WASHINGTON – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) lauded J Street as a ‘powerful’ pro-Israel group while rebuking Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Welcomed by a thunderous applause, the Vermont lawmaker asserted, “the hard truth is the continued ‘occupation’ and the growth of Israeli settlements that the ‘occupation’ sustains undermine possibility of peace and it contributes to suffering and contributes to violence.”
While many Democrats opposed United Nations Security Council resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements, Sanders “applauded” the Obama Administration for abstaining and allowing the international measure to pass.
At the same, Sanders also critiqued both sides for the continued conflict. “Nobody gains when Gaza is obliterated and thousands are killed, wounded or made homeless. Nobody gains when children and young men and young women are trained to become suicide bombers,” he noted.
When referencing the President’s openness to both a one-state and two-state solution, the 2016 Democratic candidate mocked Trump, “As if someone asked him whether he preferred Coke to Pepsi.”
Sanders warmly recalled his experience working on a Kibbutz in Israel as a young man and praised the establishment of a Jewish state after centuries of persecution and the Holocaust. At the same time, the Vermont lawmaker cautioned, “Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees. To acknowledge this painful historical fact does not “delegitimize” Israel, any more than acknowledging the Trail of Tears delegitimizes the United States of America.”
In his remarks, Sanders challenged the Trump Administration to respond more forcefully to a growing threat of anti-Semitic and bias attacks against Jewish Community Centers, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, across the country. Anti-Semitic and hate crime attacks against any minority or religious group “must be condemned at the highest levels of government,” Sanders said.
The Vermont Senator also blasted the President for bragging about his electoral victory when asked about the rise in anti-Semitism at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and for omitting the mention of Jew in a statement marking the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. “Trump and his political advisor Mr. Bannon understand that the world is watching: it is imperative that their voices be loud and clear in condemning anti-Semitism, violent attacks against immigrants in this country,” Sanders said. “This country has struggled too long against racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia. We will not go back. We are going to go forward and fight discrimination of all forms.”
Responding to attacks that some Democrats face in their criticism of Israeli government policies, Sanders noted, “We can oppose the policies of President Trump without being anti-American. We can oppose the policies of Netanyahu without being anti-Israel. We can oppose the policies of Islamic extremism without being anti-Muslim”
The 2016 Democratic candidate stressed that the United States should continue maintaining a strong friendship with Israel. “But we must recognize Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories and daily restrictions on political and civil liberties of Palestinian people runs counter to fundamental American values and I believe Israeli values as well.”