During a June 23 appearance on CBS, Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders implied that military aid to Israel might only come with conditions if he’s elected president.
Sanders comments came in response to a question from Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan about the Trump administration’s peace plan:
Margaret Brennan: You’ve been outspoken in your defense of Palestinian human rights. You’ve been critical of the Netanyahu government in Israel. Jared Kushner plans to unveil a fifty billion dollar plan in investment in Palestinians–
Senator Bernie Sanders: Well I think you know you have to be- Jared Kushner can sit up there and say, “this is what I want to do.” Who is he working with? Is he working with the Palestinian people? So I think what has to be done is all I have been in terms of the Middle East is you know I believe 100 percent in Israel’s right to exist in peace and security when I was a kid I lived in Israel for a while, okay, I got family in Israel. But I believe that the United States has got to play an even handed role in the Middle East. Right now in Gaza, for example, it is a humanitarian disaster. You have unemployment rate at 60, 70. 80 percent. Kids have no life in front of them. And it is going to boil over. No question about it. You’ve got to deal with that issue.
Brennan: Would you cut aid to Israel if–
Sanders: I would sit down–
Brennan: If they try to annex the West Bank as Netanyahu said?
Sanders: I would sit down with- with Israel and say look you get- I don’t know what it is, maybe 3 billion a year or something, I don’t know what an exact number is, something–
Sanders: –like three billion a year and say, “look you want military aid from the United States you’re going to have to treat the Palestinian people and that region with respect that we intend to work with you to do that.”
Sanders’ comments come just two weeks after fellow Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg declared he would block any military aid that Israel would use to annex the West Bank. Buttigieg didn’t specify how his administration would go about doing this and he’s arguably one of the most pro-Israel candidates in the race, as he’s condemned criticisms of the country and indicated that he wouldn’t even move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv if elected. However, even if the Buttigieg and Sanders plans turn out to be little more than hollow rhetoric, they at least mark a small deviation in how Democrats are viewing this issue heading into the election.
This isn’t the first time Sanders has challenged the notion of providing military aid to Israel without qualifications. In 1991, he voted to block $82.5 million worth of aid to the country unless it stopped building settlements in certain areas. However, such positions have seldom entered the political discourse in recent years and they certainly haven’t permeated the mainstream of the Democratic party. In 2008, just one day after securing the Democratic nomination, former President Barack Obama delivered a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “Those who threaten Israel threaten us,” declared Obama, Israel has always faced these threats on the front lines. And I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.That starts with ensuring Israel’s qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat — from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened.”
Obama’s declaration did not consist of idle words. Despite his political differences with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his administration approved the largest military aid package to Israel in United States history, securing a new ten-year agreement to the tune of $38 billion in 2016.
The debate about military aid isn’t just happening through the words of some Democratic candidates, it’s beginning to take shape on a legislative level as well. In April Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum introduced H.R.2407, a piece of legislation that would block funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel. McCollum previously introduced the bill in 2017, but it died at the end of the congressional session. The current version has 18 co-sponsors so far, including Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
Sanders and Buttigieg are both participating in tonight’s Democratic presidential debate, but there were no questions about Israel or Palestine during last night’s.