000, it’s just impossible to describe. I do a double-take every time. This year is of historical significance, because he had a really strong chance to become president, at a time when you have the rise of the far-right, the destruction of the planet, and the success of Trump. It’s frightening.

Q. We tend to think of the rise of the far-right as a European problem…

It’s not just European. You see what Trump and many of his followers believe. There’s a not insignificant white nationalist movement in the US, antisemitism is on the rise – we’ve had all those deaths, add to that Trump’s comments about Muslims… It is sheer out-and-out racism and not innocent. He’s playing with fire. You don’t need to be Jewish to be worried. Trump’s rhetoric is anti-immigrant, anti-other, and it’s very powerful. Hitler showed us how people are capable of loving our fellow but also hating anyone who isn’t our fellow.

Q. Does your younger brother ever call his older brother for advice?

No, sadly not. For years we talked on the phone every Sunday but all that’s gone away with the campaign.

Larry Sanders, brother of US Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, at a campaign rally at Unite The Union, in London.

Q. What would your advice be?

Follow your instincts. He knows what he’s doing and is very disciplined. He also knows what lurks if he doesn’t win.

Q. Some people have suggested his age could count against him?

From my point of view, 78 is young! Most of his main competitors are also in their 70s, but look, he’s proven his stamina. He’s always had stamina, since he was a child. He used to run these cross-country races, uphill, downhill, and it always seemed to be in mud. You run those races and you’re exhausted but you just keep pressing on.

I think if Bernard were elected it would be a very important positive for the Jewish people

Q. Do you think there’s something innately Jewish about playing the long-game, given the Jewish history?

There’s a bit to it, yes. Our grandfather was a clothing presser, lifting heavy irons for 12 hours a day. So yes it’s a Jewish thing, the endurance, but it’s also an immigrant thing. It’s people who fight, and Bernard is a fighter.

Q. Talking of fights, Bernie has just said he won’t be attending the AIPAC conference, saying AIPAC gives a platform to leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. Given the lobby’s influence, is that a wise fight to pick?

I won’t comment on the wisdom of it, Bernard is a big boy and knows what he’s doing, but from my point of view I think he’s right. AIPAC trusts Trump and thinks his kind of politics and his kind of people are good for Israel. That’s incredibly naïve. These people are friends of nobody except themselves. Bernard wants a safe and secure and prosperous Israel but not at the expense of basic Palestinian rights.

Q. If Trump’s politics are so obnoxious, why was he voted in?

The things Trump says, particularly denigrating particular groups, that will only get worse if he gets re-elected, but you have to remember that it’s not new. I remember McCarthy accusing everyone of being traitors, and he got a lot of support. I remember being quite frightened as a Jew. He went after Hollywood, which was 90 percent Jewish. He went after the intellectuals, where you had lots of Jewish professors. He went after labour movement – same story.

I don’t think Jews will see him as a threat to the State of Israel.

Bernie Sanders

Q. Is the US ready for a socialist president?

Bernard is the only major US politician who understands that wealth and income have been going from the bulk of the population to the very rich, but people are starting to cotton on. When your children aren’t getting ahead, that’s when you realise. There’s a lot of pain and anger.

Q. The Republican Jewish Coalition now says Bernie’s stance shows why American Jews who support Israel should vote for Trump. Is there a danger that they will?

That’s impossible to answer. There are a tiny minority of American Jews who have already said they’ll vote for Trump, around 12 percent. You won’t get unanimity and nor would you want, but Jews still resonate with the themes of oppression and persecution. Even if they disagree with Bernard’s specific policies, I don’t think Jews will see him as a threat to the State of Israel. In fact I think an even-handed US administration would be better for Israel. I think they’d prosper more if Bernard was in the White House.

Green party’s Larry Sanders

Q. Is Trump’s peace plan as bad as everyone says it is?

Trump doesn’t give a damn what happens to the Israelis or the Palestinians, he just wants to please his own side. He made absolutely no effort to understand the Palestinian side. It was a propaganda stunt to please his own people, pure and simple, but people have died for it, you saw that with clashes in the aftermath of the announcement. No, it wasn’t a plan for peace. It was a plan for votes for Trump.

You don’t need to be Jewish to be worried. Trump’s rhetoric is anti-immigrant, anti-other, and it’s very powerful

Q. Do you think a Bernie win would be good for Jews around the world?

I do, definitely. Regardless of how Jews vote in the primaries, I think if Bernard were elected it would be a very important positive for the Jewish people, to have someone who is obviously so honest and decent, it would be a very good thing for the Jewish people and give us great pride. He will be admired by many around the world.

Q. Finally, just weeks after the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, is values-driven politics dying out?

It is certainly rare but it’s not dead. As I say, there are two sides to human beings: we can be loving and kind to one another, but if we identify the other as different we can turn on them like animals. Nobody thinks people should go hungry while others revel in untold wealth, so while we’re a questionable group, morality never goes away. Bernard talks about the class struggle but he doesn’t stop there. He says we need to do something for people who are different. That’s a major statement of value and one I’m proud he stands for.

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