Bernie Sanders on Israel and Palestine

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:  “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: Although Bernie is Jewish, he does not favor Israel over the Palestinians, nor does he otherwise let his religion influence his positions regarding the conflict.

Two-State Solution: Bernie believes that Israel and the Palestinians can, and should, peacefully coexist, and that the Palestinians should have a country of their own.

Benjamin Netanyahu: While most Americans support the Israeli people, they also hold a negative view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right wing government.

Iran Nuclear Agreement: Bernie believes diplomacy, not military action or economic sanctions, can keep Israel safe from Iran. He supported of the Iran Nuclear Agreement and believes the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the agreement and re-imposition of sanctions will have disastrous consequences.

Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem: Bernie expressed concern that moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem undermines the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and damages the United States’ ability to broker that peace

Boycott, Divest, Sanction Movement (BDS): BDS is a Palestinian-led movement started in 2005 that calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel to respect Palestinian human rights.

America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): AIPAC is pro-Israel group that lobbies Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars each year in military aid and other benefits for Israel.  Bernie has been a critic of AIPAC for giving a platform for Benjamin Netanyahu who has expressed bigoted views and opposes a two-state solution.

Jewish Heritage

Is Bernie Sanders 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.”

Bernie has also said, “As somebody who is 100 percent pro-Israel, in the long run,” Sanders said, “we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.”

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 upper hand 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 actions of Hamas, which has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States government since 1997. These actions include firing rockets into Israeli houses and urban centers.

Bernie has also called Israel’s attacks on Palestinians “reprehensible,” particularly because Israel is the occupying power in the conflict.

Bernie distinguishes between Hamas’ tactics and the Palestinian people 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 the  tactics he uses to address issues in the Middle East region. 

Like Bernie, the American public has increasingly expressed support for the people of Israel, but not its current government.

So what is Bernie’s plan to deal with this seemingly intractable conflict?

In 2016, Bernie outlined his policy for the Middle East in a speech that he had planned to give at the AIPAC Conference. Ultimately, the Sanders campaign made the decision to remain on the campaign trail and hold rallies in the United States rather than attend the Conference.

Bernie discussed the conflict in an interview where he explained that he wants to orient American policy toward the decent people on both sides, and not to their two awful governments:

“While I am very critical of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, I am not impressed by what I am seeing from Palestinian leadership, as well,” he said. “It’s corrupt in many cases, and certainly not effective.”

 Bernie recognizes that the situation in Gaza, with high unemployment and closed borders, is problematic. He said:

“If you have sixty percent of the kids who don’t have jobs, and they can’t leave the country, what do you think is going to happen next year and the year after that?”

Bernie has stated that he would consider using the $3.8 billion of military aid given to Israel each year by the U.S. as leverage to demand talks to secure political rights for Palestinians. He has further stated that Palestinians are entitled to their own state and their own economy.

“I’m not proposing anything particularly radical,” he said. “And that is that the United States should have an even-handed approach both to Israel and the Palestinians.”

Benjamin Netanyahu

Bernie Sanders has been a frequent critic of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. He has called Netanyahu a “right-wing politician” who “is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly.”

Bernie has also stated, “There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”

In addition to criticism of Netanyahu, Bernie has been critical of the Israeli government as a whole, stating that Israel “is now run by a right-wing — dare I say — racist government.”

In February 2015, Bernie was the first U.S. senator to declare out of protest that he would not attend Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress. 

Bernie gave several interviews and stated, “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.

Bernie opposes the Netanyahu government passing the “Nation State law”, which Bernie believes, “essentially codifies the second-class status of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, aggressively undermining the longstanding goal of a two-state solution, and ignoring the economic catastrophe in Gaza.”

Iran Nuclear Agreement

Bernie disagrees with Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to Iran, which Bernie views as unnecessarily antagonistic. Netanyahu believed that sanctions against Iran should have continued and an agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear research should never have been negotiated or signed.

Bernie took a different approach. He voted against Iran sanctions in 2017 and strongly approved of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement that set up a comprehensive monitoring, compliance, and inspection program to keep close tabs on Iran’s nuclear program. 

As the agreement was being negotiated Bernie 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.”

When it was signed 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.”

Netanyahu successfully pressured President Trump to withdraw from the agreement despite international efforts to keep the agreement in place.

Learn more about Bernie’s position on Iran.

Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

Most Americans oppose moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv where most other countries have their embassies. Bernie expressed concerns and issued a statement saying,

“I’m extremely concerned by reports that President Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. There’s a reason why all past U.S. administrations have avoided making this move, and why leaders from all over the world, including a group of former Israeli ambassadors, have warned Trump against doing it: It would dramatically undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage the United States’ ability to broker that peace. What the U.S. should be doing now is bringing adversaries in the Middle East together to seek common solutions, not exacerbating tensions in this highly volatile region.”

Bernie hasn’t committed to moving the U.S. Embassy back if elected. Instead, he said:

“It would be part of a broader discussion of how we bring peace to the region…And that means, in the same sense, bringing Israel and the Palestinians together.”

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement that was started in 2005. The BDS movements calls for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel until they end the occupation and colonization of Arab lands, recognize the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Irsael, and respect the rights of Palestinian refugees to return home.

What has the global response been to BDS?

Support for the BDS campaign is growing in the U.S. and around the world. Israel is determined to fight it. 

The U.S. Presbyterian Church voted in 2018 to completely divest from investments in Israel. Airbnb announced in November 2018 that it would stop listing properties in the Jewish settlements of the occupied West Bank. 

Numerous divestment and boycott resolutions have been voted on at U.S. colleges and universities as well as at board of trustees meetings. Many artists and musicians including Roger Waters, Vivienne Westwood, Peter Gabriel, and Wolf Alice have joined the cultural boycott of Israel. Some have called for this year’s Eurovision song contest to be moved from Israel because of “Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.” 

What has Israel’s response been to BDS? 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, AIPAC, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) all call the Palestinian BDS campaign and those who support it anti-Semitic. Jewish non-profit organizations are determined to influence the perception of Israel and the Israeli government is countering BDS with the Hasbara project.

In January 2018, Israel issued a blacklist which barred members of 20 organizations that support BDS from entering Israel. The list includes Jewish Voice for Peace and a Quaker group that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for rescuing victims of the Nazis. In a separate incident, the Israeli government detained, then barred a U.S. student from entering Israel for once liking a Facebook page about boycotting Sabra, an Israeli company that produces hummus.

What has the U.S. government response been to BDS? 

Anti-boycott laws have been introduced in 27 states and in numerous local legislatures throughout the United States. Five anti-boycott executive orders have been issued by governors. In Congress, The Israel Anti-Boycott Act was introduced in 2017. A revised version of the bill was introduced in 2018.

The ACLU wrote a letter to Congress stating their opposition to the bill. They argued both Congressional bills were unconstitutional because they violated the First Amendment

A nearly identical Anti-Boycott Act of 2019 has been introduced as part of a broad Middle East Bill. Another bill, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019, which seeks to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include demonizing, delegitimizing, or using a double standard for Israel, is designed to prohibit BDS activity on college campuses.

What has Bernie said about BDS?

While Bernie does not personally support BDS, he believes people have the right to boycott and to engage in nonviolent activism. Bernie doesn’t believe that the government should pass legislation that infringes on the rights of Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association that are protected by the First Amendment.

When asked about the Anti-BDS bills introduced in Congress, Bernie said

“While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to engage in political activity. It is clear to me that this bill would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

AIPAC

What is AIPAC and what does it do?

America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a pro-Israel group that lobbies Congress for benefits for Israel including: military assistance, financial military aid, sanctions against Iran, opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the passage of Congressional resolutions and statements in support of Israel. 

AIPAC does not contribute directly to political candidates. Instead, AIPAC spends 3.5 million dollars each year on other tactics to influence policy and achieve their objectives.

What’s the deal with AIPAC and Bernie?

Many members of Congress and political leaders speak at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. In 2016, Bernie did not attend the AIPAC conference. Instead, he delivered a Middle East policy speech

Bernie, along with several other presidential candidates, are boycotting the 2020 AIPAC conference because of AIPAC’s relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu. The Sanders campaign made the following statement: 

“[Sen. Sanders] is concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution.”

Because of his condemnation of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu, Bernie is being targeted by AIPAC in Facebook ads. AIPAC has also gone after Bernie on Twitter.  An AIPAC official confirmed that the pro-Israel lobby group was directly criticizing Bernie. Bernie is not alone in his concerns and criticism of AIPAC’s activities.