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Sanders speaks up for Palestinians, to applause, while Biden says Netanyahu is ‘outrageous’

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Israel and Palestine came up in the second hour of last night’s Democratic presidential candidates’ debate in Los Angeles, and four leading candidates used a question about whether we should condition aid to Israel based on its actions in the occupied West Bank to distinguish their positions.

If there was one takeaway from the exchange, it is that the Israel brand is not exceedingly popular in the Democratic Party. The embraces were lukewarm.

Bernie Sanders said Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist and if elected, Sanders would have an even-handed policy, including being “pro-Palestinian.” He also spoke up for human rights in Gaza.

Pete Buttigieg used the question to highlight Trump’s intolerance and “domestic” political use of Israel, saying that Trump is using Israel to make himself look “pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, while welcoming white nationalists into the White House.” He said nothing about Netanyahu.

Joe Biden was not asked the question but returned to it to say he would not condition aid, he supports a Jewish state, and that his old friend Netanyahu is endangering Israel’s status as such.

Elizabeth Warren appeared to avoid the question. Though she was not asked it, she followed Sanders and Buttigieg and turned a foreign policy question to her support for the U.S. military.

Here are those answers. (Transcript from the Washington Post with my adjustments from video below, at 1:18:00.)

Yamiche Alcindor of PBS News Hour opened the discussion: “Senator Sanders, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently declared that the United States believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law. That broke decades-long U.S. precedent. How would you respond to Israeli expansion of settlements? Would you link that to foreign aid to Israel?”

Sanders said:

Israel has — and I say this as somebody who lived in Israel as a kid, proudly Jewish — Israel has the right not only to exist, but to exist in peace and security. (smattering of applause). But what, but what U.S. foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian, as well. (Larger applause)

And whether, in my view — we must understand that right now in Israel we have leadership under Netanyahu, who has recently, as you know, been indicted for bribery, who, in my view, is a racist — what we need is a level playing field in terms of the Middle East, which addresses the terrible crisis in Gaza, where 60 percent or 70 percent of the young people are unemployed.

So what my foreign policy will be about is human rights, is democracy, is bringing people together in a peaceful way, trying to negotiate agreements, not endless wars with trillions of dollars of expenses.

Alcindor then posed the question to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

What we are seeing in the Middle East and around the world are the consequences of this president’s failure, this president’s refusal to lead. It’s particularly disturbing in the case of Israel because he has infused domestic politics, making U.S. foreign policy choices in order to effectively interfere in Israeli domestic politics, acting as though that somehow makes him pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, while welcoming white nationalists into the White House.

But it’s not only in the Middle East that we see the consequences of the disappearance of U.S. leadership. We see among our allies and among our adversaries case after case where the world is making plans on what to do, ignoring the United States, because we’re no longer considered reliable.

It’s not just the mockery at a cocktail party on the sidelines of a conference. It’s the looks on the faces of the leaders at the U.N. as they looked at the United States president with a mixture of contempt and pity.

As an American, I never again want to see the American president looked at that way by the leaders of the world. The world needs America right now. But it can’t be just any America. It has to be one that is actually living up to the values that make us who we are: supporting peace, supporting democracy, supporting human rights, and supporting stability around the world.

Alcindor then asked Elizabeth Warren if she would close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which still holds 40 prisoners. “And if elected, how will you do it?” Warren turned the question to the importance of the American military in the Middle East in backing the Kurds, and our mistaken support for dictators. She seemed to echo Buttigieg and Sanders on Netanyahu, but vaguely.

Yes. It is time to close this detention facility. It not only costs us money, it is an international embarrassment. We have to be an America that lives our values every single day. We can’t be an America that stands up and asks people to fight alongside us, as we did with the Kurds in fighting ISIS, and then turn around in the blink of a tweet and say that we’re turning our backs on the people who stood beside us. After that, who wants to be an ally of the United States?

We have to be an America that understands the difference and recognizes the difference between our allies, the people who will work alongside us, and the dictators who would do us harm. And we need to treat our allies better than we treat the dictators. That needs to be our job as an America– (applause)  We have the finest military on Earth. All three of my brothers served. And we have people on this stage who have served, and I am deeply grateful for that. Our military is strong and important, but we need to be an America that relies on our State Department, that relies on diplomacy, that relies on our economic power and that relies on working together with the rest of the world to build a world that is sustainable environmentally and economically for everyone.

Then Joe Biden was asked why the Obama administration failed to close Guantanamo Bay, when he was vice president, and he made a point of bringing up Israel.

