Senior Jewish Dems Question Sanders on Iran

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders raised some eyebrows when he suggested during Sunday’s TV debate that the U.S. should normalize relations with Iran.

During the Democratic presidential TV debate in Charleston, South Carolina on Sunday evening, Sanders expressed his desire to see the U.S. move “as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran.” According to the Jewish Senator from Vermont, after the administration has managed to reach a nuclear agreement with the Iranian regime without going to war, “the goal has got to be, as we have done with Cuba, to move in warm relations with a very powerful and important country in this world.”

Sanders’ optimistically-driven tone towards Iran is in stark contrast to his rival, Hillary Clinton’s position, as she made a point to highlight Iran’s bad behavior on non-nuclear activity and its sponsor of terrorism in the region.

“It’s amazing that on the very same day President Obama put new sanctions on Iran, Bernie Sanders calls for normalizing relations with them,” Steve Rabinowitz, head of Bluelight Strategies and among the founders of Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary, told Jewish Insider. “And this, coupled with his calls for Iranian troops in Syria to help fight ISIS. Amazing.”

Andrew Weinstein, an attorney and prominent Democratic donor from Coral Springs, Florida, says he strongly disagrees with Senator Sanders position. “While the Iran Deal marks a significant victory for American diplomacy, and the events of the last week give rise to cautious optimism for future dealings, Iran still has a long way to go before normalizing relations is appropriate,” Weinstein told Jewish Insider. “They continue to support terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and others that threaten our interests in the region. They are also still violating UN Security Council resolutions with regard to their ballistic missile program.”

According to Weinstein, the imposition of new sanctions “is the appropriate response and clearly shows that the President will remain vigilant in enforcing the JCPOA.” Adding, that Hillary Clinton “distrust and verify” approach is “the right approach.”

Asked if the comments could hurt the Democratic Party in the general election among voters who care about national security and foreign policy issues, Weinstein said, “I don’t think it impacts the Party because it clearly conflicts with Secretary Clinton and President Obama’s positions.”

Nonetheless, he suggested it does make Democrats “who supported the Iran deal but still have serious concerns about Iran’s intentions, less likely to support Senator Sanders in the primaries.”

Alan Abbey, director of internet and media at Shalom Hartman Institute, believes that Sunday night’s statement won’t hurt Sanders with a large segment of Democrats. “If he gets to be the candidate, however, which is less of a fantasy today than many have previously believed, it certainly will be used against him in the general election, especially if Iran overplays its hand in coming months,” Abbey told Jewish Insider.

This is not the first time in this election cycle that Sanders has taken a position that is out of sync with the Democratic Party’s platform and the majority of its Jewish voters.

In a recent interview to Rolling Stone, Sanders suggested that Israel overreacted in its response to Hamas firing rockets into Israel during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. “Do I think that Netanyahu overreacted? Yes, I do,” he said. “I think that Israel overreacted and caused more civilian damage than was necessary. They have very sophisticated weapons systems… The end result was that a lot of civilians were killed, and a lot of housing was destroyed. There was terrible, terrible damage done.”

“This is becoming a disturbing pattern,” said Rabinowitz.

According to Abbey, what Senator Sanders said at the debate “is consistent with his previous positions and is to the left of Hillary Clinton and some in the mainstream wing of the Democratic Party. Yet Hillary Clinton, with an eye toward the broader electorate she may face in November and an eye on the polls, has herself been trying to insert a sliver of daylight to the right of the Obama wing of the party. Democrats have been split on foreign policy for years, but it is the left edge of the party that has been insurgent during primary and convention times, and seems to be in ascendance in the wake of Obama. So while I don’t think it’s fair to say that Bernie is consciously trying to woo that subset of the party – he seems to forge ahead without “political” considerations.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) declined to comment. “NJDC remains neutral in contested primary races among Democrats, including the current presidential campaign,” Greg Rosenbaum, the group’s chairman, said. “As a result, we don’t have an official comment on any positions taken by the contesting candidates.”

On Monday, the Clinton campaign distributed quotes by some experts and pundits who were suggesting that Sanders demonstrated a naive and incoherent understanding of U.S. foreign policy.

The Sanders campaign did not return a request for comment.

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