German Social Democrat Leader Boycotts Bernie Over Palestine

German Social Democratic Party leader Saskia Esken has boycotted a Bernie Sanders event over his supposedly anti-Israel statements. Bernie’s statement? “The targeting of civilians is a war crime, no matter who does it.”

German Social Democratic Party leader Saskia Esken, left, refused to meet with Senator Bernie Sanders, right, on his European tour. (Christophe Gateau / Picture Alliance via Getty Images; Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

Senator Bernie Sanders has been in Europe this week, debuting his bestseller It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism in its new Dutch and German translations. He’s spoken at several large public engagements in the Netherlands and Belgium, all of which sold out in a matter of hours and were very enthusiastically received. His last stop on the tour was Germany, where he spoke before yet another sold-out audience, followed by a reception hosted by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, a foundation associated with Die Linke, the German left party.

The gathering was broad and included trade union leaders, climate activists, and members of other parties. Everyone from Die Linke cochair Janine Wissler to the moderate Green Party leader Ricarda Lang was eager to meet with Bernie Sanders.

There was one prominent exception, however. Saskia Esken, leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, had accepted an invitation to attend the reception from the event’s organizers before suddenly pulling out. Esken made the announcement yesterday morning on BlueSky, saying that she had “Tea to spill.” She continued that because Bernie had not clearly “stood on the side of Israel and against the terror of Hamas” she had to cancel what she described as a meeting with Sanders. The spectacle of a German leader refusing to talk with a prominent Jewish politician based on his insufficient support for the state of Israel was widely commented upon by Germans on social media.

Senator Sanders’s remarks had been careful and not particularly controversial in even the American context: “The targeting of civilians is a war crime, no matter who does it,” Sanders wrote in a Wednesday statement. But he cautioned that “Let us not forget that half of the two million people in Gaza are children. Children and innocent people do not deserve to be punished for the acts of Hamas.”

A member of Senator Sanders’s staff said that as far as he knew, “Bernie had never heard of Saskia Esken, but I’m sure he would have been pleased to meet her.”

Saskia Esken’s office has not responded to a request for comment.