Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took a stand for Palestinian human rights at tonight’s Democratic presidential debate.
The longstanding debate about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has increasingly divided liberal and conservative American Jews. Mainstream Jews decry what they view as human rights violations by the Israeli government toward Palestinians. Meanwhile, right-wing aligned extremist Zionists, who have attained unprecedented influence under the Trump administration, have labeled such critics anti-Semitic.
Nearly an hour into the debate, moderator Yamiche Alcindor asked whether the U.S. should factor Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territories into decisions about how much foreign aid the Middle East nation receives. Israel has been criticized for aggressively and illegally expanding into Palestinian territories, in addition to other human rights violations.
Sanders prefaced his remarks by saying that, as a proud Jewish man who lived in Israel in childhood, he believes “Israel has the right to not only exist, but to exist in peace and security.”
He continued, “But what U.S. foreign policy has to be about is not only being pro-Israel, we must be pro-Palestinian as well.
“We must understand that right now in Israel we have leadership under [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu who has recently, as you know, been indicted for bribery, who in my view is a racist. What we need is a level playing field in terms of the Middle East which addresses the terrible crisis in Gaza where 60 or 70 percent of the young people are unemployed.
“So what my foreign policy will be about is human rights, is democracy, is bring people together in a peaceful way, not endless wars with trillions of dollars in expenses.”
Sanders’ strong stance for Palestinian rights elicited equally strong reactions.
“I admire the fact that @SenSanders speaks up for the Palestinians. I suspect that this costs him votes every time he does it, and yet he brings it up regularly. It’s like his concern for the crisis in Yemen — no votes in it, but a sign of values and authenticity,” tweeted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
Historically, criticizing Israel has been a political non-starter in the United States, which annually gives the nation millions in foreign aid.
As support for Palestinians has increased amid more questions about Israel’s treatment of the occupied people, more have called on the U.S. to adjust its policies and aid for the nation. Sanders is one of the first presidential candidates to publicly voice such concerns on the subject.