We attempted to close Guantanamo Bay, but you have to have congressional authority to do it. They’ve kept it open. And the fact is that we, in fact, think it’s greatest — it is an advertisement for creating terror.

Look, what we have done around the world in terms of keeping Guantanamo open or what Trump has done by no longer being an honest broker in Israel, there’s no solution for Israel other than a two-state solution. It does not exist. It’s not possible to have a Jewish state in the Middle East without there being a two-state solution. And he has played to all the same fears and all the prejudices that exist in this country and in Israel. Bibi Netanyahu and I know one another well. He knows that I think what he’s doing is outrageous.

What we do is, we have to put pressure constantly on the Israelis to move to a two-state solution, not withdraw physical aid from them in terms of their security.

And lastly, I think that… Senator Warren is correct. We have led by not the example of our power, but the power of our example. And the example we’re demonstrating now is horrible. It’s hurting us badly.

Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg have all said in recent months that they are open to the idea of conditioning aid to Israel because of its unending settlement project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. None of them mentioned that position last night, though the direct question was raised. Biden did address the issue, to say No.

Biden’s position would seem to be in line with House Resolution 326, passed two weeks ago with a large Democratic Party majority, that called on the United States to work for a two state solution to preserve Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state and to oppose any steps toward annexing portions of the West Bank– and to oppose the idea of conditioning military aid to Israel.

It should be noted that that resolve by the Democrats appears to have influenced the political opposition to Netanyahu in Israel, the center-right Blue and White Party, to state that it opposes the annexation of the West Bank. Biden sent that message loud and clear last night.

Lastly, note that Sanders’s call for being pro-Palestinian got a lot of applause, more than his affirmation of Israel’s right to exist. The Democratic base speaks.

Philip Weiss

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

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16 Responses

  1. CHUCKMAN on December 20, 2019, 11:51 am

    Biden, as is his practice in virtually all matters, said effectively nothing.

    It’s ridiculous actually to make statements like his. A man like Netanyahu listens to no one.

    There can never be any fairness in this region if the United States is not willing to act, and act with force and authority.

    Not only can there be no fairness, there can be no solution, ever, without the full force and authority of the United States shaping events.

    Israel loves to think of itself as independent, determining its own fate.

    But nothing could be further from the truth.

    Israel not only receives a subsidy from the American government amounting to the best part of 4 billion dollars a year, it receives immensely larger amounts through various private and public subsidies and from many special privileges and contracts and arrangements involving the United States.

    If the source of all that bounty cannot speak up for fairness, what hope is there?

    • Misterioso on December 21, 2019, 9:54 am

      @CHUCKMAN

      In the final analysis, “Israel” is a beggar “state,” utterly dependent on the U.S. financially and geopolitically. However, as history attests, beggar states eventually become an unbearable liability, lose influence and are set adrift by their benefactor. “Israel” will not be an exception!!
      It is increasingly evident that the American people are waking up and realizing they’ve been “taken for a ride” by the Zionists.

    • James Canning on December 21, 2019, 11:09 am

      @Chuckman Bibi Netanyahu listens carefully to Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu had a huge photo of Putin gracing his campaign headquarters, didn’t he?

  2. eljay on December 20, 2019, 12:27 pm

    … Pete Buttigieg used the question to highlight Trump’s intolerance and “domestic” political use of Israel, saying that Trump is using Israel to make himself look “pro-Israel and pro-Jewish …

    Pete’s a funny guy! Almost every American politician – including him – uses Israel to make him/herself look “pro-Israel and pro-Jewish”.

  3. JWalters on December 20, 2019, 7:36 pm

    “Bibi Netanyahu and I know one another well. He knows that I think what he’s doing is outrageous.” – Joe Biden

    Biden will not acknowledge that the “outrageous” things Bibi is doing are all implementing the original Zionist vision of barbaric, Biblical ethnic cleansing. Bibi has spanked Biden before, and would do so again. Biden is a “proud Zionist”, ruled by his donor leash. In other words, a disgrace.

    Props to the PBS crew for even bringing up this centrally important topic.

    • echinococcus on December 20, 2019, 11:48 pm

      “Biden will not acknowledge that the “outrageous” things Bibi is doing are all implementing the original Zionist vision of barbaric, Biblical ethnic cleansing”

      It sure isn’t limited to Biden.

