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‘Look, I didn’t write that letter’ — Sanders on defensive for signing letter slamming UN on Israel

on 22 Comments

Yesterday Bernie Sanders appeared with Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center’s annual “Human Rights Defenders Forum” and was challenged about standing up for Israel– specifically, why he had signed on to a letter along with every other senator condemning the United Nations for alleged bias against Israel.

Sanders said the letter didn’t deny human rights violations by Israel but was focused on the U.N. singling Israel out. The moderator of the discussion didn’t buy his response. And I don’t think Sanders accurately conveyed the letter.

You can see the encounter at Facebook. At minute 38, Maryam Alkhawaja from Bahrain said she had supported Sanders last year but issued a “challenge”; the letter “surprised” her. She asked, Would the same senators have signed on to the letter if it had been about the apartheid government of South Africa?

Sanders said:

The reason I signed on to this letter along with every other member of the United States Senate was simple. The thrust of the letter to my mind was not to defend Israel. That was what was– the media kind of picked up on, or not to suggest that Israel does not have serious human rights violations. But to suggest that if the Human Rights Commission or committee at the U.N. is going to be honest, Maybe take a look at Egypt where there are 10s of thousand of people in jail, many of them being tortured. Or Saudi Arabia, I’m not quite sure if in Saudi Arabia women can drive a car yet. Or in Russia or in other countries. The thrust of that letter was not not in per se a defense of Israel or a denial of human rights.  It was to say, Why just Israel. Let’s take a look at human rights all over the world and human rights violations that include Israel but not just Israel.

The moderator of the appearance, Karin Ryan, a senior adviser to the Carter Center on human rights, then defended the Human Rights Council on that ground. The Carter Center was very much involved in the reform of the Council, Ryan said.

“I would say that the Human Rights Council is much better now. That has very much changed in the last few years. Not to criticize you, senator; you’re in our house… There are three resolutions on Egypt. The council itself is actually quite good on these countries where there are problems. So the council is getting stronger and we should acknowledge that.”

Also, the letter Sanders signed never states that Israel commits human rights violations. Quite the contrary. It fumes– emphasis mine–

Charged with shining a light on gross human rights violations, the UNHRC– whose membership currently includes some of the world’s worst human rights violators– instead devotes time to unwarranted attacks against Israel. The UNHRC even maintains a permanent item on its agenda– “Agenda Item VII” — to assess Israel even as numerous other countries, including some represented on the Council, commit egregious human rights abuses against their citizens on a daily basis.

The letter was dated April 27. It stood firmly behind two Trump officials and condemned the United Nations for alleged bias against Israel. The letter said that U.N. actions against Israel “have at times reinforced the broader scourge of anti-Semitism” and commended Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, for saying, “It is the UN’s anti-Israel bias that is long overdue for change.”

This is not the first time Sanders has been challenged for the letter. AJPlus interviewed him about it last week and he said, “I didn’t write that letter.” You can watch the back and forth here.

Takruri asks why Sanders is trying to shield Israel.

No, no, no, no, no. Look I don’t accept that. Look, I didn’t write that letter, I signed on to it. It’s not a letter I would have written. There are many problems with Israel, and I have been critical and I will be critical of a lot of what Israel does. On the other hand, to see Israel attacked over and over again for human rights violations which may be true, when you have countries like Saudi Arabia or Syria. Saudi Arabia – I’m not quite sure if a woman can even drive a car today, OK. So I think the thrust of that letter is not to say that Israel does not have human rights issues — it does — but to say how come it’s only Israel when you have other countries where women are treated as third-class citizens, where in Egypt, I don’t know how many thousands of people now lingering in jail, so that’s the point of that, not to defend Israel but to say why only Israel. You want to talk about human rights, let’s talk about human rights.”

Asked by Takruri whether he “respected” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a legitimate nonviolent protest movement, Sanders said:

“No, I don’t. Look I  respect– People will do what they want to do, but I think our job as a nation is to do everything humanly possible to bring Israel and the Palestinians and the entire Middle East to the degree that we can together. But no, I’m not a supporter of that.”

