In an interview on July 26, Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said he would “absolutely” consider cutting military aid to Israel as leverage to change their government’s actions.
As a guest on the popular podcast Pod Save America, Sanders was questioned about his views on Israel by co-host and former Barack Obama staffer Jon Favreau:
Favreau: You’re very critical of Bibi Netanyahu and the Israeli government. We spend a few billion dollars on aid to Israel. Would you ever consider using that aid as leverage to get the Israeli government to act differently?
Sanders: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, we are giving large sums of money…look, let me back it up before the tweets start flowing in. (laughter) I lived in Israel. Actually I worked in a kibbutz for a number of months. I have family in Israel, I am Jewish, I am not anti-Israel. Ok, I believe that the people of Israel have absolutely the right to live in peace, independence, and security. End of discussion, that’s what I believe. But I think what has happened is, in recent years under Netanyahu you have an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies. The role of the United States–and this is not easy, believe me: Clinton tried it, Obama tried it, Jimmy Carter tried it, this is not easy stuff–is to try to bring peace to the Middle East and to treat the Palestinian people with the kind of respect and dignity they deserve. Our policy cannot just be pro-Israel, pro-Israel, pro-Israel. It has got to be pro-region, working with all of the people, all of the countries in that area, and it’s a similar position (and Hillary Clinton and I had a bit of a disagreement on this in 2016) Saudi Arabia is a vicious, ugly dictatorship. That’s what it is, you gotta call it out. That’s what it is. They do not tolerate dissent, they treat women like third-class citizens and yet they have been our wonderful ally, we follow them into this terrible war in Yemen–where I’m proud to say I helped lead the effort to help get us out of that terrible war. Ok, so what we need to do is not say, “We’re 100% pro-Israel or 100% pro-Saudi Arabia. We hate Iran, we hate the Palestinians.” That is not the role that the United States of America should be playing. We need to bring people together and say, “You know what? We’re spending a whole lot of money, not only in aid to Israel, to Egypt. We have spent trillions of dollars on the War on Terror, alright. We are going to sit down.” And by the way, I’ve been critical of Trump every single day since his administration [began], but one area I’m not critical on: he went to sit down with Kim Jong-un [the Supreme Leader of North Korea] and you know what? I think that’s okay. I think that’s the right thing to do. And I as President of the United States if I have to sit down with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, with the leadership of Iran, with the leadership of the Palestinians, with the leadership of Israel, and hammer out some damn agreements which will try to end the conflicts which have existed there forever, I have to do that.
This isn’t the first time Sanders has suggested he’d use military aid as a means of changing Israel’s policies. During a June 23 appearance on Face the Nation he told Margaret Brennan, “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…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.'”