Simone Zimmerman, the Bernie Sanders campaign’s newly hired national Jewish outreach coordinator, last year called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “manipulative asshole” who sanctioned mass murder.
“Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole,” Zimmerman, a former J Street student activist, wrote on Facebook in March 2015, according to the Free Beacon.
“Fuck you, Bibi… you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer.”
Zimmerman later revised the post, excising the profanity, according to the report, which featured screenshots of the original and edited posts.
— Nurit Baytch (@NuritBaytch) April 13, 2016
Zimmerman’s appointment was defended on Twitter by the unofficial “Jews for Bernie” group, which maintained that only “right-wing extremists” were opposed to her new role.
“Simone Z. is an anti-occupation activist, not an anti-Israel activist. Those who refuse to acknowledge the difference are extremists,” the group tweeted.
“We challenge the press to find a single person displeased about Bernie hiring @simonerzim who doesn’t have far right views on Israel,” it later said.
“We’ve been inundated with hate speech from right-wing Jews calling us Nazi-abettors for supporting Bernie & standing with Simone. So gross,” the group tweeted. “Still waiting to see criticism of Bernie’s Israel views from a single person with moral credibility.”
During the 2014 Gaza war, Zimmerman was one of the leaders of a group of young Jews that held regular protest vigils outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, reading the names of Palestinians and Israelis killed in the conflict.
She opposes Israel’s occupation, wants Hillel to allow participation by groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, is against Jewish federation funding for Israeli projects in the West Bank and wrote favorably of the efforts of Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-BDS group, to get “international corporations to stop profiting off human rights abuses.” (The Anti-Defamation League has called JVP one of America’s top 10 anti-Israel groups.)
“We’re paying attention to what’s happening in Israel — and we are angry,” Zimmerman said in a column on her fellow millennials in Israel’s daily Haaretz in February.
“The hypocrisy of expecting feel-good social justice projects to offset millennials’ deep outrage at the grave injustices committed by the Jewish state is almost too much to bear,” wrote Zimmerman, who is in her mid-20s. “No public relations trick can save Israel’s image. The problem isn’t with the hasbara [public relations]. The problem is nearly 50 years of occupation. The problem is rampant racism in Israeli society. The problem is attacks on human rights defenders by extremists and by the state. The problem is a Jewish establishment that ignores or justifies all of this.”
Now charged with reaching out to Jews and Jewish groups to try to corral support for the only Jewish candidate in the race for president, Zimmerman either may be a deeply flawed choice for the job or the perfect hire, depending on your political views and your analysis of Sanders’ prospects among varying kinds of Jewish voters.
— Simone Zimmerman (@simonerzim) March 21, 2016
Zimmerman declined JTA’s requests to be interviewed for this story.
Jews who back Sanders invariably say they are doing so largely because of the candidate’s positions on socioeconomic issues. But many of these Jewish progressives also like Sanders’s questioning of American political orthodoxy on Israel. Sanders is a proponent of Israel’s security and survival, but also criticizes the Jewish state for using “disproportionate” force against the Palestinians and says the US position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be more “evenhanded.”
But other Jews, including some inclined to vote for Sanders, are troubled by some of the candidates’ statements on Israel, including his erroneous recall in a New York Daily News interview of the number of Palestinian civilians killed in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Sanders said he thought the number was 10,000 dead, but the actual UN estimate was 1,423. (Gaza’s terrorist rulers Hamas cite a similar number of 1,462. Israel has argued that the figure for civilian deaths is likely lower, since Hamas fought out of uniform in some cases and also had an interest in misrepresenting dead gunmen as civilians. Israel has also stressed that Hamas deliberately placed Gaza civilians in harm’s way, by placing its rocket launchers and terror tunnel openings in civilian areas.) When someone in the room did a quick search for the official number and offered the corrected figure, Sanders immediately accepted it.
Critics nevertheless seized upon the mistake and other Sanders statements as evidence that he buys into the Palestinian narrative that Israel is the primary aggressor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For these Jews, Zimmerman’s appointment is unlikely to allay their concerns about Sanders. Some anti-Sanders groups already have seized upon Zimmerman’s hire, first disclosed in a JTA story published Monday, as fodder for their argument that a Sanders presidency would be bad for the Jews.
“Yes, this is what the Bernie Sanders version of Jewish outreach looks like,” Daniel Greenfield wrote in FrontPageMag, a right-wing website associated with the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which describes the political left as an enemy of America. “Stone throwing and BDS papered over with random Yiddish and Jewish words to make anti-Semitism and hatred of Jew seem socially acceptable.”
— Simone Zimmerman (@simonerzim) February 29, 2016
Zimmerman is hardly an anti-Semite. A native of Los Angeles born in 1990 and the great-granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Zimmerman grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, went to Jewish day school and Jewish camp, and was active in United Synagogue Youth, the Conservative movement’s youth organization, according to a biography of Zimmerman on the website of the American Jewish Peace Archive. The bio is based on an interview with Zimmerman last May. Zimmerman said she visited Israel a number of times during her childhood.
When she started college at the University of California, Berkeley, Zimmerman initially gravitated toward the traditional pro-Israel camp. She joined Berkeley’s Israel Action Committee, protested a divestment bill in the student senate and went to Washington in the spring to attend AIPAC’s annual policy conference.
But Zimmerman’s political views changed as she learned more from advocates of divestment and witnessed Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians during a visit to Israel, she said. She soon joined her campus chapter of J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group that supports US pressure on Israel to support a two-state solution. She spent the summer after her sophomore year studying colloquial Arabic at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 2012, Zimmerman was elected president of the national student board of J Street U, the group’s campus arm.
Throughout her college years at Berkeley, Zimmerman said she opposed BDS, but over time she became supportive of the rights of pro-BDS groups to be part of the Jewish communal conversation on Israel.
“We are doing this out of love for our community and love for our neighbors,” she wrote of her work opposing the occupation. “We know that Jewish liberation is inextricably tied to the liberation of all people.”