But Palestinians have been punished for nonviolent and violent resistance, and there’s no end in sight for the occupation, Takruri said. What is positive if not BDS.

“What must be done is that the United States of America must have a Middle East policy which is even-handed, which does not simply supply endless amounts of money, of military support to Israel, but which treats both sides with respect and dignity and does our best to bring them to the table. OK?”

The two state solution is almost dead, she notes, and Palestinians are now increasingly favoring a one-state solution. Sanders doesn’t support that.

“I mean, I think if that happens, then that would be the end of the State of Israel and I support Israel’s right to exist… “I think if there is the political will to make it happen and if there is good faith on both sides I do think it’s possible, and I think there has not been good faith, certainly on this Israeli government and I have my doubts about parts of the Palestinian leadership as well.”

JTA’s Ron Kampeas reported on Sanders’s appearance, saying it was a sign that there is still a “firewall” inside the Democratic Party against BDS and Palestinian solidarity. We shall see.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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22 Responses

  1. talknic on May 9, 2017, 12:35 pm

    WTF is it with American politicians? The sanest amongst them bleeds out when it comes to Israel

    ” to see Israel attacked over and over again for human rights violations …” … committed by Israel in non-Israeli territories and;
    most UN/UNSC/UNHRC resolutions against Israel are reminders of previous unheeded resolutions. When one doesn’t adhere to the contract a reminder is not a new bill from the power company, nor is it bias

    ” when you have countries like Saudi Arabia or Syria. Saudi Arabia …” … distasteful, but committed by them in their own countries. The UN has no say in UN Member States’ internal policies in their own territories

    • Maghlawatan on May 9, 2017, 12:54 pm

      It is the power and the money of the lobby

      • catalan on May 9, 2017, 4:18 pm

        “It is the power and the money of the lobby” mag
        How does one become a member? I want to apply. As long as there is power and money involved, I am in.

      • Mooser on May 9, 2017, 5:50 pm

        “How does one become a member? I want to apply.”

        Nothing easier “catalan”! Start making contributions to Zionist organizations. If you don’t want to get lost in a crowd of contributors, make arrangements to support an illegal outpost, or settlement.

        And/or, get a job at a Zionist organization, and start speaking and you could move up to lobbying work. This shouldn’t be hard for you, with your talents and resources.

        The problem is, “catalan”, you are not a Zionist. You are not worried about anti-Semitism nor do you believe the future of the Jewish people is in Palestine.
        If you were any kind of Zionist, you would have prepared a place for yourself. Or at least contribute so the less fortunate Jews will have a place to go. And with your income. A shondah.

        (Actually it’s sort of funny. It just hit me: we have bunches of people like you, who come here to convince people they are Zionists. These same people wouldn’t try that at a Zionist website, they would be outed immediately as moochers, freeloaders.
        So they come here, cause we scare easy. Zionists would know them for a phonies right away. Or maybe it is just himself “catalan” is trying to convince he’s some kind of Zionist?)

      • Maghlawatan on May 10, 2017, 4:29 am

        “The Lobby’s power is a danger to Israel. The Lobby’s reliance and that of the Zionist government on force majeure alienates the rest of the world, but creates a hubristic sense of invulnerability in Israel itself. The pride that Israeli politicians express in their ability to control US foreign policy and the pride that the Lobby enjoys in its influence over US academic appointments, journalism appointments,and decisions of textbook publishers leads to an arrogance that eventially over reaches. In the meantime Israel is busy at work eliminaing friends whose constructive criticisms are intended to save Israel from a future of woe and misery. The result for Israel will be isolation.”

      • Mooser on May 10, 2017, 12:53 pm

        “How does one become a member? I want to apply.”

        Or, run for local office, State Rep, or whatever, and they will be in touch with you.

