I don’t expect much more to come of this Diane Rehm/Sanders brouhaha, mainly because Rehm has such profound buy-in and goodwill from media and political figures in Washington; because Sanders himself isn’t making a big deal out of it; and because the people who usually bang the pans loudest about anti-Semitism themselves aren’t fully invested because they don’t share Sanders’ politics (though they’re certainly not ignoring it). But if you’re asking me, Diane Rehm’s explanation is a complete crock.
If you read Rehm’s explanation from her show this morning, a reader on Facebook gave her a ‘list’ and suggested she ask Sanders about it. Her mistake was stating it as a fact and asking him to respond to that fact rather than asking it as a question. Now, even though she mishandled the question, she’s glad she could help put the rumor to rest.
There are various ‘lists’ online which claim Sanders is a dual citizen. Most also include most other Jewish members of Congress and virtually every member of George W. Bush’s foreign policy team – even some folks I’m pretty sure aren’t Jewish. Imagine the hard time John Bolton would have had getting citizenship under the law of return! (I’ve heard about these via email for years and generally do my best to knock them down when it’s someone who I think genuinely doesn’t know what these canards are about.) Basically every example is baldly anti-Semitic in tone and frankly written like they’re written by someone who is kind of nuts. Here’s one example, here’s another slightly altered version – most are permutations or cut and pastes of this one.
If someone were totally oblivious to history, contemporary politics or anything about public affairs, I could see where maybe you read that and think, “Wow, that’s amazing. I had no idea.”
But as someone who has been running a very sophisticated and literate public affairs program for decades, that does not remotely apply to Rehm. Not even remotely close. There is simply no way you read one of these and do not know that at the very, very best you are asking a highly incendiary question that has a long history in anti-Semitic diatribes. I guess you could speculate, well, maybe despite all that, Sanders really does hold Israeli nationality? Let’s ask him. But coming from one of these ‘lists’ on the web? Again, it does not remotely hold up.
I think the only way you find yourself saying this is if you are totally oblivious to what you are saying and relying entirely on a researcher to feed you lines (the theory Sanders puts forward) or you have a worldview that makes these kind of anti-Semitic canards plausible.
Let’s hit the other point. It’s not just a matter of stating as a fact vs asking a question. If you’re interviewing President Obama and you ask him whether Osama bin Laden is his brother or whether he’s conspiring with Iran to destroy America, that’s not just a question. Why not ask an African-American congressman if he’s held up any 7-Elevens recently? People are going to say, rightly, WTF is your problem? It’s not a question, at least not phrased anything like that. You’re dignifying, laundering hate speech. And when you get a flat denial you’re not helping put the rumor to rest. That’s CYA after the fact.