Bernie Sanders on Israel and the Palestinians

Bernie Sanders has described the entrenched conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as both depressing and difficult, and considers the conflict one of the most important issues in the Middle East. He acknowledges that there is no magic solution to the problem, but Bernie believes in a two-state solution, where “Israel has a right to exist in security, and at the same time the Palestinians have a state of their own.” Finally, Bernie sees many other conflicts in the Middle East as exacerbating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jewish Heritage

Wait, Bernie’s Jewish?

Yes. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, where the Nazis decimated the Jewish population during the Holocaust. Bernie’s brother Larry has stated that their father and uncle immigrated to the U.S. and the rest of their family died in Europe. Bernie has said that his Jewish heritage showed him the importance of politics at a young age:

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

Since he’s Jewish, is Bernie also Israeli?

No. Despite false reports to the contrary, Bernie is only a citizen of the United States.

Well, Bernie’s Jewish and his family died in the Holocaust. He must support Israel over the Palestinians, right?

No. Bernie doesn’t “support” Israel over the Palestinians. He believes both have the right to exist, stating:

“…the bottom line is that Israel must have the right to exist in peace and security, just as the Palestinians must have the right to a homeland in which they and they alone control their political system and their economy.”

Two-State Solution

Bernie hopes that the United States will help broker a two-state solution and work with the international community to end the blockade of Gaza, resolve the dispute over the borders of the West Bank, and allow “both the Israeli and Palestinian people to live in peace.” Bernie condemns the use of violence by both sides to gain an upperhand in peace negotiations.

What exactly do you mean by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Here’s your crash-course:

What does Bernie believe is the best path toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians ?

Bernie believes in a two-state solution:

“The hatred, violence and loss of life that define this conflict make living an ordinary life a constant struggle for both peoples. We must work with those Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are committed to peace, security and statehood rather than to empty rhetoric and violence. A two-state solution must include compromises from both sides to achieve a fair and lasting peace in the region. The Palestinians must fulfill their responsibilities to end terrorism against Israel and recognize Israel’s right to exist. In return, the Israelis must end their policy of targeted killings, prevent further Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and infrastructure.”

Bernie thinks there has been little progress in the conflict over the decades because both sides have resorted to “empty rhetoric and violence” instead of confronting the challenges head-on.

Bernie supported funding an Israeli-Palestinian Peace, Reconciliation and Democracy Fund, to finance both Israeli and Palestinian organizations committed to the “promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of the press, and non-violence among Palestinians, and peaceful coexistence and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Haven’t both sides employed violent tactics at times?

Yes. Bernie believes both sides have to own up to their failures in order to achieve a resolution to the conflict and they must both acknowledge the other’s right to exist.

Bernie has condemned and sees as a barrier to peace the terrorist actions of Hamas, including their practice of firing rockets into houses and urban centers. Bernie has also called Israel’s attacks on Palestinians “reprehensible,” particularly in the context of Israel being the occupying power in the conflict.

Bernie distinguishes between Hamas’ tactics and the Palestinians, and has supported U.S. legislation that provides aid for Palestinians. Similarly, Bernie distinguishes between Israel and its government. Although he is supportive of the State of Israel, he is “not a great fan” of the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his tactics to address issues in the Middle East region.

On Netanyahu & Iran

Bernie protested against Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in 2015 and disagrees with his approach to Iran, which Bernie views as unnecessarily antagonistic.

How did Bernie react to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech?

In February 2015, Bernie was the first U.S. senator to declare that he would not be attending Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress out of protest, later saying that “the address, arranged without consultation with the White House, improperly interfered with President Barack Obama’s leading role in charting U.S. foreign policy.”

Bernie believes that Netanyahu, who spoke to Congress right before his reelection campaign, inappropriately used the appearance for his own political purposes.

How does Bernie respond to Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran?

Bernie disagrees with Netanyahu’s approach to Iran. Netanyahu believes that sanctions against Iran should continue, rather than setting up a comprehensive monitoring, compliance, and inspection program that keeps close tabs on Iran’s nuclear program. Bernie has said:

“[A]t this point, harsher sanctions won’t stop Iran’s nuclear program. Neither would a dangerous resort to military action. The sanctions currently in place have brought Iran to the bargaining table and current negotiations resulted in Iran freezing its nuclear program. And for the past year, Iran has been subject to heightened international inspections. All of those things have made us safer.”

Bernie praised the agreement with Iran by saying:

“I congratulate President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the leaders of other major nations for producing a comprehensive agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is a victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling and could keep the United States from being drawn into another never-ending war in the Middle East.”

Learn more about Bernie’s position on Iran.