        You will no doubt rise to the top of the Lobby. We will write a musical about it: “How to Succeed at Zionism Without Really Trying”

        But I can see why you prefer to hang around Mondo. When you say you are a Zionist at Mondo, nobody ever says “Yeah? And what have you done for Israel lately?” It’s a much easier place to be a Zionist.

    • CigarGod on May 10, 2017, 8:54 am

      Political Siberia is a difficult place from which to host one’s party.
      Can anyone name a guest list that will join Sanders there?

      • Mooser on May 10, 2017, 1:23 pm

        You know, I remember about nine years ago when the Democrats tried running a Presidential Candidate who was below retirement age.
        Seemed to work out better for them.

    • festus on May 10, 2017, 3:59 pm

      Talk about passive aggressive. “Look”, I didn’t write that letter. How is this supposed to excuse his signing it? Poor Bernie. He has presented himself as a true liberal and lots of people believed him and expect him to act like one. Quite a corner he has backed himself into.

  2. John O on May 9, 2017, 12:53 pm

    “Look, I didn’t write that letter, I signed on to it. It’s not a letter I would have written.”

    Then why did you sign it? Were you channeling your inner Donald Trump, signing something you either hadn’t read, or, if you had, you disagreed with?

  3. Sibiriak on May 9, 2017, 1:22 pm

    Look, I didn’t write that letter, I signed on to it. It’s not a letter I would have written.

    Prophylactic move.

  4. WH on May 9, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Such a weak excuse. Why sign a letter if you don’t stand by it?
    As for the end… I guess South Africa stopped existing in the 90s, right?

  5. HarryLaw on May 9, 2017, 4:52 pm

    Professor Finlelstein would have had the courage to be that one in 100 Senators, Sanders has no such courage. One of the subjects of the good Professor, Ghandy, said there is nothing more despicable than cowardice. Take a bow Berny.

  6. RoHa on May 9, 2017, 6:09 pm

    Who cares? Sanders is a nobody now.

    • echinococcus on May 9, 2017, 9:53 pm

      And always was a Zionist and a warmongering baboon anyway. Next he’ll say that he intended that the Zionist entity shouldn’t be let get away with murder every single time as it has always been since 1947… yeah sure.

    • talknic on May 9, 2017, 11:59 pm

      Not so quick. He’s one, of a number, who’s signatures together can mean life or death for Palestinians. The less of his number there are the more chance there is of relegating the Zionist Movement/Federation to where it deservedly belongs

  7. Rusty Pipes on May 9, 2017, 6:48 pm

    No one expects that Bernie wrote that letter. There may be serious doubts that anyone in the Senate even wrote the draft of that letter. The question is whether any Senate staff member bothered to make any changes to the letter that AIPAC drafted for the Senate. Too many congresscritters are still in the mindset of worrying about getting passing marks on their AIPAC report cards.

  8. on May 10, 2017, 6:48 am

    Ever since Sanders got shunted for Clinton I have been disappointed by him. He called on his supporters to vote for Clinton, after showing how different she is from him. How could he not have opted for Jill Stein.
    He led us to believe he would be even-handed on Israel if elected, this shows that he would not. Besides, he comments about the need for US even-handed in the peace process show he is either naive, which I don’t believe, or, at the end of the day he is just like the rest of them.
    The guy is NOT what the Democratic party would need to get back on track.

  9. Elizabeth Block on May 10, 2017, 10:58 am

    I quote James Zogby, Arab American Institute:

    “I’m not singling Israel out, you’re singling it out as the only country that you can’t criticize.”

    But maybe it was too much to expect of Bernie Sanders that he go against the other 99 senators…..

  10. hellsbells on May 11, 2017, 2:25 am

    Tell Burnie where to shove it on his Facebook Page. There are so many resolutions against Israel because Israel never complies with UN resolutions. That leads to further resolutions. If that fascist Jewish theocracy had complied with the first 10 resolutions, the number of new resolutions after that would have been minimal.

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