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?
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.
— Dena Takruri (@Dena) May 3, 2017
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.