      What you wrote applies to all of them, Sanders (did you miss his screaming his “proud” Zionism, quoted even by Weiss?), Butt, Warren, the whole gang: very obviously they are only opposing, to varying degrees, the current government while supporting the Zionist state to the hilt. Just read their words! Their criticism only targets the current government while praising the Apartheid and theft state itself — and not a word on the occupation itself.

      As if the barbarian invasion and occupation were a feature of Bibiyahoo only.

      That doesn’t cost them much. The Yahoo is very obviously on borrowed time, already dumped by his owners Adelson & Co, so satisfying the voter base who is protesting against Zionist crimes and soon after that rehabilitating the genocidal Crusader State — with praise for having replaced the Yahoo by a more brutal murderer — wouldn’t be a problem. End result of the Dem game: same old.

      • Stephen Shenfield on December 21, 2019, 6:53 pm

        Assuming that the transcript is accurate, Sanders says that ‘as a kid’ he was ‘proudly Jewish’ — not that he was ‘proudly Zionist.’ Even though he may well have been proudly Zionist as well, that is not what he says.

      • echinococcus on December 21, 2019, 10:32 pm

        Shenfield,

        The transcript is no doubt accurate. I know what he says.

        “as a kid”, yarright, of over 20, he worked during several months as a vetted co-invader in a “kibbutz” belonging to the rabidly Zionist organization Hashomer Hatzair.

        This, combined to the fact that he does not reject in the least his aggressive Zionist past, avoids mentioning it and the passionate defense of the Zionist entity that was a part of this last speech, too, makes that “proudly Jewish” code, or in fact openly, “proudly Zionist”. We know who equates the two.

        No need for pulling pills, or sugar-coating them, either.

        Did he this time remember to repeat, like every single time he authorized budgets for Zionist war and occupation, that “Israel has a right to defend itself”?

        In fact, Sansders only recently smelled the coffee and became aware that he has to make noises that seem favorable to Palestinians, and that otherwise he risks losing traction with his core constituency that he wants to drag to voting Democrat again. It was a whole nother murder tune he was playing when questioned on the Gaza massacres in 2014…

      • JWalters on December 22, 2019, 8:22 pm

        I don’t agree that “the whole gang … [is] supporting the Zionist state to the hilt”. This debate is taking place in the context of a war. The Israelis are killing people in Palestine, and character assassinating people in America. Public figures are all being cautious about how much they say against Israel. This makes it hard to assess their true views. But it’s sometimes necessary in a war to keep your head down until the time is ripe for a frontal assault.

        As an example of the slow advance occuring on the ground, Tulsi Gabbard just recently mentioned “neocons” supporting the regime change wars. “Neocons” is the protective euphemism used to refer to Israeli agents in the American media. “Whistleblower Proves Tulsi RIGHT On Syria & Afghanistan War” At 11:30 in video.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=616EgM7bheQ
        (An excellent interview on an important topic.)

        In this context, I won’t ignore Bernie’s COURAGEOUS statement of support for Palestinian rights during the last two presidential debates.

      • echinococcus on December 23, 2019, 12:05 am

        Walters,

        Your reasoning is flawless… as far as one sees clearly that Sanders is working for the “liberal” Zionist faction (more dangerous than the current Zionist government parties) and he remains a “proud” Zionist and a no less proud supporter of imperialist war and intervention supporter.

        His line may have been worth supporting if there was a chance of a snowball in hell of his seriously intending to get elected. Who in his right mind can believe that now, especially after the trick he turned in 2015-2016?

        Gabbard cannot be confused with Sanders. Hers is a principled opposition to war of intervention, and her criticism of Neocons does not sound like “code”: her antiwar, anti-intervention position definitely appears to be sincere and the Neocons, Jewish or Zionist or not, are her main warmongering enemy. Hers is obviously a pipe dream as long as she runs with the Democrats and anyway she won’t get the nice treatment that they give Sanders.

      • JWalters on December 23, 2019, 8:26 pm

        echinococcus,

        “[Bernie’s] line may have been worth supporting if there was a chance of a snowball in hell of his seriously intending to get elected. “

        My reading of Bernie is that he is fully committed to getting elected. He is not a Zionist puppet, because they would NEVER want him to openly advocate for Palestinian rights. I think his universal justice priority is higher than his Zionism priority, if he even has any Zionism priority left. There is a steady stream of people abandoning Zionism.

      • echinococcus on December 23, 2019, 11:44 pm

        Walters,

        “My reading of Bernie [Sanders] is that he is fully committed to getting elected.”

