Radio host quizzes Jewish candidate Sanders on Israeli citizenship

WAMU’s Diane Rehm raises eyebrows after repeatedly asking senator about being a dual citizen, saying she got info off Internet

Sen. Bernie Sanders addressing a rally on Capitol Hill in 2013. (Courtesy JTA)
Sen. Bernie Sanders addressing a rally on Capitol Hill in 2013. (Courtesy JTA)

An awkward interview conducted by an NPR-syndicated reporter with a Jewish candidate running for the White House sparked controversy after she seemed to accuse him of maintaining secret Israeli citizenship.

The exchange was part of a longer interview by Diane Rehm of Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Socialist who is running in the Democratic primaries for the presidential nomination in 2016.

At about the 24-minute mark, Rehm asks Sanders about having dual citizenship, which he says he does not have, maintaining that he’s only visited the country a couple times.

She then tells him that his name was on a list of lawmakers with dual citizenship.

Sanders tells Rehm he is “offended” by the accusation and confirms again that he does not have Israeli citizenship. (Video and transcript below.)

According to Jewish Journal reporter Jared Sichel, the only source available accusing Sanders of dual citizenship is from an anti-Semitic thread on the Facebook page of pro-Palestinian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.

Other news outlets picked up on the interview, with calling the exchange “bizarre.”

Online newsmagazine Salon stated that Rehm, who is often critical of Israel, had fallen for an anti-Semitic hoax.

In an email to Politico, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs said the campaign had never been confronted with Rehm’s question before.

“Diane Rehm is an excellent radio host,” Briggs told Politico. “There’s a great big Internet out there with lots of good and bad information. I’ve never heard the question come up before.”

Rehm is a radio host for WAMU and her show is heard on NPR. Numerous attempts by news outlets to reach Rehm for comment have reportedly not been returned.

The following transcript is from the Jewish Journal.

Diane Rehm: Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.

Bernie Sanders: Well, no I do not have dual citizenship with Israel. I’m an American. I don’t know where that question came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period.

Rehm: I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list.

Sanders: No.

Rehm: Forgive me if that is—

Sanders: That’s some of the nonsense that goes on in the Internet. But that is absolutely not true.

Rehm: Interesting. Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship or is that part of the fable?

Sanders: I honestly don’t know but I have read that on the Internet. You know, my dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket. He loved this country. I am, you know, I got offended a little bit by that comment, and I know it’s been on the Internet. I am obviously an American citizen and I do not have any dual citizenship.

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