US Senator Bernie Sanders keeps insisting that he is pro-Israel. But his statements suggest that he is committed to a strange brand of “pro-Israelism,” which often sounds very much anti-Israel.
In a recent debate, Sanders again flaunted his supposed “pro-Israel” attitude, while calling for a reassessment of US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I am pro-Israel. But we must treat the Palestinian people as well with the respect and dignity they deserve,” he said.
This sounds reasonable, but previous remarks by Sanders raise questions about the kind of policies he has in mind.
Last month, Sanders declared that the US should condition military aid to Israel on changing Israel’s Gaza policy. Some of the money “should go right now into humanitarian aid in Gaza,” he told the annual J Street conference.
As usual, Sanders showed little interest in the actual details of the grand schemes he proposes. Hence, he did not explain how he plans to ensure that aid to Gaza does not end up bankrolling Hamas. Curiously, he also did not present any conditions to Gaza for receiving American funds.
Odd Views on Antisemitism
In a recent op-ed on fighting Antisemitism for Jewish Currents magazine, Sanders advanced even stranger arguments.
“The forces fomenting Antisemitism are the forces arrayed against oppressed people around the world, including Palestinians,” he wrote. “The struggle against Antisemitism is also the struggle for Palestinian freedom.”
Sanders is perhaps unaware that the Palestinians and their allies are often the very forces that promote Antisemitism. He may also wish to more aggressively counter the growing Antisemitism within his own Democratic Party before offering advice on more remote locations.
Even if he is convinced that Palestinian freedom is a worthy cause, linking it to the fight against Antisemitism seems oddly misplaced.
Moreover, Sanders seems to be associated with dubious company for someone claiming to be “pro-Israel.” Notably, he was endorsed by some of the most vicious anti-Israel voices in the Democratic Party, including Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.
Earlier this year, Sanders said that he did not consider Omar to be Antisemitic. This was the same Omar who previously charged that Israel “hypnotized the world.” More recently, she claimed that support for Israel in Congress was “all about the Benjamins.” Sanders has not written scathing op-eds about her yet.
Senator Sanders should be free, of course, to regularly criticize Israel and its actions. He is also entitled to politically associate with whomever he wants. However, he may wish to reassess not only America’s policy on Israel, but also his own insistence that he is firmly on Israel’s side.