Photo Credit: screenshot
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaking at J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C.

As we know, the known extent of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Israel connection was a stay of a few months at Kibbutz Sha’ar HaAmakim in 1963. A report notes he was “a guest”. In other words, he may not have been a volunteer picking apples or pears but there was a specific reach-out, either by him or by the kibbutz or the Mapam Marxist party that supervised the affairs of the kibbutz, a member of Mapam’s Kibbutz Artzi Federation. But that is just a supposition.

On the other hand, married couples usually did not come together as part of the ethos of going to kibbutz was the less-than-stringent sexual mores practiced at such places.


Perhaps either he or his then wife, Deborah Shiling now Messing, have friends or relatives there? It is claimed his older brother, Larry, was spending some time there. Had either of them been a member of the HaShomer HaTzair Zionist youth movement that committed its member to settle on kibbutz? If, indeed, his brother was there, perhaps he was in HaShaomer HaTzair and Bernie followed.

Sha’ar Ha’Amakim celebrated 25 years of its founder settling on the land and the headline of the article in the Mapam daily, “Al HaMishmar, of May 27, 1958, reviewing its history, read “25 Years to the Settlement”. As noted in The Forward, “The kibbutz founders had a strong admiration for the Communist system in the Soviet Union.”

But the author of that article, Aharon Cohen, adds another mystery to Sanders’ kibbutz stay. His biography includes several interesting aspects. He set up Hakibbutz Ha’artzi’s Arab Department. Mapam advocated an undivided and Socialist Palestine and he went around lecturing and publishing articles in favor of good relations with Arabs.

In 1942, he was responsible for having Mapam joining the League for Jewish Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation. In July 1947, he testified before the UNSCOP as the League’s official spokesperson and its secretary and got into an argument, demanding his right to read out a 20-page document that had already been presented to the committee members. As regards the territorial question of the future state of Palestine, Cohen added that “the relationship between Jews and Arabs and their problem has to be solved in a non-partitioned Palestine.”

Oddly enough, the English-language Wikipedia biography does not contain any reference to Cohen’s jail term. Details are in the Hebrew version.  And a Jake Pickering mentions the incident.

In 1958, he was arrested on suspicion of maintaining contact with a foreign agent, a member of the Soviet consular staff. He was charged with passing information and was sentenced in 1961 to a five-year jail term. He was pardoned and released early in 1963. Many believed he was simply continuing his pre-state idealistic vision, attempting to convince the Soviets that Jews and Arabs could reside peacefully in a bi-national state. Others, that Cohen was a victim of the GSS (then, the Shabak).

Could Sanders have been attracted by the affair? Did he come specifically to gain an impression of Cohen and his vision?

The research continues.


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Yisrael Medad resides in Shiloh and is a foreign media spokesperson for the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities.