On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders named Simone Zimmerman as his national Jewish outreach coordinator two days ago. Two days later, following reports that she had published profanity-laced messages online critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his campaign announced late on Thursday that it had suspended her.
"She has been suspended while we investigate the matter," Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs told the New York Times.
Zimmerman has not been meek in her criticism of Israeli policies, or of its prime minister. The conservative website the Washington Free Beacon published an article on Wednesday, highlighting some of the aggressive language Zimmerman used to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Facebook post last March.
"Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole," she wrote, referring to the prime minister by his nickname. "Fuck you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you legitimately represent every fraction of the Jewish world."
She also accused him of sanctioning the murder of over 2,000 Palestinian civilians in Gaza — echoing Sanders criticism of the 2014 Gaza War.
Zimmerman is the co-founder and leader of the Jewish Group IfNotNow, a coalition of activists who came together during Israel's assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014, when nearly 1,462 Palestinians civilian — including 495 children — were killed in the Israeli war with Hamas. That summer, Zimmerman and IfNotNow held candlelight vigils outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York, where she and other protestors read names of both the Palestinians and Israelis killed.
Zimmerman has also penned a number of articles for progressive Jewish publications condemning the Israeli government, its occupation of Palestinian lands, and American Jewish institutions that, in her view, uncritically support Israeli policies. "No public relations trick can save Israel's image…. The problem is nearly 50 years of occupation," she wrote in a February 2016 op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "The problem is rampant racism in Israeli society."
After news of Zimmerman's Facebook posts, which she later edited to remove swear words, became public, the former head of the Anti-Defamation League Abe Foxman called on Sanders to fire her.
"I believe Bernie Sanders needs to fire Simone Zimmerman," he said in an email to Jewish Insider. "No amount of word changes can cure her ugly characterization of the Prime Minister of Israel and the Israeli army and people defending themselves."
That Sanders, who would be the nation's first Jewish president, had tapped a Jewish organizer with a history of criticizing Israel and challenging Jewish institutions came as no surprise to Daniel Sieradski, the head of Jews For Bernie, a New York PAC supporting the senator's presidential bid.
"Sanders isn't just the anti-establishment candidate, he's the anti-Jewish establishment candidate," Sieradski remarked. "Bernie is seen as being refreshingly honest about the topics Jewish voters care about."
The backtracking over Zimmerman's appointment comes at a key moment for Sanders — he's less than a week away from the New York state primary and is campaigning heavily in New York City, where nearly 20 percent of Democratic primary voters tend to be Jewish.
Apart from Zimmerman, Sanders also put his foot in his mouth ahead of this crucial primary. In an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board on April 4, the Senator inflated the civilian death toll of Israel's 2014 war in Gaza; he said that 10,000 civilians died, when the number was closer to 1,400. That provoked Israeli-American politician and former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Michael Oren to accuse Sanders of "blood libel" — a reference to a medieval anti-Semitic canard that accused Jews of baking with the blood of Christian children.
Sanders is now lagging behind Clinton with Jewish voters going into the New York primary. A new poll released by Sienna shows Clinton leading Sanders 60-38 among Jewish voters — that's a better margin than her overall lead in the state of 52-41. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton nabbed endorsements from 12 of the 14 Jewish members of the New York City Council.
One of those supporters, Councilman David Greenfield, an official Clinton surrogate, called Zimmerman an "anti-Israel activist" before news of her suspension broke. He also drew attention on Twitter to the fact that, in the past, Zimmerman agreed to participate in events attended by activists with the BDS movement — a grassroots campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction Israeli institutions.
But Sieradski with Jews for Bernie, dismissed the attacks against Zimmerman as alarmist. "She's not some anti-Israel radical," he said. "She wants the community have an open conversation about the occupation and what the repercussions are."
It's true that according to the latest Gallup polling, younger Americans — those between 18-29— view Israel's policies in the Middle East as "unjustified." Those are the voters that the Sanders campaign is after, says Sieradski with Jews for Bernie. "The campaign has made a conscious choice not to win the right-wing pro-Israel vote," he said.
Though neither Zimmerman nor the Sanders campaign responded to requests for comment about her appointment, it's clear that Zimmerman has been a Sanders fan for sometime. After the Senator won the New Hampshire primary, she celebrated the victory on her Facebook page, and took a dig at the Senator's opponent, Hillary Clinton.
"The first Jew in history just won a primary, as a proud socialist calling for political revolution, she wrote. "Hil thinks she can win us back with hawkish Israel policies? Wake the fuck up."
Follow Avi Asher-Schaprio on Twitter: @AASchaprio