Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told a room full of students last night during CNN’s marathon town hall in New Hampshire that Israel is headed by a “racist government,” and vowed to “level the playing field” between disparate American support for Israel and the Palestinians.
When asked how he will maintain a strong alliance with Israel despite his past criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was reelected to a fifth term earlier this month, Sanders said his longstanding support of Israel, which included a stint living on a Kibbutz in the 1960s, is separate from his view of the current administration.
“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 Palestinian people extremely unfairly,” he said.
Later in his response he said Israel “is now run by a right-wing–dare I say–racist government.”
Israel is the largest recipient of United States aid since the end of World War II. Currently the U.S. gives Israel $3.8 billion a year in aid, of which $3.3 billion goes to military financing and $500 million supports a missile defense system.
In contrast the Trump administration suspended all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority last February. The measure followed a steady deterioration of relations with Ramallah after the U.S. embassy was moved to Jerusalem, and an end to U.S. funding to UNRWA, the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees. In recent years UNRWA funding exceeded $1 billion per year, a majority of which went to gender based violence programs.
The Palestinian Authority had received a total of $5 billion in aid from the U.S. since it was established in 1994.
On CNN, @SenSanders calls the Netanyahu government in Israel a "right wing, dare I say it, racist" government. Imagine what the first official meeting at the White House between a President Sanders and Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2021 would be like 😜#CNNTownHall
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) April 23, 2019
.@BernieSanders just called the Israeli gov “right wing and racist”. Not only is that bogus, but this self-loathing Jew who’s trying to score points with antisemites is empowering racists and bigots like @Ilhan and @RashidaTlaib in doing so
Bernie = danger for the U.S. & Israel https://t.co/qx45iBj9F6
— Dov Hikind (@HikindDov) April 23, 2019
Last week freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) raised conditioning U.S. aid to Israel in an interview with the Skullduggery podcast. “I think it is certainly on the table. I think it’s something that can be discussed,” she said. Ocasio-Cortez also criticized Netanyahu as “a Trump-like figure” who is part of the “ascent of authoritarianism across the world.”
Following, she posted to social media a bill sponsored by Representative Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn) that prohibits U.S. aid dollars being used for the detention, interrogation or abuse of Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel forces and police.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 17, 2019
Sanders was less explicit. “The United States gives billions of dollar in military aid to Israel,” he said, “what I believe is not radical. I just believe that the United States should deal with the Middle East on a level playing field basis, which the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country.”
“I am 100 percent pro-Israel, Israel has every right in the world to exist, and to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorist attacks,” he said, “but the United States needs to deal not just with Israel but with the Palestinian people as well.”
Sanders, who is Jewish, is the only presidential candidate who has resided in Israel and has relatives living there.