Appearing on CNN, Bernie Sanders, the Democratic nominee for the US presidency in 2020, said he supports Israel’s right to exist and considers himself pro-Israel, but doesn’t support the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was reelected earlier this month.
"I am not anti-Israel, but the fact of the matter is Netanyahu is a right wing politician who is treating the Palestinian people very unfairly" #SandersTownHall #CNNTownHall pic.twitter.com/whTWKW2AbI— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) April 23, 2019
Senator Sanders said on Monday that Israel is currently run by a “right-wing, racist government”, reports Haaretz.
When asked about his views regarding the Jewish state, Sanders, himself Jewish, said he had spent a number of months in Israel as a young man, working at a kibbutz.
“I have family in Israel. I am not anti-Israel. But the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who, I think, is treating the Palestinians extremely unfairly.”
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Sanders then added: “the United States gives billions of dollars in military aid to Israel. I just believe that the US should deal with the Middle East on a level-playing-field basis. In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing and, dare I say, racist government.”
"I am not anti-Israel, but the fact of the matter is Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who is treating the Palestinian people very unfairly."
Sanders is not the only prominent Democratic candidate to refuse to mince words in describing Netanyahu and his government.
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Last month, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke berated Netanyahu for being a racist, pointing to the Israeli PM's political pact with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, now part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, ahead of Israel's general election, and to his "warning that Arab voters are going to the polls."
Meanwhile, Sammy Smooha, Professor of Sociology at University Haifa and specialist in Arabs and Jews in Israel, told Sputnik that “the statement that Netanyahu is a right-wing nationalist is a complement to him, but it is dubious if Netanyahu is racist”.
Smooha also warned that Sanders' critical remarks against Netanyahu will “adversely affect the Democratic presidential nominee Sanders because Democrats and especially Jews (80 percent of whom support the Democratic Party) do not like to hear criticism of Israel, even if they agree with it”.
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The expert recalled that the Democratic Party under then-US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama “stood for a two-state solution to the Palestinian question, whereas Netanyahu is actually opposing this option”.
“This is why some Democrats criticise Netanyahu and the political right in Israel. No change is in store in the Democratic Party's policy towards Israel”, Smooha noted, suggesting that a “Democratic administration will be more effective in peace-building only if the left-central bloc will come to power in Israel”.
“Democratic administration is not enough. A combination of both can effect significant change”, he concluded.
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Under Donald Trump, the United States has endorsed Israel on several controversial points.
Washington has recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the local US embassy to the disputed city, and has okayed Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which are considered an occupied part of Syria by the United Nations.