        If that is your conviction, it means either of the following: you weren’t around in 2015-2016, which I know to be false, or you are reckless enough to ignore what this same politician has done under our (no doubt lying) eyes and in plain daylight, ie sheepdogging all the disgruntled ex-Democrat and wannabe Third Party vote back to the Imperialist fold after having announced in public (5/3/2015) that he intended to throw it to the winner of the Imperialist-owned Democrat primary, and throwing it to that same Imperial designee — no matter the fact that the DNC plot to ensure the fix for the votes of his naive followers had been laid bare; he did campaign for the arch-warmonger and war criminal, the Clinton Harpy.

        Now you say you don’t know anything about it. Or are you saying that the world-renowned opportunist mountebank politician Sanders has suddenly become a new and sainted person?

        “He is not a Zionist puppet, because they would NEVER want him to openly advocate for Palestinian rights”

        Well, Sanders, whom we all have known since before the 90s as the ultimate warmongering opportunist, specializing in the young and liberal vote but voting for war himself, has long made it a specialty of speaking in favor of whatever will bring him more votes among this demographic slice. He’ll never walk further than the branch he is out on can carry him, but he always manages to sound like just the flavor of the day.

        Never mind that he inevitably ends up voting for war of aggression, war budgets, aid to Zionists, etc. and speaking in favor of the “liberal” “socialist” Zionist line. Remember, the specialty of the “liberal” Zionists who invented the genocide of Palestinians and settler colonialism in Palestine was that of speaking for Palestinian rights. So, one faction of the Zionists does speak in favor of Palestinian rights (in the same exact way as Sanders.) Words. Watch their goddamn hands.

        Once more, I don’t mean it wouldn’t be some kind of progress to have that guy instead of the usual Owners of the Country themselves — if there was any possibility of his making it. But fairytales are just that: fiction.

      • Keith on December 24, 2019, 11:54 am

        ECHINOCOCCUS- “… if there was any possibility of his making it.”

        I am not so sure that Bernie is sheepdogging it this time. Without Princess Hillary in the lineup, it is just possible that the elites have a more devious plan for Bernie. Plan A would entail Bernie actually getting elected and becoming the Ashkenazi Obama, the betrayer-in-chief. Who better to co-opt the opposition? Plan B would entail Bernie as Corbyn. Just as Corbyn was instrumental in the destruction of anything remotely progressive in the Labour Party, so too could a landslide stomping of too-far-to-the-left Bernie put an end to any future Lefty Democrat. In any event, getting too involved in electoral politics is a waste of time and money. The elites own this country/empire/planet and who becomes President makes very little difference.

        As an aside, I have come to believe that one factor in Corbyn’s massive defeat was that he projected the image of the loser he was. Would you want this guy guarding your back? He didn’t have an ounce of fight in him and that was obvious from the get-go. In elections, image is at least as important as policies which few people follow in any event.

      • echinococcus on December 24, 2019, 3:29 pm

        Keith,

        Something in that, although there can be no doubt that Sanders’ main objective is to get the disgruntled vote back to whomever is selected by the “Party” owners, not necessarily to himself, and kill any idea of other parties in US politics.

        One remark, though:

        “Plan A would entail Bernie actually getting elected and becoming the Ashkenazi Obama, the betrayer-in-chief. Who better to co-opt the opposition?”

        Why, that is exactly Sanders’ own plan! Expressed in so many words and by the horse’s mouth. Summary of his plan, in his words over the last 5 years or so: get more crumbs falling from the imperialist war table for the middle class, as opposed to the now decimated working class (in this he is the same as Corbyn), while continuing the proud American tradition of war of aggression, intervention in sovereign countries and mafia enforcing. Only difference from Obama is the sugar lump thrown to the middle class (a thing that many among the owners of the country also are clamoring for, lest the pitchforks come out.)

        The liberals will always feign to miss the fact that the only thing that counts, only thing, is war of aggression and violation of sovereignty. The world at large, without exception victims of US imperialism (or with the only exception of the Zionist entity), is totally indifferent to any additional welfare for the empire’s own middle class. In the larger scheme of things, I suspect that it might be a bad thing instead, given that with the Sanders system it ties that middle class closer to the Owners of the Empire.

      • JWalters on December 24, 2019, 6:38 pm

        echinococcus,

        Thank you. I think our different estimates are clear as to what’s going on in Bernie’s head.

  4. James Canning on December 21, 2019, 11:05 am

    I assume Joe Biden wonders what Netanyahu thinks can be done with the non-Jews living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

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