Everyone is talking about Bernie Sanders’s April 1 sit-down with the Daily News editorial board that was published yesterday. The Hillary Clinton campaign is circulating the interview widely. On CNN last night Clinton-leaning experts (Paul Begala, David Axelrod) said it is because the conversation suggests that Sanders doesn’t know what he’s talking about policy-wise.
Surely a big part of the hint-hint/wink-wink here is on Israel policy: Sanders slams settlements as illegal and deplores Israel’s collective punishment and massacres in Gaza. He speaks of Palestinian “suffering” and of the destruction of homes. And says that if Israel wants to have a “positive relationship” with the U.S., “I think they’re going to have to improve their relationship with the Palestinians.”
That’s strong. Many Americans on the center and left surely feel the same way. So the New York primary may finally get the Israel issue out to the Democratic base; and there could be a generational split. (Cue Sinatra).
Note that while Sanders was winning Wisconsin last night, Clinton held a fundraiser at the home of an Orthodox Jew who digs Israel. Jacob Kornbluh reports:
“Hillary Clinton spent Tuesday evening with top Jewish donors at a fundraiser hosted by Jack Bendheim in Riverdale… In 1999, when Clinton ran for the U.S. Senate in New York, Bendheim served as a bundler and an advisor on Israel. ‘I basically advised her that the most important thing she could do is to keep promoting the peace process,” Bendheim told the Jewish Week at the time. ‘He is one of few Orthodox Jews to have a close relationship with Clinton,’ the publication wrote.”
Now here is an extended excerpt of the Daily News editorial board discussion:
Daily News: You’ve called not just for a halting construction of so-called settlements on the West Bank, but you’ve also called for pulling back settlements, just as Israel did in Gaza. Describe the pullback that you have in mind.
Sanders: Well, that’s the Israeli government’s plan, but I think that right now…I’m not going to run the Israeli government. I’ve got enough problems trying to be a United States senator or maybe President of the United States.
Daily News: No, but if you are President, you will, I assume, become deeply enmeshed in attempting the peace process.
Sanders: I assume that’s something…
Daily News: And where you start on the negotiations is important.
Sanders: Here’s the main point that I want to make. I lived in Israel. I have family in Israel. I believe 100% not only in Israel’s right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks. But from the United States’ point of view, I think, long-term, we cannot ignore the reality that you have large numbers of Palestinians who are suffering now, poverty rate off the charts, unemployment off the charts, Gaza remaining a destroyed area. And I think that for long-term peace in that region, and God knows nobody has been successful in that for 60 years, but there are good people on both sides, and Israel is not, cannot, just simply expand when it wants to expand with new settlements. So I think the United States has got to help work with the Palestinian people as well. I think that is the path toward peace.
Daily News: I was talking about something different, though. Expanding settlements is one thing; coming into office as a President who said as a baseline that you want Israel to pull back settlements, that changes the dynamic in the negotiations, and I’m wondering how far and what you want Israel to do in terms of pulling back.
Sanders: Well, again, you’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer. But I think if the expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate.
Daily News: And who makes the call about illegality, in your mind?
Sanders: Well, I think that’s based on previous treaties and ideas. I happen to think that those expansions were illegal.
Daily News: Okay, so if we were to find Israeli settlements, so-called settlements, in places that has been designated to be illegal, you would expect Israel to be pulling them back?
Sanders: Israel will make their own decisions. They are a government, an independent nation. But to the degree that they want us to have a positive relationship, I think they’re going to have to improve their relationship with the Palestinians.
Daily News: Okay, but I’m just talking about, you’d be getting involved in the negotiations, and this would be setting a benchmark for the negotiations that you would enter the talks, if you do, having conveyed to both parties, including the Palestinians, that there’s a condition here that you want Israel to remove what you described as “illegal settlements.” That’s going to be the baseline. Now, if you’re really…
Sanders: Well, there’s going to be a lot of things on the baselines. There are going to be demands being made of the Palestinian folks as well. When you sit down and negotiate, obviously…
Daily News: And what are those demands?
Sanders: Well, for a start, the absolute condemnation of all terrorist attacks. The idea that in Gaza there were buildings being used to construct missiles and bombs and tunnels, that is not where foreign aid should go. Foreign aid should go to housing and schools, not the development of bombs and missiles.
Daily News: Okay. Now, you have obviously condemned Hamas for indiscriminate rocket attacks and the construction of the military tunnels. But you’ve also criticized Israel for what you described as a disproportionate response.
Daily News: And I’m going to look at 2014, which was the latest conflict. What should Israel have done instead?
Sanders: You’re asking me now to make not only decisions for the Israeli government but for the Israeli military, and I don’t quite think I’m qualified to make decisions. But I think it is fair to say that the level of attacks against civilian areas…and I do know that the Palestinians, some of them, were using civilian areas to launch missiles. Makes it very difficult. But I think most international observers would say that the attacks against Gaza were indiscriminate and that a lot of innocent people were killed who should not have been killed. Look, we are living, for better or worse, in a world of high technology, whether it’s drones out there that could, you know, take your nose off, and Israel has that technology. And I think there is a general belief that, with that technology, they could have been more discriminate in terms of taking out weapons that were threatening them.
Daily News: Do you support the Palestinian leadership’s attempt to use the International Criminal Court to litigate some of these issues to establish that, in their view, Israel had committed essentially war crimes?
Daily News: Why not?
Sanders: Why not?
Daily News: Why not, why it…
Sanders: Look, why don’t I support a million things in the world? I’m just telling you that I happen to believe…anybody help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?
Daily News: I think it’s probably high, but we can look at that.
Sanders: I don’t have it in my number…but I think it’s over 10,000. My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.
Daily News: Okay. We will check the facts. I don’t want to venture a number that I’m not sure on, but we will check those facts. Now, talk about Hamas. What is it? Is it a terrorist organization?
Daily News: Okay. Hezbollah too?
The Times of Israel attacks Sanders for “massively inflating” the casualty numbers in Gaza. Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post (who’s been irresponsible before re Sanders) also says Sanders is clueless on Israel. Myself I did not know that Sanders has family in Israel.
Here’s Hillary meeting a big Israel supporter in NY politics yesterday.
— David G. Greenfield (@NYCGreenfield) April 5, 2016
Greenfield held a forum on Israel in Brooklyn yesterday, and Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents said that the “Jewish lobby” needs to continue to oppose Barack Obama in the nine months he still has in office, because he could hurt Israel. Kornbluh reports:
In addition to improving relations with Cuba, Hoenlein sees the president aiming to “create the predicates” for the creation of a future Palestinian state.
“I’m telling you, we’re going to all look back in a few months and say, ‘How did all of these things happen?’ The government in Washington is not stopping. They’re going ahead, and on critical issues to our future,” he alerted the crowd of 40, consisting of many local Orthodox Jewish leaders. “These issues are not going to be decisions for years. They’re going to be things that will affect your grandchildren and their grandchildren. These are decisions of generations.”
Hoenlein also addressed the U.S.-Israel relationship over the past seven years, recalling comments he had made to President Obama about creating daylight in the relationship with Israel. (According to Hoenlein, the comments published in the NY Times were leaked by the White House). “There is an important message that when the relationship with Israel is bad, the Arabs look at this and take this as a measure of the confidence they can have in their relationship,” Hoenlein explained. ”They say if Israel, with the Jewish lobby and all the Jewish support, can’t rely on America, what chance do we have?”
As you read that, consider that Peace Now is a member of the Conference of Presidents that Hoenlein leads. Do they feel represented by these comments? And if they don’t, why don’t they quit the Conference board?